Football is back and all teams are in their Training Camps around the NFL. By next week we will be looking forward to weekly full slates of pre-season games. To yours truly, one of the fascinating watches over the next month is the performance and emergence of undrafted Rookies. With the emergence of Practice Squads as a serious development/feeder system there are actually more chances than ever for young players to stay engaged with their team, without being in uniform on game days. Most teams head into Camps with between 20-25 true Rookies on their 90-man rosters. About half of those guys will make the 53-man September roster, with many of the rest scattered around the League on Practice Squads. I am not saying that the following guys will be the Stars of August, though some will be. But for varying reasons these players have a clear shot at making their mark as roster players in the near future.
JEFF BADET/WR/Oklahoma. Count me in as one of the most surprised Draftniks around when Badet was not selected in the Draft. I saw BADET up close and personal at the Shrine venue in January and was impressed with his combination of speed and quickness. He was a standout all week in St. Pete and even his attitude was impressive. He went to his star game coaching staff and volunteered to act as a Return Specialist, even though that was not on his resume’ at Oklahoma. He is a bit undersized at 5’11/183, but certainly not prohibitively tiny. He has shown good hands and probably his biggest work will be tightening up his pattern running. By the way, I think I failed to mention his Pro Day 4.27/40-time. The problem may be a loaded WR group in Vikings Camp this Summer. I can’t see him not being snatched up on waivers by another team if the Vikes try to waive him hoping to get him on their Practice Squad. Remember this name.
MICHAEL BADGELY/K/MIAMI(F) is in Camp with the COLTS this summer. Which means he is facing a kicking duel with 45-year old ADAM VINATIERI. BADGELY’S opportunity is likely to show just enough to earn himself a spot on the practice Squad as the heir apparent for VINATIERI, who has to retire sometime in the foreseeable future, I think. Unfortunately for BADGLEY he posted his least impressive kicking performance of his college career as a senior hitting on only 74% of his field goal attempts (17/23). But in 2016 he hit on 21/26 attempts for a more NFL-like 81%. I have to believe that the organization would luv to see him get his mechanics back in order and provide them with their Kicker of the future.
DIMITRI FLOWERS/FB/H-B/TE/Oklahoma should have a very good chance to win an actual Fall roster spot with his combination of athleticism, versatility and productivity. Flowers split his time as a Sooner between a blocking/receiving FB, as well as a Red Zone TE. Combining the 2016/2017 seasons FLOWERS touched the ball 90 times, which resulted in 13 TD. That percentage of TD-to-touches is phenomenal. At 6’2/248 his ace in the hole is providing pass-pro for is QB. He should also excel on Special Teams units. I don’t see another player on the present JETS 90-man roster that can provide them with all the functional skills that he possesses.
GRANT HALEY/DB/Penn State. HALEY is trying to make his mark on the other Big Apple franchise, the GIANTS, who are once again in a serious rebuild of their secondary. At 5’9/190 his chances of pulling down a starting role seem slim, but many talent evaluators will tell you that if he was a couple inches taller he would have been drafted. He’s a smart, instinctive player. Mike Mayock professed HALEY to be one of his favorite players in the 2018 Draft prospect pool. His energy and heart stand out, as well as his FBI (football IQ). I predict he will make a solid run at the Nickel-Back slot. He had a very solid senior season in 2017, recording 40 tackles, 10 PBU and 2 INT. I say watch for him to find a spot on their 53-man roster if they keep the usual 10 DB coming out of the pre-season.
TRAYVON HENDERSON/S/Hawaii HENDERSON had an outstanding 2016 campaign with 90 tackles, 7 PBU and 3 Int. But he fell off statistically in 2017 on a very poor team. He does his best work in-the-box and excels at locating and getting to the football. He participated in the Senior Bowl and led the North squad in tackles for the game with 10. He was also credited with a PBU. He also excelled during his college career on Special Teams coverage units. His 4.50/40-time is more than adequate for TE/RB coverage duties. He’s in Camp with the Bengals, who I think are very limited at the S spots, which should give him a solid chance to earn a roster spot.
JEFF HOLLAND/ER/LB/Auburn The BRONCOS are always looking for more pass-rush (as are most NFL teams) and that is what HOLLAND excels at. Right now he’s near the bottom of the depth chart at OLB, but in OTA work he was impressive off the edge. At 6’1 3/8″/249 he’s too small as a regular DE and his 4.79/40 does not recommend him highly as a coverage LB. But he’s quick off the snap and has explosive hands to push through or around blockers. In today’s defenses where “positionless” players find roles of value expect this guy to make a hard push for a roster spot during the pre-season. In 2017 at Auburn he recorded 45 tackles, with 10 of them being Sacks. He was also credited with 4 forced fumbles and a whopping 22 QB Hurries. For his height he also features desirable arm length (33 1/2″) and large 10 1/4′ hands. He will likely force coaches to find him playing time.
QUENTON MEEKS/DB/Stanford Another player who was ignored in the Draft, much to my surprise. I expected him to be a Day 3 Draftee given his estimated 40-time of 4.47, but not go undrafted. Expect to see him eventually in sub-packages playing both Slot Corner and Safety. He has excellent DB size at 6’1/209 with nice 10″+ hand size. He is also more than willing to throw himself into the fray against the run. In 2017, in a loaded Stanford secondary, he recorded 65 tackles, with 8 PBU and 2 INT. He shows the athleticism and aggressiveness to play a key role on Special Teams. I fully expect him to make the Jaguars 53-man roster and increase his playing time as the season progresses. In fact he is part of the Jags very impressive URFA list right now.
JAMIYUS PITTMAN/DL/UCF Pittman is currently tearing things up in Miami for the Dolphins. He was a major part of the self-proclaimed NCAA National Championship Knight’s defense the past couple of seasons. His numbers fell off as a senior, but I feel that was in good part due to the fact that the UCF coaching staff asked him to bulk up to the 300 lb. range. He did so, but this clearly affected his quickness and penetration. He’s now listed at 284 lbs. on the Dolphins roster and has been tearing things up with his gap shooting and hand usage. Despite being only 6’1, he has 33″ arms, which he uses to help shed blockers. With a man named SUH no longer anchoring the DL in Miami the position is a veritable free-for-all in Camp. Expect him to win a roster spot and contribute, if not in Miami then somewhere else in the League.
DEON YELDER/TE/Saints The former OL at WKU is reported to be the highest paid URFA of this Summer. There was high demand for him and the Saints won the bidding war. YELDER played in both the NFLPA Game and Senior Bowl. YELDER has prototypical size for a pro TE at 6’3/249. He already knows how to block and showed some very nice hand work at both venues. He certainly strikes me as almost a lock to make the team, and very likely to move up the pecking order as the season progresses. Expect to see him get some red zone playing time early on. Long term he’s a No. 1 or 2 TE in the League.
There will be multiple additional URFA who should emerge during Training Camps and pre-season game action. These are just a handful that I will be watching closely.