NFL DraftUndrafted Free Agents Who Could Make Major Waves This OffseasonIan WhartonContributor IMay 1, 2017
Undrafted Free Agents Who Could Make Major Waves This Offseason
0 of 8
- Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
As soon as the 2017 NFL draft came to a close Saturday, the chaos afterward continues as teams chase undrafted free agents. Even after 256 players are drafted, there are numerous difference-makers who are available to the highest bidder or looking for the best opportunity. Some undrafted free agents turn out to create major waves for their teams and shake up the depth chart despite being unheralded.
What makes undrafted free agents special is that they are the ultimate underdog to cheer for. That chip on their shoulder to overcome the odds is the best sports story to watch unfold. Draft status will only take a player so far, as what matters most is what happens on the field.
But their stories alone won't be enough. These individuals have significant talent. The mixture of situation and opportunity will maximize their odds of success, and each of the next eight players has landed with the right franchise.
Ishmael Zamora, WR, Oakland Raiders
1 of 8
- Ray Thompson/Associated Press
While the NFL had no problems drafting players with violence incidents in their history such as running back Joe Mixon, defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and wide receiver Dede Westbrook, there was one player with a notable off-field incident who wasn't as fortunate.
Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora couldn't overcome the video (per Les Carpenter of Yahoo Sports) that emerged of him beating and kicking a dog from 2015 and signed with the Oakland Raiders after the draft. He chose a high-volume passing attack with an opportunity to contribute to join.
The redshirt sophomore was one of the more talented receivers in the class on the field and surely would have been a late Day 2 pick without the incident. The 6'3", 224-pounder dazzled at his pro day, running a 4.53-second 40-yard dash with an above-average 10' broad jump. This matched what he showed on the field, where he developed in his first full-time season into a legitimate deep threat for Baylor.
Though Zamora is inexperienced and must continue improving as a route-runner, if he can master the basic stick routes, he can play early for Oakland with its duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Zamora breaks press coverage effectively and quickly gets on top of cornerbacks, but he has to sell curls, comebacks and dig routes more than he showed at Baylor.
Some of that is a byproduct of their scheme, but the Raiders are the right place to unleash his athleticism and powerful frame.
Kai Nacua, S, Cleveland Browns
2 of 8
- Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
One of the very best athletes in the draft, Kai Nacua of BYU made the wise decision to join the safety-needy Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland never addressed the safety position after picking Jabrill Peppers in the first round, leaving the other two spots in new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' 4-2-5 alignment open for competition. Nacua has the chance to earn playing time early.
2016 contributors Ibraheim Campbell and Ed Reynolds were among the worst starters in the league last year, too often taking bad angles and missing tackles. Their lack of forced turnovers compounded the issue, and Williams will demand more from the position than what those two showed last year. Nacua and fellow newcomer Tyvis Powell have the collegiate resumes to hint they're going to make the final roster as well as waves on the depth chart.
Nacua surprisingly went undrafted despite playing single-high safety for BYU and totaling 14 interceptions in the last three seasons. He's not a great tackler, but that's more of a strength of Peppers and Powell. At his pro day, the 6'1", 205-pound safety ran a great 4.49 time, leaping 39" high and finishing the three-cone drill in a mere 6.87 seconds. He's one of the best athletes in a loaded class and his production is impressive.
Najee Murray, CB, Cleveland Browns
3 of 8
- Andrew Weber/Getty Images
Another secondary undrafted free agent who could make waves for the Cleveland Browns is Najee Murray. The Kent State alum will benefit from the Browns not drafting more than one cornerback despite their need for bodies at the position. And the man they did draft, Howard Wilson, projects best as a boundary corner, while Murray is a slot-only option.
The 5'9", 182-pound corner is reminiscent of Nickell Robey-Coleman, with a tough mindset and willingness to stick his nose in every dogpile to finish the play. Murray began his career at Ohio State before transferring after his freshman season, then quickly established himself as a specialist for the Golden Flash defense. What will help Murray is being able to play special teams early in his career.
Cleveland has one slot corner in Briean Boddy-Calhoun currently, but there's potentially room for one more corner on the roster even with Wilson in the fold. Murray will have the upper hand there due to experience at the role and the lack of other competition currently in-house. Then, even one injury within the unit can further open the door to him leaving his mark on the defense.
Darrell Daniels, TE, Indianapolis Colts
4 of 8
- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
New Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard has put together an excellent offseason in his first season in the position. Not only did he add significant talent in free agency without breaking the bank, but he stuck to his board and drafted well. His top undrafted free-agent addition, Washington tight end Darrell Daniels, has the chance to add to the list of impressive acquisitions made this offseason.
The Colts re-signed tight end Jack Doyle, but the trade of Dwayne Allen opened the door for a second tight end to emerge. Daniels is a 6'3", 247-pound athlete who had a very good NFL Scouting Combine performance. He's comparable athletically to Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, who was drafted in the third round of last year's draft.
Daniels fell in part due to the ridiculous class depth at the position, but he had issues staying on the field as well. He had just 28 games played in four seasons, totaling 728 yards and five touchdowns. He has to prove he can be available. If he does, he has the athleticism and explosiveness to become a great value as the second tight end on the roster.
Aviante Collins, OG, Minnesota Vikings
5 of 8
- Mike Stone/Associated Press
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman had another terrific draft haul this year, and it appears his activity post-draft could pay off as well. The third-round addition of center Pat Elflein will instantly boost the interior play of the offensive line, but undrafted free agent Aviante Collins is a name to watch for at the right guard position.
Collins is an excellent athlete at 295 pounds. While he'll have to bulk up a little, the 6'4" former TCU tackle has an easy conversion inside to take advantage of his quickness on pulls and to the second level. With his competition being Willie Beavers and Reid Fragel, a strong training camp could land Collins the starting job.
New running back Dalvin Cook will be able to create a lot of yards on his own, but having an athletic guard to get out in front of him to occupy defenders makes everything easier. Beavers showed very little in terms of readiness last season, leaving this door wide-open. This is one of the best opportunities for any undrafted free agent leaguewide.
Connor Harris, LB, New York Jets
6 of 8
- Butch Dill/Associated Press
The New York Jets opted to double down at safety and wide receiver in the draft, limiting the assets they spent elsewhere despite needs all over. This includes the second layer of their defense, which lacks pass-rushers and depth past starters David Harris and Darron Lee. Undrafted free agent Connor Harris of Lindenwood could help bolster their shallow linebacker depth and be an impactful player if his number is called.
Harris was incredibly productive at the Division II school in Missouri, finishing with 633 career tackle, 34 tackles for loss and 20 passes deflected. He was named the National Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 as well as a three-time All-American. With 48 starts under his belt, he comes to the Jets with terrific experience and a history of being the best player on the field.
Even though Harris measured as an average athlete at the combine, his 5'11", 242-pound frame was a big reason he didn't get drafted. Still, Harris can play and immediately be a special teams contributor as he waits for defensive snaps. His background and accolades help show his dominance and reliability.
Dylan Cole, LB, Houston Texans
7 of 8
- Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole was one of the best athletes in the draft, and his pro day proved he was the best athlete at his position despite his going undrafted. The Houston Texans quickly picked up the free agent to bolster their linebacker corps and add a new dimension to the group. Even with Benardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing on board, Cole will have an opportunity because neither is reliable in coverage.
Cole has experience both inside and outside in a 4-3 and 3-4 and figures to be a weak-side interior linebacker for the Colts. He has good size at 6'1" and 240 pounds, ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash and jumped 39 inches vertically, and his change of direction was on display with a 6.82-second three-cone time at his pro day. His 32 bench reps and vertical leap would have been the best among all linebackers at the combine had he been invited.
The first-team FCS All-American had terrific production to go with his athleticism. He had 457 career tackles, including 152 and 142 in his final two seasons. He had 40.5 tackles for loss and 21 passes defensed. He was dominant in the FCS and should settle in quickly as a backup and special teams ace.
Lorenzo Jerome, S, San Francisco 49ers
8 of 8
- Patrick Record/Associated Press
With the San Francisco 49ers rebooting their franchise at general manager (John Lynch) and the coaching staff (starting with head coach Kyle Shanahan), the timing couldn't be better for young players to flock there. There will be a massive roster churn and competition the next few offseasons as the 49ers build a new depth chart.
As such, St. Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome landed in a good place to start his career. Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt anchor the 49ers' current safety depth chart, but Reid's not guaranteed to be around for the long term as his contract is expiring after 2017.
That gives Jerome the chance to become a backup in base formations and the fifth defensive back on the field in nickel situations. Jerome is the ultimate tape test, as he was tremendously productive and effective as a single-high safety at St. Francis, totaling 18 interceptions and 47 passes defensed in four years. But then he went to the combine and measured as one of the worst athletes we've seen at the event.
Jerome will be a fascinating case study of tape versus athleticism. While safety doesn't have any clear indicators as far as athletic links, being an awful athlete doesn't bode well for any position. Maybe his instincts will prove to be good enough to overcome that, or maybe he was sick or hurt at the combine. If so, Jerome will be a steal and push for playing time early.