NFLTR Review: One UDFA To Watch From Every Team

The work doesn’t stop for teams once the draft ends, as undrafted free agents play a big role every year on NFL rosters: In this issue:

  • One UDFA to monitor from every team who could make noise — plus extra bonus names
  • What’s shaking and what’s not on a loaded veteran edge rusher market
  • 10 takeaways from the schedule release

One UDFA To Watch From Every Team

There were 259 players selected in the 2023 draft. At least that many signed contracts with teams after the draft. While the vast majority of these players will be cut by the time Week 1 rolls around, history tells us there will be a couple dozen or so who turn into legitimate NFL contributors, even if it takes some developmental time on the practice squad or bouncing around with a few different teams to find the right fit. There could even be a star player or two waiting to be uncovered. 

Here’s a watch list of the most intriguing undrafted free agents signed by each team this offseason. 

Helpful links:

49ers: Shepherd OL Joey Fisher

A small Division II school in West Virginia with an enrollment of just over 3,500 students, Shepherd put itself on the map this offseason with multiple NFL-caliber prospects who are getting looks as undrafted free agents, including Fisher. He initially was recruited by Maryland as a defensive end but the turmoil in that program ended up causing him to decommit. He was out of football for a year before landing at Shepherd and worked for two years before finally seeing the field as a starter. He never left the lineup after that. 

Obviously Fisher is headed for a much bigger jump in competition, and he’s already 25 years old which isn’t ideal for a developmental prospect. But he showed during the pre-draft process he’s ready to compete, standing out so much at the NFLPA Bowl that he earned an invite to the Senior Bowl, although a broken knuckle kept him out of the game. His best asset is his toughness and play demeanor, and it’s also a positive that he hit 4.97 seconds in the 40-yard dash. While that drill doesn’t have a lot of direct correlation to what offensive linemen are asked to do each play, getting under five seconds has historically been a positive indicator of success for OL prospects, and Shepherd also tested as one of the most athletic linemen in this class

Getting a practice squad spot would qualify as a win and then the hope for the 49ers would be that Fisher develops further from there. San Francisco has had a lot of success with unheralded linebackers as well, so former Minnesota LB Mariano Sori-Marin is another name to keep an eye on. 

Bears: Shepherd QB Tyson Bagent

A lot of the attention Shepherd received from scouts was due to Bagent, who has been one of the most prolific quarterbacks in all of college football over the past few seasons. A local West Virginia high school football star, Bagent got zero recruiting interest and ended up at Shepherd, where he started from the jump. He finished his career with over 17,000 passing yards and 171 total touchdowns, turning down transfer interest from West Virginia and Maryland to stay at Shepherd for his senior season. He earned an invite to the 2023 Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine and didn’t look out of place at either event. 

Bagent doesn’t have overwhelming physical tools but he absolutely has NFL-level size, athleticism and arm strength. His best asset will be his experience with 53 starts and more than 2,000 passing attempts under his belt. The biggest thing he’ll need to overcome is the massive jump in competition from Division II to the NFL, and it’s possible he’ll have some rough-looking moments early as he adjusts. Earning a spot on the practice squad would be a win, with the goal of developing on the scout team and putting himself in the competition for a backup job in 2024. Once you’re a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL, you just have to be ready for when opportunity inevitably finds you. 

Bengals: Washington OL Jaxson Kirkland

Kirkland has been a mainstay at Washington for the past five seasons, starting every game he appeared in for five seasons. Most of those starts came at guard, with 25 at right guard, nine at left guard and another 15 at left tackle. He fits the size template the Bengals seem to covet in their offensive linemen at a hulking 6-7 and 321 pounds. His best fit is at guard in the NFL where his size can be maximized but it’s nice to be able to play tackle in a pinch. 

The Bengals’ offensive line has come a long way but there’s still room for competition for depth roles. NFL teams are always on the lookout for fill-in offensive linemen as well with a leaguewide shortage. If Kirkland can’t crack the Bengals’ roster or practice squad, he should have opportunities elsewhere. 

Bills: Alabama DT DJ Dale

Sometimes making an impact as an undrafted free agent is less about being better than the NFL expected and more about finding a particular niche to do better than a lot of other players. Often that’s special teams but there are sub-package roles that teams are often on the lookout for. Dale stands out in the Bills’ undrafted free agent class as someone who has a shot at a roster spot because of his ability to be a two-down run plugger. Neither his athletic testing numbers nor his statistical production leap off the page but he played significant snaps all four years at Alabama, including starting his first three seasons. Buffalo currently doesn’t have any defensive tackles under contract beyond this season, either.

Broncos: Youngstown State RB Jaleel McLaughlin

The Broncos have a lot of uncertainty about their running back group in 2023, which is interesting considering the signs pointing to a run-heavy offense under new HC Sean Payton. It’s not clear when Javonte Williams will be ready to play after a serious, multi-ligament knee injury last season. Even when he returns, it could take time for him to look like the rising star he appeared to be pre-injury. Denver signed Samaje Perine to carry the load while Williams is out but he’s never been a full-time starter. The depth behind those two is currently iffy, with Tony Jones Jr., Tyler Badie, Damarea Crockett, Jacques Patrick and McLaughlin rounding out the depth chart. 

That leaves an opening for someone like McLaughlin to potentially steal a roster spot. At only 5-8 and 190 pounds or so, McLaughlin will likely never be viewed as a feature back. But he’s an explosive ball carrier and a competent receiver. He was prolific for two years in Division II, recording 723 carries for 4,737 yards and 52 total touchdowns. He transferred to Youngstown State and was similarly productive, rushing 536 times for 3,424 yards and 30 touchdowns, adding another 500 receiving yards and two more touchdowns. Despite his size, he’s an outstanding runner. There are real Phillip Lindsay vibes from McLaughlin, which should get Broncos fans excited. 

Williams, Perine, Jones, Crockett and Patrick are all bigger, power-back types. McLaughlin would be competing with Badie for a role as a receiving back and a quicker change-of-pace complement to Perine and eventually Perine and Williams. 

Browns: Kansas DE Lonnie Phelps

Phelps was widely viewed as a draftable prospect, including a mid-round grade from Brugler, but ended up slipping all the way out of the first seven rounds, potentially due to concerns about his lack of size. He’s only 6-2 and 244 pounds. However, he ran a 4.55-second 40 with a solid 1.57-second 10-yard split, and that quickness shows up on his film. He also tossed up 31 reps on the bench press at the Combine, which is pretty neat even if it doesn’t mean much in terms of predicting future success. His top athletic comparable on Mockdraftable is veteran DE Yannick Ngakoue, which would be an outstanding career result. 

A more attainable outcome would be fellow Browns DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and even that would be a huge win compared to what happens to most undrafted free agents. Cleveland signed Okoronkwo to be a high-effort, high-intensity sub-package rusher and Phelps profiles for a similar role, perhaps with a stint on the practice squad first. 

Some other names to watch for the Browns are the pair of Ohio State safeties, Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister. Hickman is a bigger, box type, while McCalister profiles as more of a nickel defender. There’s room on the Browns’ depth chart for someone to crack the roster. The same is true at linebacker where former Utah LB Mohamoud Diabate received the second-highest guaranteed money of any undrafted free agent this year. In the big picture, that’s pocket change that won’t supersede the tape when the Browns cut the roster down but it does show they had competition to sign him and made landing him a priority. 

Buccaneers: Syracuse RB Sean Tucker

When a player as highly regarded as Tucker seemed to be during the pre-draft process — No. 148 on the consensus big board, firmly in the middle rounds — falls all the way out of the draft, oftentimes there’s an off-the-field reason tied to the slide. In this case, Tucker was flagged at the Combine for a medical recheck and was unable to work out until a couple of days before the draft at his personal pro day. Tucker was cleared during his recheck and says he’s healthy, but NFL teams clearly had some doubts. It’s not clear what the issue was that was red-flagged. 

Regardless, Tucker landed in a solid situation in Tampa Bay. Second-year RB Rachaad White is expected to lead the backfield with Chase Edmonds, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Patrick Laird rounding out the roster along with Tucker and fellow UDFA, Shepherd RB Ronnie Brown. That’s not a particularly imposing depth chart to crack. Tucker was an explosive runner right out of the gate at Syracuse and brings a big-play element as both a runner and receiver that could help him stand out and make the team. 

Tampa Bay doesn’t have a lot of depth at wide receiver either, so add Maryland WR Rakim Jarrett to the watchlist. He’s fast and was a former big-time recruit who has the athletic ability to sneak onto the end of the roster. 

Cardinals: Wake Forest TE Blake Whiteheart

Whiteheart doesn’t really stand out in any particular area. He played 50 games at Wake Forest and finished with 44 catches, 541 yards and six touchdowns. He’s not particularly big or athletic for the position, either. However, he falls within the NFL norms at his position, and his lack of production can be explained by the Demon Deacons’ unique spread offense that didn’t feature tight ends in the passing game. Given the wide-open nature of Arizona’s depth chart, Whiteheart is absolutely capable of carving out a much better professional career than college as a backup tight end. 

Arizona State LB Kyle Soelle is another player who could take advantage of the opportunity for snaps on a rebuilding Cardinals squad, along with Michigan DT Jacob Slade

Chargers: Coastal Carolina DT Jerrod Clark

There’s an influential school of thought in NFL scouting circles called “planet theory,” which essentially says for some roles, there are only so many people on the planet who are big or athletic enough to fill them. Clark is an example of that, as at 6-4 and nearly 340 pounds, he has rare, space-eating nose tackle size. Defensive linemen in Chargers HC Brandon Staley’s scheme have to be able to command multiple blockers to free up everyone else behind them to do their jobs. Clark has the size and strength to develop into an important contributor in that regard. 

Chiefs: Indiana LB Cam Jones & N.C. State LB Isaiah Moore

I’m cheating a bit, as Kansas City has two interesting UDFA linebacker prospects and I can’t decide which one I think has a better chance of making the team. Jones is quicker and better in coverage right now as a converted safety. Moore is bigger, more disciplined and plays better against the run right now. He also started 55 games compared to 23 for Jones and was able to stay healthier than Jones over the course of their respective college careers. Both players arrive with high praise for their football character from their time in college. The deciding factor could be special teams, and this is where Jones’ athleticism and violent mentality could help him stand out. 

Colts: Alabama G Emil Ekiyor

Per the consensus big board, Ekiyor was the third-highest-rated player to slip out of the draft, checking in at 143 overall. Brugler graded him as a fourth-round prospect, too, after three straight years starting at right guard for the Crimson Tide. The Indianapolis Star reported some teams had concerns about Ekiyor’s knee and medically red-flagged it. Ekiyor also barely tested during the pre-draft process, though injuries weren’t cited as the reason why, so that could have pushed him down the board as well. 

That leaves the Colts as potential winners. Indianapolis didn’t address the interior of their offensive line during the draft despite it being a major pain point in 2022. The Colts are counting on G Quenton Nelson and C Ryan Kelly to bounce back and play like impact players again, but right guard will either be Will Fries or Danny Pinter. Ekiyor could have a chance to factor into that competition if he hits the ground running and is a good bet to stick on the practice squad regardless. He’s a tough, physical player who needs to learn to play with a little more balance and discipline. 

The Colts annually put a big emphasis on athleticism during the draft and their UDFA class is no different. Sam Houston State WR Cody Chrest, Virginia State RB Darius Hagans and Maine WR Zavier Scott are some interesting names to watch during the preseason who all tested like top-level NFL athletes. 

Commanders: UCLA WR Kazmeir Allen

We’ll take our cue from Commanders HC Ron Rivera here. When the head coach specifically mentions your name as an undrafted free agent, it’s notable. Rivera said Washington has high hopes for Allen as a return specialist. 

“Well, there are a couple of guys out there, but one of the more notable names, and I’m gonna have to look it up so I can say it properly, but he’s a young man we got out of UCLA,” Rivera said, via “He’ll wear number 10 out there, Kazmeir Allen. He played some slot for them, some wide receiver for them, some running back for them and then he returned both kickoffs and punts for them, and he did ’em in the bowl game in the All-Star games as well. So he’s a young man that most certainly has gotten our attention, and he’s a young guy that we went out and tried to make sure we were able to recruit and bring him in as a free agent.”

Allen scored 10 total touchdowns as a gadget player for UCLA over the past two seasons (six rushing, three receiving, one kickoff return) and averaged 27 yards per return over his career. He’s light at 5-8 and 183 pounds and ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, a little slower than expected for his size. The production speaks for itself, however. 

Cowboys: Oregon G T.J. Bass

Dallas annually pulls in some of the best undrafted free agent classes and this year was no different. Guys like Mississippi State OLB Tyrus Wheat, North Dakota State FB Hunter Luepke, West Florida WR David Durden, Florida A&M OLB Isaiah Land and more would have been worth highlighting here. But I picked Bass for a few reasons. I like highlighting offensive linemen when I can because they’re so pivotally important to everything that happens on a football field and often only get a tenth of the credit they deserve. For the Cowboys specifically, Bass has a chance to factor in at guard where the team has some question marks, both short and long-term. 

As a player, Bass is also compelling in the Cowboys’ UDFA class. He transferred to Oregon after two seasons of junior college and became an instant starter, beginning at left guard before finishing his final two seasons at left tackle. Bass was first-team all-conference his final two seasons and earned a draftable grade from Brugler in the fifth-sixth range. He’s not long or quick enough to hang at tackle in the pros but he has the strength, competitiveness and build to stick at guard. Teams are always looking for depth, and in the case of the Cowboys they don’t have a clear-cut starter at left guard right now. It’s unrealistic to expect Bass to be the solution there as a rookie but he’ll definitely have more of an opportunity to prove himself than he would in other places. 

Dolphins: Jackson State LB Aubrey Miller

Miller turned heads playing for HC Deion Sanders at Jackson State over the past three seasons and joins fellow Jackson State players Isaiah Bolden (seventh-round Patriots CB) and James Houston (sixth-round OLB in 2022 by the Lions) in the NFL. While he doesn’t have ideal size or athleticism at just 5-11 and only 4.7 seconds in the 40, Miller hits like a missile. He also already has significant special teams experience as a core teams contributor at Jackson State. That could be huge in securing him a roster spot as a rookie if he hits the ground running. 

Down the road, it’s possible to see Miller carving out a role as a player similar to Denzel Perryman, another short, hard-hitting linebacker who has stuck around for a while due to his proficiency against the run. Another name worth mentioning is BYU RB Christopher Brooks, who gives some in the scouting community Alfred Morris vibes. That should catch your eye given Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel’s connections to the Shanahan coaching tree. 

Eagles: Louisville OT Trevor Reid

One of the real advantages the Eagles have over other teams is OL coach Jeff Stoutland, who is deservedly one of the NFL’s highest-paid assistants. Stoutland is known for his ability to coach up linemen, which is a real asset considering teams are always starved for competent line play. One of his greatest success stories might be LT Jordan Mailata, who went from a converted rugby player to an eight-figure-a-year blindside protector. Give Stoutland time and a plus athlete, and odds are he can turn a player into an NFL contributor. 

That makes Reid a notable addition for the Eagles in their undrafted free agent class that also included a pair of SEC cornerbacks — Eli Ricks and Mekhi Garner — that were expected to be drafted. He was an incredibly athletic prospect, testing near the top of the charts for his position. He’s not ready to play right now but the tools are definitely there. It’ll be interesting to see what a year on the practice squad could do for him and whether the Eagles can get another success story like Mailata. Even if Reid develops into a competent backup, that’s still a major win. 

Falcons: Oklahoma Baptist WR Keilahn Harris

Atlanta had one of the smaller UDFA classes this year, choosing instead to fill out the back end of the roster with veterans from the tryout circuit and some former XFL players. In terms of chances to make the roster, some of those players are probably better bets and the UDFAs seem to be more practice squad longshots. But Harris is an interesting name given how the Falcons lack depth at receiver right now. 

Harris earned an invite to the Tropical Bowl and was one of the standout performers at the event, which is important given the jump in competition from the Division II players he played against at Oklahoma Baptist. That and his poor testing likely pushed him out of the draft. At 5-9 and 183 pounds, Harris ran a 4.71-second 40 and the rest of his testing was similarly poor, with the exception of his agility drills which are around average for an NFL prospect. It’s important to note, however, that those drills can be impacted by access to high-level training both during a college player’s career and during the pre-draft process, which Harris may not have had coming out of Oklahoma Baptist. 

There’s no getting around the fact that Harris is a long shot who might not even make it to training camp. But then again, just last year the Falcons put WR Jared Bernhardt, a former D-II college quarterback who played four years of lacrosse before that, on their 53-man roster for the whole season. Bernhardt happened to be the Falcons UDFA we highlighted for this last year, too. What works in Harris’ favor are his skills as a promising football player, with sticky hands and budding route-running ability. That gives him a chance to overcome his relative lack of athleticism. 

Giants: West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton

On the other end of the spectrum from Harris in Atlanta is Ford-Wheaton. He had the best RAS score of any receiver in this draft and the eighth-best of any player overall. Zooming out even more, Ford-Wheaton is more athletic than all but 10 receivers in RAS’ database going back to 1987. At nearly 6-4 and 220+ pounds, Ford-Wheaton ran a 4.38-second 40, sub-seven second three-cone and 4.15-second short shuttle, and hit 41 inches in the vertical and 10-foot-9 in the broad jump. 

It’s no wonder the Giants gave Ford-Wheaton the third-highest guarantees of any UDFA this year, as he brings something unique to their current collection of pocket-sized slot receivers and skinny speedsters. New York basically gave Ford-Wheaton an advance on a practice squad salary for the season, so he’s not necessarily guaranteed a roster spot. He needs to improve his hands and route-running but those can be taught to a degree. The athleticism can’t. If nothing else, that could earn him a roster spot as a gunner on punt team or kickoffs. 

Jaguars: BYU CB Kaleb Hayes

The biggest perk with Hayes is his outstanding athleticism. He lit up BYU’s pro day with a 4.31-second 40 time, 40-inch vertical, 10-foot-8 broad jump, 6.88-second three-cone, 4.27-second short shuttle and 17 reps on the bench press for good measure. At 5-11 and 194 pounds, he has solid size for the position as well. His production on the field was respectable as well, leading Oregon State in pass breakups as a true freshman starter, then ending up at BYU to finish his college career. He led the Cougars in pass breakups each of his final two seasons as well. 

The biggest knock on Hayes is that in four years and 42 games of college football, he didn’t intercept a single pass. His ball skills and the other technical details of playing cornerback need work. He’s also on the older side at 24 years old. The physical tools are great for a secondary coach to work with to try and develop but Hayes has a long way to go to be a potential NFL contributor. 

Jets: Florida S Trey Dean

The Jets didn’t revamp their safety group as much as some expected after the position was the weak point of an otherwise strong defense in 2022. They replaced retired S LaMarcus Joyner by trading for Ravens S Chuck Clark and elected not to make S Jordan Whitehead a cap cut to save $7 million. The Jets didn’t use any draft picks on the position, instead choosing to re-sign veteran journeyman Will Parks and sign two more UDFAs — Dean and former Texas Tech S Marquis Waters — to compete to round out the depth. 

That means there’s a big opportunity for someone to step up at safety and there’s a lot to like about what Dean brings to the table. He played in 62 games and started 40 over his five years at Florida, which is a lot of SEC starting experience. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he has good size for the position and showed good tackling ability in college. Dean led the Gators in tackles (92) and pass breakups (10) in 2021. 

His athletic profile is a little weird, though. His three-cone drill of 6.69 seconds was outstanding, and his other agility and explosiveness drills were solid. He ran a 4.75-second 40 time at the Combine, however, which is dismal long speed. The flip side is a 1.59-second 10-yard split along with his other numbers indicates he has good quickness, so a role closer to the line of scrimmage or as a tight end coverage specialist might be his best fit. His 25 bench press reps at the Combine support that thesis too, even if they’re as much a measure of weight room work ethic as strength. 

Lions: UAB CB Starling Thomas V

Thanks to an offseason of reinforcements, the Lions’ secondary is in much better shape than it was a year ago. It’ll be much harder for an undrafted free agent to crack the roster here than it has been over the past couple of years. But Thomas seems like a player who’s going to be determined to make it as tough a decision as possible.

Coming from the revived UAB football program, Thomas doesn’t have elite size for the position at 5-10 and 190 pounds. He does have elite speed, running a 4.38-second 40 yard dash. He’s the exact type of gritty, scrappy, competitive player the Lions love adding, too. He’s a good tackler despite his size and he played seven games on a torn ACL as a sophomore in 2019. At the very least, it seems like he should have a shot at a practice squad gig. 

The other name to know is the local Michigan kid from Saginaw Valley State, LB Trevor Nowaske. He tested as an elite-level athlete and the Lions’ depth chart at linebacker has more opportunity on the back end for an undrafted free agent to make the team. That athleticism could help Nowaske become an asset on special teams first and work his way into a role on defense from there. 

Packers: Florida LB Brenton Cox Jr.

Green Bay has a few interesting UDFAs this year. Given how wide open their depth chart at safety is, there’s absolutely an opportunity for either of the two guys they signed — Baylor’s Christian Morgan or Northern Iowa’s Benny Sapp II — to make the team. The most highly-regarded of their class before the draft was Cox, however. He had draftable grades from a number of different outlets and is a former five-star recruit who initially committed to Georgia. 

He was dismissed from Georgia after one season, however, following an arrest for marijuana possession. He transferred to Florida but was dismissed yet again midway through the 2022 season for what was described as a series of violations of team rules. That likely played a major role in him going undrafted. 

On the field, Cox doesn’t have outstanding size or athleticism, but he’s a high-effort player with active hands and feet with a knack for getting after the quarterback. He played a hybrid edge rushing/linebacker position and had 34 tackles for loss plus 14.5 sacks over his final three seasons at Florida. His leash will be short in the NFL but if he can translate those skills to the pros, some team might be willing to find room for him. Green Bay’s depth at both linebacker and edge rusher could use help. 

Panthers: Oregon State CB Rejzohn Wright

Wright’s brother, Nahshon, was a third-round pick of the Cowboys in 2021 and the younger Wright followed in his footsteps at both junior college and Oregon State. Both Wrights are tall and long cornerbacks and it’s the younger Wright’s best trait, along with great competitiveness and ball skills. He finished his final two years as the starter for the Beavers with 21 pass breakups and four interceptions. Brugler gave him a mid-round grade and the consensus big board had him as the No. 200 prospect. 

However, injuries kept Wright out of the Senior Bowl, Combine and his pro day, meaning there were no athletic testing numbers for him and no chance to raise his value with teams. That could be to Carolina’s benefit, as they weren’t able to draft a corner and are in search of depth at the position. Wright’s instincts should be a good fit in new DC Ejiro Evero’s scheme if he can clean up a few aspects of his game. 

I’d be remiss not to mention LB Bumper Pool, charter member of the 2023 rookie all-name team and Arkansas’ all-time leading tackler. He could end up with a spot on the roster if he proves adept on special teams. Linebacker is another area where the Panthers could use depth.  

Patriots: Louisville QB Malik Cunningham

New England operates a little differently from the rest of the league when it comes to announcing roster moves. The Patriots are the only team we don’t have official UDFA signings for yet, and there have been only a couple reported. But one of those was Cunningham who got $200,000 in guarantees, more than the Patriots’ final five draft picks across the sixth and seventh rounds. A UDFA has made the final roster for 19 straight years in New England, and right now it seems if anyone is going to keep that streak going, it’s Cunningham or bust. 

He’s competing for the No. 3 quarterback job with Trace McSorley, which likely means scout team duties during the season. What’s working in his favor is Cunningham is a tremendous athlete, good enough to transition to wide receiver in fact. He’s not big at just 5-11 and 192 pounds, but he ran a 4.53-second 40 at the Combine and rushed for over 3,000 yards in college, to go along with nearly 10,000 yards passing. 

He has a long way to go to be a competent NFL quarterback but his athleticism allows him to bring something dramatically different to the table compared to the rest of the Patriots quarterback room. That alone makes him an interesting rookie to watch. 

Raiders: UT-Chattanooga G McClendon Curtis

Despite playing at a lower level of competition at UT-Chattanooga, it was a surprise when Curtis slid all the way out of the draft. He came in at No. 169 on the consensus big board and had mid-round grades from several places. Evidently teams thought he was too much of a project to draft despite some solid tape and great tools at 6-5 and 325 pounds. 

For the Raiders, Curtis is more than worth the risk as an undrafted free agent. The offensive line remains in flux in Las Vegas despite performing better than expected as a collective last season. The Raiders need to find two starters out of a group that includes 2022 third-rounder Dylan Parham (who might fit best at center instead of Andre James), Alex Bars, Netane Muti and potentially Thayer Munford, though he’s competing at right tackle with Jermaine Eluemunor (who also has guard experience) and Brandon Parker. You would not be wrong in thinking that group sounds like a whole lot of meh at best, so even if Curtis needs time to develop before he’s ready to start, his chances of making the team seem solid. 


Between their draft class and UDFA signings, the Rams added 38 rookies over the past couple of weeks, give or take some tinkering. So here are a few names to watch out of that sizable group: 

  • N.C. State K Christopher Dunn – One of two kickers signed by the Rams, with Oklahoma State’s Tanner Brown the other. They’ll compete for the starting job. Dunn has the longer track record with five years kicking for the Wolfpack and shook off a shaky 2021 season to go 28-29 in 2022, win the Lou Groza award for the nation’s best kicker and set the all-time NCAA record for made field goals with 97. Oh and he never missed an extra point in college, going 200-200. 
  • Louisville RB Tiyon Evans – Built a little bit like a bowling ball at 5-9 and 225 pounds, Evans started out at junior college before landing at Tennessee and leading the Volunteers in rushing in 2021. However, he entered the transfer portal after just one season and seven games, landing at Louisville where he put up essentially the same stats. He has excellent size and athleticism for the running back position, so if he refines the details of his game, the Rams might have something. 
  • Florida A&M WR Xavier Smith – When you’re getting shoutouts from former NFL great Steve Smith, it’s worth paying attention to. Smith is undersized but speedy and a prolific producer. He finished his FAMU career with 228 receptions, 2,893 yards and 25 touchdowns. 
  • Western Carolina CB Cameron McCutcheon – One of the thinnest spots on the roster for the Rams right now is cornerback, where things are wide open after the trade of CB Jalen Ramsey. The Rams signed eight defensive backs out of their 24 UDFA signings, and McCutcheon is one of the interesting prospects given his size (6-1, 204 pounds, 33-inch arms). He’s a little on the slow side at just 4.56 seconds in the 40, but his overall athletic profile is good. 
  • Arizona State CB Timarcus Davis – Another interesting cornerback prospect, Davis is a lot smaller than McCutcheoon at 5-11 and 180 pounds and also ran slower than 4.5 seconds in the 40. However, the rest of his testing was outstanding, including a 6.65-second three-cone, 4.12-second short shuttle, 41-inch vertical and an 11-foot-1 broad jump. The Rams often go after players with disappointing 40 times who have other indicators that show they play faster than their timed speed, and Davis could fit that description. 

Ravens: East Carolina RB Keaton Mitchell 

The Ravens had a 16-year streak of at least one UDFA making the final roster that was snapped in 2020. They got back on the wagon with LB Josh Ross last year and will be looking to start a new streak this summer, as the organization prides itself on doing well in undrafted free agency. Mitchell has gotten a lot of early attention as the top candidate among the UDFAs to make the team, as he’s a mini stick of dynamite at 5-8, 180 pounds with 4.37 speed and a loaded college highlight reel. He averaged over seven yards a carry his final season in college. If the Ravens are going to open things up on offense and involve their backs more in the passing game, Mitchell could be a rare instant-impact UDFA. 

Having said that, Mitchell is more sizzle than steak at this point and loves to try and turn every run into a race to the corner. As fast as he is, that won’t work as well in the NFL. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are better every-down backs, and Justice Hill has an edge for the third-down role and on special teams due to being bigger, more experienced and a better blocker right now. Still, Mitchell could absolutely make a splash during the preseason and stick around on the practice squad. 

The player I was absolutely fascinated by was Texas State DT/FB Levi Bell. He has some of the most unique measurables I have ever seen for a prospective NFL player, coming in short but burly at 5-11 and 262 pounds and absolutely dominating every other test, including a 4.58-second 40, 33 bench press reps and a 37-inch vertical. He played defensive tackle for the most part in college but the Ravens apparently had plans to try him at fullback, similar to Patrick Ricard who was another DL-to-FB conversion project. I say apparently because they cut him after rookie minicamp and signed Ball State S Jaquan Amos, who might not be a bad bet to stick around himself.  

Saints: Virginia DB Anthony Johnson

The Saints gave more guarantees to South Carolina State WR Shaquan Davis and he has more of a ceiling given his prodigious athletic gifts as a 6-4 former basketball player. But Johnson feels more likely to develop into a contributing player for the Saints eventually even if he has to move to safety, which is not out of the question given his slow 40 time. 

Johnson played outside cornerback at Virginia, though, and showed off impressive ball skills. In two years with the Cavaliers, he picked off five passes and knocked down 23 others. He’s a physical corner at 6-2, 205 pounds and a solid tackler. Faster and shiftier receivers could give him issues but he could also develop into a player who could hold his own for stretches in a zone defense. 

Seahawks: Louisiana Tech FB Griffin Hebert 

Hebert is the type of player who it’s fun to imagine the possibilities for, but harder to actually execute as a consistent part of the offense. He’s an extraordinary athlete, ranking in the top percentile for fullbacks and still quite high if you call him a tight end. At 6-1 and 240 pounds, he doesn’t have the size to play as a traditional inline tight end, but he’s got outstanding speed and receiving skills, making him someone who could be a matchup weapon against linebackers. The downside is he blocks more like a receiver than a tight end or fullback. It’ll be fascinating to see if he’s able to carve out a niche with the Seahawks. The high-level athleticism gives him a chance. 

Two other players to keep an eye on are East Carolina QB Holton Ahlers, who had a great pre-draft process to put himself on the NFL radar and has a fun backstory, and Montana State DB Ty Okada. A former walk-on, Okada showcased excellent athleticism at his pro day and his experience playing all over the secondary and on special teams could help him stick with the Seahawks. 

Steelers: Iowa State C Trevor Downing

Downing earned freshman All-American recognition in 2019 and was all-conference to some level in each of the three healthy seasons he played, regardless of whether he was at guard or center. That flexibility will work in his favor when it comes to sticking around with the Steelers, even if it’s on the practice squad initially. He couldn’t work out during the pre-draft process and that may have pushed him down the board. At 6-4 and sub-300 pounds, he’s on the lighter side and would probably fit best at center in a wide zone scheme. He’s smart, quick and tough, though. 

Texans: LSU DE Ali Gaye

Gaye is one of those guys who stands out when getting off the team bus at 6-6 and 263 pounds with 34-inch arms. The good news is there’s a lot of room still for him to improve after only discovering the sport of football in eighth grade. The bad news is he has a lot of growing still to do, which is why he fell all the way out of the draft. 

Still, getting a prospect with these kinds of tools to develop is intriguing for the Texans, especially with new HC DeMeco Ryans coming over with his background from the 49ers. Gaye doesn’t lack effort or work ethic and has some base physical tools to work with. He led LSU in tackles for loss during his first year with the team in 2020 and was off to a hot start in 2021 before getting injured. 

Titans: Ferris State OLB Caleb Murphy

Although there’s an asterisk for compiling his production against Division II competition, Murphy’s stats are impossible to ignore. In two years, he recorded a staggering 40 sacks and 60.5 tackles for loss, just jaw-dropping numbers no matter who they come against. The question is if Murphy will be able to keep it up once the competition gets better. He’s got solid size at 6-3 and around 265 pounds based on his pro day weight, but his testing was below average at the Combine even though he was 10 pounds lighter. Edge rusher is one of the positions where traits and athleticism are actually more important than proven production when forecasting the transition from college to the NFL. 

But it all comes back to those 100+ tackles in the backfield over the past two years, which show Murphy is a heck of a football player. It’ll be fascinating to see how it shakes out for him during the preseason. 

Vikings: Army DE Andre Carter

Draft media as a whole probably gassed Carter up too much following a prolific 2021 season where he had 15.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. We were guilty of that too, putting him in the first round in our way-too-early 2023 mock. There was probably some residual from that inflating Carter’s rankings this year, as he was the highest-ranked player on the consensus big board not to be drafted, checking in at 101st. Clearly the NFL felt differently. 

At the same time, there are real reasons to not dismiss Carter as a potentially viable NFL player. He received over $300,000 in guarantees to sign with the Vikings, far and away more than any undrafted free agent and probably indicating he has a great shot at making the 53-man roster. He has outstanding size and length at 6-6 and 256 pounds with 33 and 3 /8-inch arms. Carter also plays with great effort to chase down ball carriers. The big thing for him will be getting stronger and improving his ability against the run, as well as obviously adjusting to the leap from Army to the NFL. 

Former Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr. is another UDFA of note for the Vikings, as he was widely expected to be drafted. Pace was No. 153 on the consensus big board and one of the top-five highest players to not be selected. He’s only 5-10, which might have been the biggest contributing factor. However, he plays fast and furious, which should help him stick around as a run-and-hit player. There are some parallels to Lions LB Malcolm Rodriguez

This Week In Football

  • This is shaping up to be a quiet summer compared to recent years in the NFL, but one of the top active storylines is a loaded veteran edge rusher market. It’s not just free agents available either, as the Browns and Vikings reached an agreement on a trade to send veteran OLB Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland and give the Browns what they hope will be a suitable bookend for star DE Myles Garrett. The Vikings unloaded Smith’s salary, eating a bit of it in the process, and sent along sixth and seventh-round picks in 2025 in exchange for fifth-round picks in 2024 and 2025. For Minnesota, that’s a better outcome than cutting Smith outright. The Browns are getting a player who had double-digit sacks last season but has battled a back injury for a few seasons and just agreed to contract terms with his fourth team in three years. They’re paying him a little under $10 million and clearly thought he was the best value out of a plethora of available options, which is interesting. Time will tell whether they’re right. 
  • One of those options the Browns considered was veteran DE Melvin Ingram, who is one of a number of veteran edge rusher who remain available with notable track records of production. The list also includes Leonard Floyd, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, Kyle Van Noy, Markus Golden, Carlos Dunlap and Robert Quinn. Not all of those guys are still starters but teams are always looking for competent edge-rushing help and the sheer number of guys available is probably driving the price down somewhat. As veterans, there’s also likely not a huge rush to sign at this point, with training camp a much firmer deadline. 
  • That’s also important context when looking at what the Jets just did with DE Carl Lawson, negotiating a pay cut from $15 million down to $9 million for the 27-year-old edge rusher. He had come up as a cap cut because the team needed the space, not so much his performance, as he notched seven sacks in his first full season with the team after losing the 2021 season to a torn Achilles. To have enough leverage to negotiate a pay cut, the Jets had to have been willing to cut Lawson, at which point he and his agent would weigh how much he could get as a free agent from another team and whether that would be worth leaving New York. Despite the crowded free-agent group, Lawson likely would have drawn some significant interest, perhaps with more total guarantees than the Jets gave. But given the Jets are expected to be pretty good with the addition of QB Aaron Rodgers and Lawson could set himself up for another big contract if he has a good season in a scheme he’s familiar with, you can see why he felt like taking a pay cut was the best option. 
  • One name that came up in trade discussions around the draft was Bengals OT Jonah Williams, who was looking to be moved to a team where he could stay at his natural position of left tackle in a contract year. There were some talks between Cincinnati and the Jaguars ahead of the first round before Jacksonville took Anton Harrison, but at this point it’s looking more and more like Williams is going to swallow his discontent and soldier through his final season in Cincinnati. He doesn’t have many options, and there are worse things than making more than $12 million to start for a Super Bowl contender. 
  • Teams shuffled the back end of their roster a ton this past week after rookie minicamp and a wave of tryouts from the XFL. Most of those were low-level moves but there were a couple of veteran signings that stood out: 
    • The Dolphins signed OT Isaiah Wynn to a one-year deal, reinforcing their depth on the offensive line. Wynn was one of the guys I’ve been eye-balling as a great buy-low signing for someone because when he’s been healthy and allowed to play his natural position of left tackle, he’s been an above-average starter. It’s rare to find those guys on the street in mid-May. However, last year was rough for Wynn as he played out of position at right tackle. He could be in that situation again in Miami if he’s competing with RT Austin Jackson to start. However, given LT Terron Armstead‘s lengthy injury history, Wynn’s left tackle experience could still come in handy. 
    • Veteran CB Shaquill Griffin will stay in the AFC South, signing a one-year deal with the Houston Texans to give them some experienced depth and insurance at cornerback. He got $3 million guaranteed, which is a significant amount this time of year and indicates the Texans view him as an important player. Right now it’s hard to fit him into the starting lineup ahead of Steven Nelson or Derek Stingley unless one of those guys is moving inside to nickel but Stingley’s injury history might have made the Texans feel like it was important to add depth. Griffin has an injury history of his own but has been a decent No. 2 corner at times. 
    • The Packers didn’t give nearly as much money to S Jonathan Owens, who started last year for the Texans, but this signing is notable because of how thin Green Bay is at safety. Right now Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford are penciled in at the top of the depth chart, but Ford is a career special teamer and Savage lost his job to Ford for a stretch last season. The former first-rounder is locked onto the roster thanks to Green Bay picking up his fifth-year option and guaranteeing him $7 million in 2023, but there’s an opportunity for playing time here. Owens was second on the Texans in tackles in 2022 with 125. 
    • This isn’t a free-agent signing, but it qualifies as notable that the Steelers are extending QB Mitchell Trubisky for two years to keep him in the fold as a backup. He was due $8 million this year which is a ton of money for a clear-cut backup behind QB Kenny Pickett. I fully expected Pittsburgh to cut Trubisky and pocket the savings, while he pursued better opportunities to play. Win-win. Instead, the Steelers apparently love what he brings as a backup and put a much higher value on that than other teams might. As for Trubisky, he’s either accepting his odds of being more than a backup are low or the money is too much to turn down. Perhaps both. 
  • The news that Tom Brady is in deep talks to buy a stake in the Las Vegas Raiders is most notable for what it would mean for any prospective unretirement, as those rumors won’t go away any time soon. If Brady does indeed become a minority owner, it would require the approval of 3/4 of the other owners for him to suit up for the Raiders. He would not be able to play for any other team. It looks more and more like Brady is retired for real, though obviously the deal isn’t done yet. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

People love to make fun of the NFL schedule release because we’ve known who teams are going to play for months, we’re just finding out the dates. The thing is…that’s actually pretty important information! Playing in Miami in September on a short week is way different than the same game in December…

So with that in mind, here are 10 takeaways from an early review of the 2023 schedule…

  • We’re gonna find out quick if the Jets are legit. They start out in prime time on Monday night in Week 1 against the Bills, then follow it up at Dallas on a short week. There are home games against the Patriots and Chiefs, the latter another primetime slot on Sunday night, then at the Broncos and back home against the Eagles before a Week 7 bye. A 3-3 start would be understandable but the New York media is not known for being rational and this is a team that’s embracing the Super Bowl expectations that come with Rodgers. If the team is 3-3 or worse, it’s going to feel like the sky is falling…
  • We’re on hot seat watch in Washington for Rivera, although new ownership isn’t likely to take over until late this summer. The Commanders start vs ARI, @DEN, vs BUF and @ PHI before playing the Bears on Thursday night Week 5. Losing that and starting 1-4 would definitely raise the temperature on Rivera. The bye in Week 14 is also worth watching…
  • The Ravens are really going to be racking up the miles. They have a “home game” in London against the Titans in Week 6 and elected not to take their bye afterward. They’ll fly back to play the Lions, then go out west for a road game against the Cardinals which I’m going to go ahead and peg as an upset alert. There’s another road trip to play the Chargers in Week 12, followed by the bye, followed by a road game against the 49ers in Week 16 for a Monday night game. The Los Angeles trip is following a mini-bye from a Thursday night game, but that TNF game is against the Bengals and is preceded by a game four days before against the Browns. Baltimore is definitely a contender in the AFC but their schedule isn’t doing them many favors…
  • It’ll be interesting to see how the Titans fare, as no one expects them to be good this season despite how they’ve consistently punched above their weight under HC Mike Vrabel. Folks will be on Will Levis watch, with the bye in Week 7 a possibility barring injury. But I think as long as the Titans and QB Ryan Tannehill aren’t underwater by that point, the veteran gets a little longer. Week 10 against the Bucs coming off a mini-bye following a Thursday night game against the Steelers is where I’d watch for. The first six games will be tough but if the Titans skid through winnable matchups against the Falcons and Steelers, it makes sense to pivot to evaluation mode for Levis…
  • The Texans may not be great, but as long as they go 50-50 in their 10 games split between the AFC and NFC South, they have a great shot to hit six wins. It does feel like the roster is finally improving after two dismal seasons…
  • Miami’s first two games (@ Chargers and @ Patriots) and their last three (vs Cowboys, @ Ravens, vs Bills) are tough sandwiches around a manageable middle stretch. Avoiding 0-2 will be easier, but those last three games could easily define the Dolphins’ season in a crowded AFC…
  • It would not be surprising to see the Panthers start slow, as their schedule is frontloaded with the Seahawks, Vikings, Lions and Dolphins from Weeks 3-6. After the bye in Week 7, though, Carolina could hit its stride with eight games against the AFC and NFC South, plus the Packers. Eight or nine wins could take the NFC South this year and that feels attainable…
  • As the first-place finisher last year, the Bucs have the disadvantage of playing the Eagles, Bills and 49ers. By comparison, the Falcons get the Commanders, Jets and Cardinals and the Saints get the Giants, Patriots and Rams…
  • The Lions are already one of the preseason NFL darlings as shown by the league putting them in the regular season opener against the Chiefs. Can they live up to the hype? KC is tough in season openers, and they have the Seahawks the week after. They could easily be 0-2, which historically has been a death knell for a team’s chances of making the playoffs…
  • The good news is the Lions still have the rest of their division schedule in front of them, can hopefully pad their win total against the NFC South and benefit from an overall lackluster NFC. The Vikings are screaming regression candidates after going 9-0 in close games last year, while the Packers are a major unknown in QB Jordan Love‘s first season as a starter…

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