Oct 29, 2015; Fort Worth, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin (2) in the pocket during the second quarter of a game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
As NFL teams prepare for training camp, keep an eye on these top five undrafted players as there could be some hidden gems in the mix.
In 2016, 253 players were drafted, but much more will find a home on an NFL squad. This influx of talent will come in the form of undrafted free agents (UDFA’s). What many casual fans do not realize is that because a player is not drafted does not mean they will never be a star, when in fact, some have even become Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees.
Kurt Warner, Warren Moon, Larry Little and Willie Brown are members of this distinct group. Others on the verge of being inducted include Wes Welker, Drew Pearson and Antonio Gates. Possible future candidates such as Priest Holmes, Arian Foster and even Rod Smith all had storied careers.
For those not selected in the NFL Draft, the power is now in their hands. They now can decide where they want to be. Many know they are wanted and hunted men, as owners and managers have them on speed dial and talked previously with them. Some have scouts sitting next to them with pen and paper ready to make that first offer.
Last season, La’el Collins went from a first round possibility to completely undrafted due to his ex-girlfriend being murdered. He took this opportunity to start on the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys, possibly the best in football.
Among the players that have an excellent opportunity to become more than their draft status; Nick Arbuckle and Matt Johnson come to mind. Then there are the ones that stand out even more because of either talent, opportunity or both.
Without further ado, here are the top five undrafted free agents to keep an eye on across the NFL as they do their best to make a name for themselves and stand out from the competition.
Next: 5. Trevone Boykin - Seattle Seahawks
Oct 29, 2015; Fort Worth, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin (2) during the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
5. Trevone Boykin – Seattle Seahawks
Trevone Boykin (6’0, 212 pounds) looks to replace three-year backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who was left unsigned in Seattle. Starting as a wide receiver at TCU, Boykin later switched to quarterback.
He finished the season throwing for 2,054 yards and running for 612 before suffering an ankle injury against Kansas in Week 11. He did return for the Baylor game but played modestly well in the victory (148 yards, two touchdowns and one interception). He would go on to miss the Alamo Bowl against Oregon as he was involved in a bar fight and suspended.
The Seahawks also brought in Vernon Adams from Oregon, but Boykin was the clear winner from the start. One of the primary reasons is that he not only has a howitzer for an arm, but his mobility gets everyone thinking of starting quarterback Russell Wilson.
In an article written by Gregg Bell of The News Tribune, Boykin went on to talk about being teamed with Wilson: “I see a lot of similarities,” said Boykin, “He makes good decisions and makes smart plays. He does a lot with his feet. That’s a guy that is smart, and you can learn from … “I’m just really ready to get around him, to meet him more and feel him out.” Boykin will be the backup, but if he can continue to improve his erratic accuracy and footwork, he could eventually be the replacement the Seahawks are looking for.
Next: 4. Byron Marshall-Philadelphia Eagles
Jan 12, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Byron Marshall (9) reacts as Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Curtis Grant (14) looks on from behind during the second quarter in the 2015 CFP National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
4. Byron Marshall – Philadelphia Eagles
Byron Marshall (5’9, 201 pounds) was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after the 2016 NFL Draft had concluded. He was part of the high-flying offense of the Oregon Ducks and should fit in nicely with the Eagles.
He is the type of player that can play wide receiver and running back as he notched 1,000 yards in both departments. He was moved to wide receiver last season when Royce Freeman claimed the starting running back job. Marshall is quick and athletic with a thick body and can play special teams.
His inexperience at wide receiver and his body type lead to uncertainty on where he could fit on a football team, and he experienced a severe ankle injury in September. This combination hurt his value and led him to be undrafted.
The Eagles could use him in multiple ways. He will fit in nicely on screen passes or draws and could eventually take over the third down role when Darren Sproles departs Philadelphia. Look for him on kick returns or possible gunner on special teams.
Next: 3. Josh Ferguson - Indianapolis Colts
Nov 7, 2015; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Josh Ferguson (6) runs with the ball against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium. Illinois defeated Purdue 48-20. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
3. Josh Ferguson – Indianapolis Colts
Josh Ferguson (5’10, 200 pounds) will travel just up the road from Illinois and join a vacant Indianapolis Colts running game. He will have to battle Robert Turbin, but it’s a challenge he can win.
As his size dictates, Ferguson has had trouble staying healthy, missing 16 games in his college career including three his senior year due to a shoulder injury. He isn’t going to break tackles and prefers to bounce things outside instead of between tackles.
Ferguson has quick feet and tremendous acceleration. He is hard to tackle because he can cut and move forcing the tacklers to bottle him rather than smash his small frame to the ground. He also has great hands out of the backfield.
He probably will never be a full-time starter and will only be relied on in third-down and long, or passing situations. Which will be perfect for the Colts, as the only other back they can count on is Turbin.
Next: 2. Keyarris Garrett - Carolina Panthers
2. Keyarris Garrett – Carolina Panthers
Keyarris Garrett (6’3, 220) will fit in nicely with the Carolina Panthers who have little talent at the wide receiver position. He will now be among Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and tight end Greg Olsen.
Many were surprised that Garrett went undrafted. He fits the prototypical wide receiver role and led the nation in receiving yards (1,588) including 96 receptions and eight touchdowns. He is a downfield receiver with long strides that help him blast past defenders and will use his body to go up and get the ball or shield coverage.
He needs a runway to get up to full speed and has limited route training. At Tulsa, he ran almost exclusively screens, slants, hitches and go routes. Garrett also has the dropsies.
Garrett will have some competition with Funchess and Ted Ginn already in starting roles, but that doesn’t mean Garrett cannot win the battle in camp. To earn a starting position, he must show more knowledge on routes and not drop the ball, but he is very raw, and Carolina won’t be pressured to rush him in right away. He could be a mainstay in goal line situations giving the Panthers an excellent option down low.
Next: 1. Jeremy Cash - Carolina Panthers
Sep 3, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Duke Blue Devils safety Jeremy Cash (16) tackles Tulane Green Wave quarterback Tanner Lee (12) during the first quarter of a game at Yulman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
1. Jeremy Cash – Carolina Panthers
Jeremy Cash (6’0, 212 pounds) was another nice grab for the Panthers as he has the talent to play almost anywhere on the field, and will remind people of last season’s first-round draft choice Shaq Thompson.
Cash was held by many as the top billed free-agent and was pegged as a fourth or fifth-round draft selection out of Duke. Versatile, he can play several positions on the field including safety, linebacker and slot corner. He has great instincts in coverage; reading and anticipating the pass. He will also get his head and shoulders into the ball carrier to make the tackle.
At Duke, Cash was listed as a safety which is interesting since he never played an actual safety in college, and his size for a linebacker is going to get himself destroyed at the NFL level. Not only is he a tweener but he broke his wrist in 2016 which could have contributed him to fall off all draft boards.
The Panthers are already a great defense, and Cash will fill the missing voids with his versatility. It appears as though the Panthers would like him to play linebacker. In an article written by Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com, director of college scouting Don Gregory said, “He’s 205, has been as heavy as 215, 220. He’s got a frame to get bigger. We see him as an outside linebacker. His production translates to outside linebacker for us.”