Top undrafted free agent signings in NFL
By: Andy Davies
For those invited to the NFL Draft, it is a comfort blanket that they will be heading to an NFL team.
For others, there is more anxiety as they nervously await a call on the final day, with many players not getting drafted. They then have the chance to make the NFL through being an undrafted free agent.
Whilst many do not have long careers, others get their chance and become great NFL players, most recently Adam Thielen and Phillip Lindsay
Which players can go on to have career trajectories similar to Lindsay and Thielen? Here are the ten best undrafted free agent signings this offseason.
Cary Angeline (Tight End-Arizona Cardinals)
Tight end was a position of need in the draft, with Dan Arnold only recording 438 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He has since departed in the offseason to the Carolina Panthers.
Darrell Daniels has arrived in Arizona but the former Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts tight end has yet to score a touchdown since arriving in the league in 2017. He has just 8 career receptions and 91 receiving yards.
Can Angeline be the tight end that the Cardinals have been looking for?
Issues with his routes have been criticised but Angeline has been praised for the speed he provides to the yards after catch.
Angeline spent three seasons at North Carolina State. He only had 9 receptions in 2018 but had 11 touchdowns and 791 receiving yards across 2019 and 2020.
With the lack of dynamic players in the position at the franchise, Angeline has the potential to slot straight in as a starter in Arizona.
Javian Hawkins (Running Back- Atlanta Falcons)
The Todd Gurley experiment did not work, with the former Los Angeles Rams running back only spending one season in Atlanta.
Mike Davis had an impressive season with the Panthers in 2020 in place of injured star Christian McCaffrey and will now take up the role of the lead back in Atlanta, with return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson as the backup.
Hawkins comes into the roster with a chance of making the 52 man squad after some impressive college numbers during his time at Louisville.
2018 saw Hawkins limited to just two rushing attempts but the next two seasons saw him develop and become a reliable running back in the ACC.
In 2019, Hawkins had his best season. He ran for 1,525 rushing yards and 9 rushing touchdowns. His numbers went down in 2020 but we still saw him record 822 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns.
Despite supposed concerns over his thin frame, his feet are said to be very explosive.
It is unclear whether or not Mike Davis was a one-season wonder who excelled in his contract year. Patterson has proved to be much better in special teams than in the offense. This could see Hawkins get the opportunity and potentially become the running back that Atlanta have missed.
Blake Gallagher (Linebacker- Baltimore Ravens)
Baltimore have been built on having a great defense ever since they became a franchise in 1996.
The Ravens already have great players on the defensive side of the ball, with defensive end Calais Campbell and linebacker Patrick Queen two notable individuals on the roster.
Despite the apparent size and range concerns, Gallagher has shown his potential during his four seasons in college with Northwestern, with 332 total tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss. He is seen as someone who can pack punch as a hitter thanks to his determination.
Queen was the leader in tackles in 2020, with 106 total tackles. L.J. Fort was the next best linebacker for tackles recorded but only totalled 53. Gallagher’s best season tackle total in college was 127. Gallagher replicating this in the NFL will help boost this Baltimore defense and prove to be a great undrafted free agent pick up.
Paddy Fisher (Linebacker- Carolina Panthers)
There are two players on this list for the Panthers.
Carolina, who has already picked up a potential sleeper pick during the draft in Chubba Hubbard, may have acquired two more great pickups as undrafted free agents.
Gallagher’s linebacker in Northwestern also amassed brilliant college stats. In his four college seasons, Fisher recorded 401 total tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 10 forced fumbles.
Despite his apparent lack of athleticism and body type, Fisher is seen as someone that can maintain vision on ball carriers.
Shaq Thompson was Carolina’s leading tackler (113) but their next best linebacker for tackles was Tahir Whitehead (51) who is currently a free agent.
Fisher, in a similar fashion to his college teammate, can help build on the Carolina linebacker core and prove to be a great pickup.
Spencer Brown (Running Back- Carolina Panthers)
Hubbard was a great running back pickup but was also drafted by a CFL team in the same week. There is uncertainty whether he will make the 53 man roster.
Brown had great college stats during his four seasons with UAB, recording 4,011 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns.
This is an average of 1,003 rushing yards and 10.3 touchdowns each season. His best rushing yard total in a season was the 1,329 he recorded in 2017. His best rushing touchdown total was 16 in 2018.
Brown has shown his potential in college. He has the chance to prove to be a great addition to the Carolina offense, either being the Panthers’ RB2 or RB3.
There is talk of Brown being limited in the passing game but he has also been praised for being a physical runner and having good vision.
Darius Hodge (Defensive End- Cincinnati Bengals)
Cincinnati have added to their defensive line during the 2021 offseason. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson has joined the Bengals from the New Orleans Saints along with former Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi.
The Bengals also added defensive ends Joseph Ossai, Cameron Sample and Wyatt Hubert in the draft alongside defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin to provide depth to the defensive line. They have since added defensive end, Darius Hodge, as an undrafted free agent.
Hodge has been praised for his ability to rush against the passing game but is seen as a problem against running plays.
His game time increased as time went on in college with Marshall. During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Hodge combined for 13.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.
The improvement seen in college will help Hodge as he goes into the NFL. The time he had to adjust to college football will be needed by head coach Zac Taylor during the first year or two of Hodge’s professional career.
Jonathan Adams (Wide Receiver- Detroit Lions)
Detroit lost two of their best receivers this offseason, with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, but did not take a wide receiver in the draft until the fourth round.
Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams have come in during this offseason but neither wide receiver can call themselves elite nor spark excitement for fans.
He was limited to a total of just 25 receptions between 2017 and 2018.
His final two seasons with Arkansas State saw Adams develop, with 851 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2019. He followed this up with 1,111 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions in 2020.
Jonathan Adams has every capability to become a reliable receiving option for a Lions franchise crying out for a top wideout.
JaQuan Bailey (Defensive End- Philadelphia Eagles)
The Eagles had one of their worst seasons in recent history, going 4-11-1. This saw head coach Doug Pederson fired just three seasons after guiding Philadelphia to their first-ever Super Bowl.
Defense was an issue for Philadelphia and they addressed this in the offseason. Three defensive lineman and two defensive backs were taken by the Eagles in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Eagles continued, with the signing of undrafted defensive end JaQuan Bailey, who spent five seasons with Iowa State.
Despite Bailey being said to have been manhandled on several occasions by Oklahoma State, he is his school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss.
Bailey missed most of the 2019 season but had 6.5 sacks or more in the 2017, 2018 and 2020 seasons.
He had an overall total in college of 25 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, 150 total tackles, 13 passes deflected and 4 forced fumbles.
He will most likely be a limited figure on the field in 2021 and possibly 2022 and there will be room for improvement needed. If he is to be one day be a regular starter, he has two Eagles greats in defensive ends Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox to learn from.
Leighton McCarthy (Defensive End- Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
It is hard to improve a team that won a Super Bowl in February and returned all their starters.
McCarthy is another defensive player on this list to struggle against the run but has also been praised for his versatility and reliability. He will most likely provide depth and versatility having also played linebacker in college. He could even spend a year or two in the practice squad. However, Tampa Bay should consider his college stats.
During his four seasons with Florida Atlantic, McCarthy recorded 34 tackles for loss, 158 tackles and 18.5 sacks.
Tamorrion Terry (Wide Receiver-Seattle Seahawks)
The final player in this list is a wideout picked up by Seattle. Terry is seen as someone who needs to improve their catch technique but makes up for it with his explosiveness.
During his three seasons with Florida State, Terry had 118 receptions. He only played 6 games in 2020 but across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, he recorded a combined total of 17 touchdowns and 1,932 receiving yards.
The Seahawks rely on D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in the receiving game, but Terry could be a good slot option provided he proves himself in training camp.