What once was quite rare has now become commonplace across the NFL landscape. A vital aspect of team building for any successful NFL franchise. Priority undrafted free agents are more important than ever. Since the NFL implemented the current seven round format in 1994, more talented players with pro potential go undrafted than in prior years. Therefore, it is not a big surprise that each year undrafted players across the league not only earn spots on practice squads, but often on NFL rosters.
The league imposed salary cap, coupled with the constantly growing salaries of established veteran talent, makes it imperative that each team fills out the back half of their rosters with a cheaper alternative. That's where the importance of UDFA's reveals itself.
Teams with great depth at all positions are a thing of the past. Teams with solid depth across the board are now younger teams with an inordinate number of individuals still playing under their rookie contracts. This makes talent evaluations even more important, and also requires a good bit of luck. Not only do you have to nail your draft across the board, but those players need to be able to gel almost instantly and have success as a team right out of the box. Easy to say, much harder to do. This has become the accepted plan for success for many franchises because the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Before you know it you have a roster full of established veterans just waiting to get paid. Roster turnover is unavoidable.
Some positions are much easier to fill with UDFA's than others. Finding a starting QB utilizing this method would be the equivalent of a Bigfoot or unicorn sighting. Not saying it couldn't happen, but I will believe it when I see it. However, finding a running back or offensive lineman with starting potential is much more common.
Last season UDFA LB Ola Adeniyi seemed destined to make an impact. His game and body type instantly brought to mind memories of a young James Harrison, and his preseason performance did nothing to dispel those notions. He was a young, inexpensive option at an area of need. After a perfectly timed stint on the injured list, he eventually made the active roster and actually saw a few minutes of live action. His rookie season had to be considered a success for a UDFA. Bigger expectations can be assumed for his sophomore campaign.
So who will be this seasons UDFA with the best chance to make the active roster at some point this season? My sleeper pick is former WVU S Dravon Askew-Henry. There are a multitude of other talented possibilities at the moment, but I feel Askew-Henry is the best option at the biggest area of need. Tight end could be argued as the biggest area of need, but at least the Steelers selected a TE in the draft this season. Safety was not addressed at any point in this draft class, or free agency for that matter. A few UDFA safeties have been brought in since the draft, but Askew-Henry appears to be the best option at free safety.
Askew-Henry is a natural free safety. He is a high effort player who has developed a lot of bad habits. That often happens when the talent surrounding you is severely limited. You try to do too much to overcome the shortcomings of your teammates and lose your defensive integrity. This resulted in plenty of bad angles, both against the run and in coverage. It also slowed his play recognition and reaction time. I don't believe this was a indictment on his instincts, which I believe to be adequate.
Askew-Henry was asked to fill like a LB and cover like a CB for WVU's undersized gimmicky 3-3-5 defense, and he did it all to the best of his ability. He has decent size and speed for a free safety, having run a 4.52 forty at his pro day. He was brought in for a predraft visit, unofficial because he was considered a local prospect, but obviously the interest was mutual. Another player from this year's additions who is thrilled to be a Steeler. I don't know about you, but I am starting to notice a trend.
So now my sleeper pick has been made known. Who do you consider from this group of UDFA's to have the best opportunity to make an impact? Please vote and explain your pick in the comments below. This should be interesting. As always, Go Steelers!
Which UDFA player has the best opportunity to make an impact this season?
This poll is closed
WV S Askew-Henry
Colorado RB McMillian
Texas DL Chris Nelson
Maryland OL Prince
Western Carolina P Ian Berryman