Which undrafted free agents will make an impact in 2022?

Even with 262 college prospects being selected in the NFL draft, there were still several talented young athletes left and we see it every year, where those guys make a significant impact and at worst are key to filling out rosters around the league, with very little investment being needed. About 30 percent of the league is made up of these UDFAs and while it may take a lot of them longer to earn playing time, I want to identify those, who I believe can make a name for themselves early on.

For this exercise, I looked through all the signings that were made once the draft wrapped up, compared them to my personal grades/rankings and looked at how these guys may fit into the roster they’re not a part of. So I will mention why I believe these ten players did go undrafted, give a quick scouting report of these players and break down their path to playing time or role they may inherit.

Two players I didn’t include – former Arizona State and now 49ers center Dohnovan West, who I had as a top-100 overall prospect and Nevada and now Eagles quarterback Carson Strong, who was actually my QB3 purely based on tape – I believe can both be long-time starters in this league, but have players in front of them, that won’t allow them to make an impact right away.

At the end, I also added one (more) UDFA to keep your eyes on for all 32 teams.

Here’s the list:

 

 

D'Vonte Price


Running back – D’Vonte Price, FIU (Indianapolis Colts)  Colts

Considering the depth of this RB class, Price going undrafted wasn’t shocking to me, but I believe he’s better than a couple of guys who did get a call. He obviously won’t cut a whole lot into the workload of the league’s reigning rushing leader in Jonathan Taylor, but you look at the rest of the roster and the only two veterans they have right now are Nyheim Hines, who is their designated receiving back and return specialist, and Deon Jackson who was a UDFA for them last year, started the year on the practice squad and ended up touching the ball 13 total times. The only other competition in his way are two other undrafted guys in Oregon’s C.J. Verdell and Washington State’s Max Borghi, who are kind of one-trick ponies I believe. So at worst, there should be a role for a secondary early down back, which I think the Panthers standout could fill nicely and take at least a little bit of the load off Taylor. At 6’1”, 210 pounds, Price patiently approaches the line of scrimmage and displays excellent vision, particularly in the zone run game. He may be unproven as a pass-catcher and will have to avoid putting the ball on the ground – similar to JT’s issue coming out of Wisconsin – but he’s not afraid to stick his face in the fan in pass-pro and played on every special teams coverage his first three years at FIU. So believe if he impresses the coaching staff in those areas, that’s the way he can eventually earn himself touches on offense. Then you combine his 4.38 speed with the fact he runs hard and I could see him end up carrying the ball five times a game.

 

 

Justyn Ross


Wide receiver – Justyn Ross, Clemson (Kansas City Chiefs)  Chiefs

If there’s one guy on this list, where I completely understand why no NFL general manager felt comfortable pulling the trigger, Ross would be the name I’d come up with. The former Clemson receiver looked like a sure-fire first-round pick as a freshman all the way back in 2018, catching 46 passes for 1000 yards and terrorizing Notre Dame’s and Nick Saban’s Alabama defense in the college football playoff. After a slight downtick in year two, he missed the entire 2020 season because of a bulging disc and congenital fusion condition in his neck and spine, after his back flared up following a hit during spring practices. His production dropped off dramatically this past season, due to not being totally, sub-par quarterback play and other factors. Poor testing numbers at his pro day didn’t help him either. However, he still would have been a top-100 prospect for me, but he among guys like Carson Strong and a couple of others on this list I simply couldn’t slot into my big board, where I tried to take injuries into account. If he can return to his old self, he has the ability to win from any spot on the field, he sinks his hips well into breaks and he has a gift when it comes to ball-tracking and body-positioning to win in contested situations. Kansas City has lost their top three wide receivers in yardage from last season, most notably trading away Tyreek Hill. They did replace those with free agents JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, along with second-round pick Skyy Moore. However, while MVS and Moore will be merged to replace the vertical and YAC element Cheetah brought, and JuJu gives them a bit of a different element in terms of a physical big slot, there’s still room for more of a typical X receiver. They do use Travis Kelce as the single in those three-by-one sets quite a bit, but I think Ross could find his way onto the field if he’s back to 100 percent.

 

 

Jerreth Sterns


Wide receiver – Jerreth Sterns, Western Kentucky (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) Buccaneers

While there are no injury concerns that I’m not aware of, the reason(s) why Sterns went undrafted are pretty obvious – he’s a 5’7”, 180-pound receiver with sub-30 inch arms and 4.58 speed. That’s not the kind of athletic profile the NFL typically covets. However, after racking up just under 2000 yards across his first three years at Houston Baptist, he nearly matched that production with a bonkers 2021 season, as he caught 150 passes for 1902 yards and 17 touchdowns, with him and his quarterback Bailey Zappe transferring to Western Kentucky together. His catch radius very limited, he doesn’t bring a whole lot as a blocker other than just getting in the way of guys and he simply lacks that extra gear to pull away from vertical routes, but once you get past those obvious limitations, there’s a lot to like. Sterns does a tremendous job of varying his route stems, tilting the wrong way and setting up defenders, to create separation out of his breaks, which is why he was only contested on 14% of routes versus man-coverage. Against zone, he excels at working towards open space, making subtle adjustments on the fly and getting his hands around once he enters voided areas. Plus, something that I don’t believe people realize – and it obviously does have correlation with his heavy usage – he led the nation with 1156 yards after the catch in 2021, thanks to his spatial awareness and a stocky lower body to slip through tackles. By giving Russell Gage a three-year, 30-million dollar deal in free agency and having resigned Chris Godwin, along with Mike Evans, the Bucs have their starting trio in the fold, but with Godwin having torn his ACL in week 15 and not a lot of dependable targets behind those guys, I could see Sterns get some playing time early on. I mean, can’t you envision him running option routes for Tom Brady and picking up first downs, similar to what he had for years in New England with Wes Welker and Julian Edelman?

 

 

Kellen Diesch

 

Offensive tackle – Kellen Diesch, Arizona State (Miami Dolphins)  Dolphins

There are two obvious reasons why Diesch didn’t match what teams around the league usually look for – because of an initial redshirt at Texas A&M and deciding to transfer to ASU after three years with the Aggies (where he never got to start), he’ll already turn 25 before the upcoming season even kicks off, and he only has 32 ½-inch arms. Right at that 300-pound mark he’s also on the low-end for NFL tackles, but I’m still shocked nobody decided to give him a call, because the tape is excellent and so is the athleticism. The three-cone drill was the only combine event he participated in, where he didn’t test above the 90th percentile, including a 4.89 in the 40, which was just one hundredth of a second behind the best time for an O-lineman. When you put on the tape, you see those functionally apply in his patient, rhythmic kick-slides and then the ease with which he redirects laterally. He packs a tight punch and does well to force edge rushers to run the loop. Now, he’s more of a positional blocker in the run-game and he’ll be susceptible to powerful long-arm maneuvers, but his agility already made him effective in a wide zone-based system and he maximizes his length with aiming points and body-positioning. Miami did sign one of the top left tackles to hit the market in a while with former Saint Terron Armstead and whether they kick former first-rounder Austin Jackson back out to tackle across from him or see what growth last year’s second-rounder Liam Eichenberg has made, I don’t believe Diesch really has a chance to start week one. Yet, with Armstead’s history of missing a couple of games every year and the fact none of their homegrown talent has established themselves on the edges, I could see him end up on the field eventually, with how experienced and what a great fit he is for Mike McDaniel’s offense.

 

 

David Anenih


Edge defender – David Anenih, Houston (Tennessee Titans) Titans

This is a name I was kind of confused by throughout the draft process, because I couldn’t even find him on a lot of lists. Anenih was ranked as the 246th overall prospect based on consensus boards. So there was a chance of just better than 50 percent that he’s get selected, often times actually being tagged as DL/IDL, despite spending almost all of his snaps on the outside edge of the tackle. I haven’t been able to find any injury concern that may been a factor in this, so I have to guess people kind of overlooked him and didn’t love that despite being a fifth-year senior, he never racked up more than five sacks in a season. Still, I believe there are a lot of qualities to work with. Anenih effectively locks out with those 34 ½-inch arms in the run game, he rocks the pads of tight-ends back routinely and chases hard from the backside. As a pass-rusher, he features an explosive first step, hits a wicked long-arm once he gets tackles to stand up in their sets and is ready to shoot inside, if they leave the door open for him. His second and third steps aren’t as well impressive, at this point his pass-rush arsenal is fairly limited and he can still do a better job of attacking half the blocker. However, Anenih had a very impressive pro day showing, including a 4.72 in the 40, a 10’3” broad jump and 25 reps on the bench press. And while he is a redshirt senior, he will only turn 23 just before the season kicks off. Not only can he set a physical edge on base downs, but I believe he fits what the Titans like from their edge rushers, stressing with speed from those wide alignments initially and then converting that into power. Outside of the two big names under contract in Harold Landry and Bud Dupree, the only name really challenging for snaps at OLB is last year’s fourth-round pick Rashad Weaver, who only was on the field for 10% of defensive snaps as a rookie.

 

 

Derrick Tangelo


Interior D-line – Derrick Tangelo, Penn State (Atlanta Falcons) Falcons

About a month ago, when I released the “my guys” video on Youtube, I mentioned Tangelo as a sleeper, after I compared my personal rankings to where he was slotted on other draft boards. Looking back at where he could be found in other rankings at the start of the actual draft, he was the 41st interior defensive lineman and 473rd overall prospect according to the consensus big board of mockdraftdatabase.com, which collects data from just over 100 pages. So I certainly thought there was a good chance he’s go undrafted, even if I personally had him as my IDL16. However, I’m also a little bit confused, because I’m used to the NFL valuing athletic disruptors-types at the D-tackle spot. Tangelo is 6’2”, just under 300 pounds and he ran a 4.89 in the 40 at the Penn State pro day. He has impressive short-area burst, with the ability to slice through the B-gap and create knockback at the point of attack, while his violent hands and suddenness stand out as a pass-rusher. Some of this may have to do with the philosophy around the league changing, going further away from asking their fronts to attack upfield and quickly create pressure on the quarterback, with a lot of single-high coverages (predominantly with teams trying to recreate what Seattle did with their cover-three based scheme), to more split-safety structures and asking the D-line to play one-and-a-half gaps, as coaches often refer to. Atlanta’s defensive coordinator Dean Pees did put a lot of big bodies on the field in Baltimore and Tennessee, but there is room for guys who are better suited to play at the opposite side of the line. With 2020 second-round pick Marlon Davidson putting on weight, it’ll be between him, John Cominsky, Ta’Quon Graham and probably more situational veterans to fight for snaps alongside Grady Jarrett, as a key piece for their rebuild on defense. However, I don’t believe any of those guys has a guaranteed role and I could see Tangelo be a significant part of the rotation.

 

 

JoJo Domann


Linebacker/Nickelback – JoJo Domann, Nebraska (Indianapolis Colts)  Colts

I think there are three factors as to why Domann ended up not getting drafted – he’ll already turn 25 years old in the middle of the summer, he has a rather extensive medical history (2017 redshirt due to a season-ending injury and he missed significant parts of ‘18 and ’21) and the fact the role he played at Nebraska doesn’t really exist in the NFL. He was the overhang defender/big nickel for the Cornhuskers and had very consistent production these last three years – he put up a combined 182 tackles, 24.5 of those for loss, 16 passes broken up, two forced fumbles in each of them and two interceptions last year, when he was named a second-team All-American. Domann was a mismatch against slot receivers in the run game with how aggressive he is with his hands, but he also showed the lateral agility to side-step bigger bodies. Now, he has very little experience playing between in-between the tackles, does look outmatched when he’s put at the end of the line of scrimmage and didn’t carry receivers vertically in the pass game a whole lot, but he does have easy movement skills in space, he mid-points route patterns well and is quick to drive down on stuff in front of him. With the duo of Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke at linebacker and one of league’s top nickels in Kenny Moore II, I don’t see a starting role for Domann or any player with his kind of skill-set in Gus Bradley’s defense. Nevertheless, I think he could at least be a sub-package player they can deploy against tight-ends and use as a blitzer off the slot maybe. If that’s an element we see for that unit, it will be between him and another UDFA in Miami-OH’s Sterling Weatherford.

 

 

Verone McKinley III


Safety – Verone McKinley III, Oregon (Miami Dolphins)  Dolphins

We’re back to another player I don’t get why they weren’t drafted. I still have yet to find out anything about medical of personal issues teams had with McKinley, because he was my number eight overall safety and a top-100 overall prospect, ahead of a couple of guys that went on day two. I do understand that he’s just under six feet and 200 pounds each and his testing certainly hurt him, finishing in the 45th percentile or worse across the board at the combine and then running a 4.65 at the Ducks pro day. With that being said, this guy has been making plays on the ball since his redshirt freshman season, when he led the Pac-12 with four interceptions and after another solid 2020 campaign, he was a consensus All-American this past year, thanks to 77 total tackles, six passes intercepted and broken up each. In my safety rankings I called him “the rare combination of a ball-hawk, who rarely allows big plays in the pass game”. He tracks the eyes of the quarterback exceptionally well, he’s handled a multitude of coverage responsibilities – anything from deep middle duty to rotating down late and covering tight-ends – and he has an innate feel for how to play the ball in the air. I said a while ago already that his evaluation reminds me a lot of Jordan Fuller coming out of Ohio State, who is now a green-dot player for the Rams. Both see the game so well that they’re consistently a step ahead and have better play speed than how they test. McKinley now get to reunite with fellow Oregon alum Jevon Holland, who was the first selected drafted in last year’s draft and had a monster rookie season for the Dolphins. I would not be shocked if he eventually starts over Brandon Jones or at least gets onto the field, if they want to pull that guy closer to the line of scrimmage.

 

 

Reed Blankenship


Safety – Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee State (Philadelphia Eagles)  Eagles

Looking at the fact that many people mocked Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton to the Eagles in the first round and them not selecting any other player at the position and one of my drafted “crushes” having signed with them as a UDFA, this was a fairly obvious call. Philly lost Rodney McLeod in free agency, they brought back Anthony Harris on a one-year 2.5-million dollar deal and the only three other safeties currently on the roster are Marcus Epps, Andre Chachere and Jared Mayden. Epps was on the field for just under half of the defensive snaps, but he’s on the last year of his contract at less than a million bucks, and the other two combined for just 156 total snaps. They also still have K’Von Wallace, who was a fourth-round pick for them in 2020, but he played just 19 and 22 percent of snaps in his two seasons there and his best role to me remains as a big nickel. To be honest, if I had put somebody alongside Harris today, I would choose Blankenship. The pure athletic gifts leave things to be desired, which is why I don’t envision him being somebody with the range to play a lot of single-high or the ability to flip and run with speedy slot receivers, but he has elite football IQ, to process information in coverage as well as quickly race up the alley against the run, he’s an outstanding tackler and he has plenty of ball-production to his name. He was just outside of my top ten safeties in the draft and while I knew the NFL wouldn’t be super high on him because he’s a redshirt senior with average testing numbers, this is a great landing spot for a defense that runs a lot of split-safety stuff and where I believe he has a legitimate spot to start games if either Harris or whoever is the other guy in the lineup (probably Epps) gets hurt.

 

 

Kalil Pimpleton


Return specialist – Kalil Pimpleton, Central Michigan (Detroit Lions)  Lions

Let’s not sugarcoat this – Pimpleton is tiny at just under 5’8”, 175 pounds with an absurdly small below-70 inch wingspan. So for that size, you’d like him to run a little bit faster than the 4.49 he had in the 40 at the Central Michigan pro day. He’ll also turn 25 years around Super Bowl weekend and he never cracked 1000 years in the MAC. So considering that, I wasn’t shocked about where he ranked on consensus boards – as the 52nd receiver and 410th overall prospect. However, he’s a very fun player to watch on tape. Pimpleton has some serious acceleration off the line and that extra gear to blow by defenders on slot fades, as well as quickly stop his momentum to create separation as he snaps off routes. He did drop eight passes last year, but it wasn’t a hands issue, but rather just him taking his eyes off the ball before the catch was secured, as he was trying to look downfield already. Because he can adjust to throws that are slightly off target, has that turbo once the ball is in his hands and can make people miss in a hurry. With that being said, I don’t believe he’ll ever be anything more than a role/gadget player on offense, but I want to see this kid return kicks for Detroit. Because the Chippewas put the ball in his hands in so many different ways on offense, they saved him on special teams to some degree, but on the 16 punts he got a chance on, he averaged 19 yards per return and took two back to the house against Western Michigan, sparking that comeback. With the way he can slalom around the defenders and that speed to burn angles towards the sideline, I think he could immediately make an impact for the Lions in that area, considering I don’t believe Kalif Raymond or Godwin Igwebuike were anything special for them last season.

 


 

One more UDFA to keep your eyes on for all 32 teams:


Arizona Cardinals – Ronnie Rivers, RB, Fresno State

Atlanta Falcons – Matt Hankins, CB, Iowa

Baltimore Ravens – Zakoby McClain, LB, Auburn

Buffalo Bills – Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

Carolina Panthers – Charleston Rambo, WR, Miami

Chicago Bears – Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin

Cincinnati Bengals – Cal Adomitis, LS, Pittsburgh

Cleveland Browns – Shaun Jolly, CB, Appalachian State

Dallas Cowboys – Juanyeh Thomas, S, Georgia Tech OR Markquese Bell, S, FAMU

Denver Broncos – Christopher Allen, EDGE, Alabama

Detroit Lions – Obinna Eze, OT, TCU

Green Bay Packers – Tyler Goodson, RB, Iowa

Houston Texans – Kolby Harvell-Peel, SAF, Oklahoma State

Indianapolis Colts – Jack Coan, QB, Notre Dame

Jacksonville Jaguars – Kevin Austin Jr., WR, Notre Dame

Kansas City Chiefs – Jerrion Ealy, RB, Ole Miss

Las Vegas Raiders – Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, EDGE, Notre Dame

Los Angeles Chargers – James McCourt, K, Illinois

Los Angeles Rams – Benton Whitley, IDL, Holy Cross

Miami Dolphins – ZaQuandre White, RB, South Carolina

Minnesota Vikings – Gabe Brkic, K, Oklahoma

New England Patriots – D’Eriq King, QB/WR, Miami

New Orleans Saints – Smoke Monday, SAF, Auburn

New York Giants – Jeremiah Hall, FB, Oklahoma

New York Jets – Zonovan Knight, RB, NC State

Philadelphia Eagles – Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama

Pittsburgh Steelers – Jordan Tucker, OT, North Carolina

San Francisco 49ers – Jason Poe, IOL/FB, Mercer

Seattle Seahawks – Bubba Bolden, SAF, Miami

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Olakunle Fatukasi, LB, Rutgers

Tennessee Titans – Ryan Stonehouse, P, Colorado State

Washington Commanders – Tyrese Robinson, IOL, Oklahoma

 



 

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