Toughest Players to Project
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The 2022 NFL Draft is complete, and the crazy undrafted free-agent period is all but officially finished (see where all of the prospects ended up, .) What that means is — it’s time for undrafted free agent rankings. By now, everyone knows a handful of UDFAs ultimately make names for themselves.
Let’s rank this year’s class of UDFAs by talent, of course, and also situation, which for these players is absolutely critical.
Wydermyer was the first-round tight end in way-too-early 2022 mock drafts after the last spring and summer. If we’re being technical, it took until November for him to “fall” out of the first round in mocks across the internet, per Grinding The Mocks. Statistically, Wydermyer’s final season at Texas A&M was in line with his first two years in College Station. But the drops were more frequent. He then tested like a low-level athlete at his pro day, an immediate red flag for all teams. That’s why he went undrafted.
Wydermyer has three-down capabilities, although he’s not a strong blocker and has a well-rounded albeit unspectacular profile as a receiving option. And there are rumblings, under new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, of a heightened interest in two tight end sets from the Brian Daboll era in Buffalo. Dawson Knox and free-agent acquisition O.J. Howard reside at the top of the depth chart at the position. After that, there’s only 2019 seventh-round pick Tommy Sweeney. All are on the final year of their current contracts with the Bills. Hello, opportunity.
Vilain was a four-star recruit and the No. 5 weak-side defensive end in the 2017 class behind only Jaelan Phillips, Chase Young, Joshua Kaindoh and K’Lavon Chaisson. He never met expectations at Michigan, as he was buried behind the likes of Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson. Vilain transferred to Wake Forest and the skillset was on full display. He finished with eight sacks and nine tackles for loss as a pass-rushing specialist.
Now, in Minnesota there is a glut of edge rushers. And the depth pieces are young. Fortunately for Vilain, none of Janarius Robinson, DJ Wonnum, or Patrick Jones II have been overly encouraging early in their pro careers. Vilain is a long — 34-inch arms — slippery pass rusher with nice hand work and explosiveness off the ball.
The Eagles have like 40 running backs on the roster, which is why Brooks is further down this list than, individually, he should be. This is a human being with an incredibly unshakable equilibrium. He averaged nearly four yards AFTER contact in 2021 and forced 60 missed tackles. And Brooks was that type of runner in 2020 and 2019 at Oklahoma. He cruised to three-consecutive seasons and averaged 7.0 yards per carry in his 472-carry career.
In short, Brooks is a damn good, natural runner. He’s not fast, he’s not a freaky athlete. He runs with stellar vision and rarely, if ever, goes down on first contact. Philadelphia has shown a willingness to cycle through backs of late, and Brooks can be that UDFA who’s ultimately the primary backup early in the NFL career. He has that vibe to him.
Dixon was that dude at Nicholls State. He had over 1,000 yards receiving twice and caught at least seven touchdowns in each of his last four seasons in college.
He’s not going to run away from anyone in the NFL. But at 6-foot-2 and 200-plus pounds, he predominantly ran isolation routes on the perimeter — no rubs, stacked formations to aid separation — and was productive despite being the clear-cut focal point of the Nicholls State offense. Plus, he plays like a ferocious rebounder above the rim.
Yes, there’s Michael Thomas and newly minted first-round wideout Chris Olave at receiver in New Orleans. But the Saints are an organization that hasn’t shied away from giving ample opportunity to late-round and undrafted free agent wideouts — Marques Colston, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, etc. — and Dixon has a Thomas-esque body frame. His excellence in the back-shoulder game pairs well with the aggressive nature of quarterback Jameis Winston, too.
Buffalo loaded the defensive line during free agency, signing the likes of Tim Settle, Daquan Jones, Jordan Phillips and inside-out rusher Shaq Lawson. What didn’t the Bills add? A penetrating three technique to be the primary backup to ascending penetrator Ed Oliver.
That’s precisely what Emili can be on Buffalo’s defense. And while the defensive front looks too crowded for a UDFA to sneak onto the roster, consider this — in 2021, the Bills had nine defensive linemen and edge rushers play at least 20% of the defensive snaps, the highest number of players in the league. A deep rotation up front is a Sean McDermott calling card.
At just over 6-0 and around 290 pounds, Emili jumped into outer-space at the Penn Pro Day with a 36.5-inch vertical. He’s a gap-shooting, high-energy rusher who fits what the Bills want on their defensive line.
Flowers landing in Indianapolis should come as no surprise, as the Colts under GM Chris Ballard have been an organization that adores freaky athletes more than most. At 6-1 and 196 pounds, Flowers aced his pro day workout, running 4.43 with a blisteringly fast 6.96 three-cone drill and 10-11 broad jump.
Is he raw in coverage on film? Absolutely. Were there times when his athleticism allowed him to make ridiculous plays on the football? Yep. The Colts have Kenny Moore and a lot of uncertainty in their secondary. Flowers probably won’t be the No. 2 cornerback in Week 1, but in Indianapolis’ zone-heavy scheme, he’ll be in a scenario in which his athleticism can be fully maximized.
Evan Engram. Dan Arnold. Chris Manhertz. Luke Farrell. That’s the Jaguars tight-end depth chart at the moment. The coaches may not say it right now, but there are jobs available at that position. Let’s not forget, new coach Doug Pederson utilized Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert together often when they were all together in Philadelphia.
Finally given a full-time role in 2021, Prince was a splash play waiting to happen for the Blazers offense. He caught 36 passes for 699 yards with 10 touchdowns. He got off the line, ran his routes, and exploded with the ball in his hands after the catch like a tall, thick receiver. That, really, is what he is. Given how unafraid Trevor Lawrence is to rip it down the seam, Prince feels like an undrafted prospect who can stick on the rebuilding Jaguars.
Weatherford was the discount Kyle Hamilton in this class. Identical size and a similar workout to go along with comparable versatility on film, I’m not sure how and why Weatherford wasn’t selected.
Now he lands with the Colts, a club that did pick explosive safety Nick Cross in Round 3. However, Indianapolis doesn’t boast a stellar, incredibly deep safety room at this stage of their team-building process. Weatherford changes directions like he’s 20 pounds lighter and at least three inches shorter. He’s super rangy against the run and is an effective blitzer.
At his size — 6-4 and 224 pounds — he can be a designated defender to align with pass-catching tight ends in the Colts defense. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley certainly knows how to deploy “oversized” safeties given his three seasons with Kam Chancellor in Seattle and time spent with Derwin James with the Chargers.
Saquon Barkley will begin the 2022 season healthy. How long he can remain healthy is another story. Beyond him, the Giants have Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, and two former undrafted free agents signed by the previous regime in the backfield.
Corbin plays significantly faster than the 4.60 speed he showcased at the Florida State pro day, and his contact balance and elusiveness are above average. Corbin is a very naturally gifted runner who seemingly finds creases as they’re materializing in front of him and has those useful accelerators to generate big plays down the field. Given the uncertainty after Barkley at the running back spot in Daboll’s offense, I like Corbin’s chances to not only make the Giants roster but contribute in Year 1.
Ross’ 2021 film, after returning from spinal fusion surgery, was solid. Not spectacular. . Solid. And at a hair under 6-4 and 205 pounds, he has a towering, somewhat lanky frame that helps him win consistently above his head. The route-running element of his game is underrated, although he’s not a sudden or change-of-pace type who will create separation with his athleticism or nuance.
Kansas City suddenly has loads of competition at wideout — and of course Travis Kelce is still there — but no one right now is guaranteed to be the No. 1 receiver in 2022. Given his size, challenged-catch skill, and awesomely reliable hands, Ross making the team wouldn’t be surprising whatsoever. He’s a more polished version of his former Clemson teammate Cornell Powell, whom the Chiefs picked in the fifth round last year.
Goodrich had a case as the lightest-footed outside cornerback in this draft class yet still went undrafted. Suddenness and elite change-of-direction ability are central to quality play at the position. Having that box checked is vital for Goodrich as he embarks on his journey to make the Eagles after going undrafted.
The Eagles added exactly zero cornerbacks in the 2022 draft after countless mock drafts had them picking one in the first round. There’s Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Kary Vincent Jr., Josiah Scott, and Craig James in their cornerback room at time of publication.
Goodrich isn’t incredibly fast and did allow a fair amount of receptions in 2021, but he and his lightning-quick feet have a real shot to stick with the Eagles.
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