Even with 259 picks in the 2021 draft, there are still plenty of talented players that fall through the cracks. Recent undrafted free agents to go on and find immediate success, including James Robinson, Phillip Lindsay, Deonte Harris, Allen Lazard and Charvarius Ward. This class, more than most, had a number of players that did not hear their names called, but landed in a good position to succeed in the NFL. Here are my favorite candidates to breakout as undrafted free agents.
Javian Hawkins, RB, Falcons
Atlanta’s running back room is pretty bare at this point. Mike Davis proved to be a solid starter in Carolina last year when Christian McCaffrey was injured. Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James are the other veterans on the roster. Javian Hawkins is a speedster who can provide a nice change of pace in the backfield. He has limited experience as a receiver and small hands, but his speed brings a fun element to this offense. I expect he will have a chance to earn touches with a strong training camp.
Ar’Darius Washington, S, Ravens
While undersized, Ar’Darius Washington is a playmaker. He had five interceptions in 2019 and four pass breakups in 2020. Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott have the starting roles locked down, but depth in the secondary is important. Washington could be a good fit for five- and six-defensive back sets. His size and lack of elite speed likely means he won’t be a starter in the future. It is going to be tough for him to earn a spot though with 2020 draft pick Geno Stone still in the mix.
Quintin Morris, TE, Bills
One of the biggest surprises of this draft was that Buffalo did not target the tight end position. The Bills finished fourth in tight end targets in 2020, with Dawson Knox and Tyler Kroft, who is no longer on the team, combining for 60 of the 66 passes thrown to the position. This is one of those chicken or the egg situations. Does Buffalo not utilize its tight ends in the passing game, so we don’t hold their tight ends in high regard, or are the Bills tight ends not all that good, so they don’t target them? Now that I’ve finished that thought exercise, I think Quintin Morris can work his way onto the roster and into a solid role. He caught a combined 97 passes in 2018 and 2019 at Bowling Green. He only had 20 receptions in 2020, but the Falcons only played in five games. He is a solid blocker and could work his way into a secondary tight end role.
Charles Snowden, EDGE, Bears
As was the theme of this draft, Charles Snowden was a potential Day 3 selection that fell out of the draft entirely. He has really good length and solid college production. In his final two seasons at Virginia, Snowden recorded 11 sacks. He is a bit raw, but the physical tools make a great addition as an undrafted free agent. Chicago has two proven veteran pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, but there could be some room for competition behind them. He has a hard road to making the roster with Trevis Gipson and Jeremiah Attachou ahead of him, not to mention Mack’s brother, Ledarius. With his big frame though, Snowden is 6’6″, he could challenge for snaps at defensive end if he manages to put on some weight.
Marvin Wilson, DL, Browns
I’ve talked about it at length, but what a drop off for Marvin Wilson. He went from being a potential first-round pick in 2020 to undrafted in 2021. I think a change of scenery will serve the former Florida State defensive lineman well. It was a really rocky year for the Seminoles, both on and off the field. Cleveland has thrown a lot of darts at the defensive tackle position, signing Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell in addition to drafting Tommy Togiai. However, I don’t think Cleveland is totally set on its starters at the position, with only Andrew Billings (opted out in 2020) and Jordan Elliott (started one game in 2020) the two incumbent players at the position. There is buzz that Sheldon Richardson could return, but I think Wilson will have a chance to earn playing time very early if he has a good training camp and preseason.
Nolan Laufenberg, G, Broncos
One of my favorite interior lineman in this past draft, Nolan Laufenberg stays close to his alma mater by signing with Denver. He featured in a very run-heavy offense at Air Force, helping lead one of the best rushing attacks in the country as a three-year starter. He lacks elite size, but he is an above average athlete and could be a good backup for this Broncos team right away. With the injury to Ja’Wuan James, Denver will need as much offensive line depth as it can afford. If they have to start moving players to different positions because they cannot find a veteran free agent to fill the void, like the Packers did last year with Elgton Jenkins, Laufenberg might even be in line for snaps this year.
Sage Surratt, WR, Lions
Detroit’s wide receiver corps was torn down. Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola and Marvin Hall are all gone. The Lions drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown and signed veterans Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams, but Quintez Cephus is the only real holdover from 2020. That definitely opens up an opportunity for Sage Surratt. Surratt took the ACC by storm in 2019, but opted out in 2020 and dealt with injuries that hampered him at the Senior Bowl and at his pro day. He does not have great speed, but he can make contested catches and stretch the field. If he can get healthy, I think he has a shot to make the roster.
Christian Uphoff, S, Packers
Put in a really tough situation, it is not shocking to see Christian Uphoff go undrafted. Like many other FCS players, he lost his fall season when it was moved to the spring and knowing he wanted to play in the NFL, Uphoff did not get a chance to play football in 2020. Still, he looked solid at the Senior Bowl and could be a practice squad player for Green Bay this year with a shot to make the roster down the line. He has excellent size and good play strength. He is not the best athlete, but he has a ton of experience and could be a good special teams player if he can make the final cut.
Tyler Vaughns, WR, Colts
Indianapolis needs help at wide receiver. T.Y. Hilton still has not been re-signed. Paris Campbell cannot stay healthy. Veterans Zach Pascal and JJ Nelson are far from long-term solutions. Michael Pittman had a solid rookie year and maybe he can help his former USC teammate get up to speed. Tyler Vaughns is not an especially gifted athlete, but he has good length and hands. He was a four-year contributor for the Trojans, filling an important role as a possession receiver. The Colts could use a flashy playmaker, but moving the sticks is an invaluable trait. Don’t be surprised if Vaughns makes the roster and even sees some playing time as a rookie.
Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR, Jaguars
How in the world did Josh Imatorbhebhe go undrafted? He posted some eye-popping testing numbers at Illinois pro day. He recorded a 46.5-inch vertical, which would have beaten the NFL combine record of 45 inches. Imatorbhebhe also threw up 24 reps on the bench press, which is in the 97th percentile for receivers, and measured in with solid hand size and an impressive wingspan. I would’ve thought some team would take a chance on him on Day 3. Instead, he lands in Jacksonville, who already has a crowded receiver room, but also has a new coaching staff and not many proven playmakers. As a big-play threat with nine touchdowns in 2019, Imatorbhebhe could carve out a role with the Jaguars.
Dylan Moses, LB, Jaguars
Unlike Imatorbhebe, I know exactly why Dylan Moses went undrafted. It still does not make it any easier to believe. A former All-American at Alabama, Moses suffered a torn ACL that cost him his 2019 season. He was still projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick had he come out in 2020. Instead, he returned to school and showed what we all feared. He lost a lot of his change of direction ability and looked like a shadow of the dominant linebacker we had witnessed in 2018. He battled through a meniscus injury and is already on the non-football injury list for the Jaguars. There are starting spots to be had in Jacksonville at linebacker. Myles Jack and Joe Schobert presumably command two of them, but Leon Jacobs, Shaq Quarterman, Roy Robertson-Harris and Damien Wilson will likely be competing for that final spot. If Moses can get healthy, a really big if at this point, I think he could make a real run at being a starter.
Riley Cole, LB, Chiefs
While Kansas City drafted Nick Bolton in the second round, I still like the decision to bring in Riley Cole. He is a sure tackler that showed he could hold his own at the Senior Bowl. He did not face the best competition at South Alabama, but he could work his way into a special teams role or situational linebacker role early in his career. I think he would be an upgrade over Darius Harris and Ben Niemann, both of whom started games for Kansas City last season. Bolton likely wins the starting job alongside Willie Gay Jr. and Anthony Hitchens, but Cole could be in line for snaps early in his career.
Darius Stills, DL, Raiders
After making the curious move to cut Maurice Hurst and then neglect the defensive tackle position in the draft, Darius Stills is a critical signing for the Raiders. Jonathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson are the projected starters, but neither is irreplaceable at this stage. Solomon Thomas is a capable veteran, but neither Niles Scott nor Darius Philon have played since 2018. Stills arrives after posting 10.5 sacks over his final two seasons at West Virginia. He is a bit undersized, but tested well at his pro day and could work his way into a rotational role very early on, given the Raiders lack of proven depth at the position.
Alaric Jackson, OT, Rams
The Rams completely ignored their offensive line in the draft. Andrew Whitworth turns 40 this year and the team has very little depth on the interior. Alaric Jackson has the size and experience to be a solid swing tackle or maybe even interior lineman starting this year. He played tackle at Iowa, but his short arms (32.5 inches) might make him a better fit at guard instead. Either way, I think Jackson could have an easy path to making the roster with very little proven depth along this offensive front.
Hamilcar Rashed Jr., EDGE, Jets
The Jets desperately need pass rushers. New York finished in the bottom third of the league in sacks for what feels like at least the 10th year in a row. It’s been a long time since this team has been capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis. I will be interested to see how Hamilcar Rashed Jr. fits in this defense. He is built like a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he could be a situational speed rusher on third down for New York. He put together a monster 2019 season with 14 sacks. His zero-sack 2020 season is likely what caused him to go undrafted, but he has flashed the potential to be incredibly disruptive. If Rashed gets anywhere near his 2019 form, not those sack numbers, but just consistently creating pressure, this will be a steal for the Jets.
Kenny Yeboah, TE, Jets
In addition to pass rushers, the Jets definitely need some help at tight end as well. Chris Herndon is in a make or break year. Ryan Griffin is a solid veteran, but fits better as a No. 2 option. Trevon Wesco has not done much in his first two seasons and Tyler Kroft is a journeyman with a lengthy injury history. That opens the door for Kenny Yeboah to make some noise. He had a great pre-draft process, looking sharp at the Senior Bowl and tested decently well at Ole Miss’ pro day. After being buried on the depth chart and failing to stand out at Temple, Yeboah put up some strong numbers for the Rebels in Lane Kiffin’s offense. He is best used as a move tight end and could be an intriguing option in New York.
Jamie Newman, QB, Eagles
I had projected a big 2020 season from Jamie Newman after he transferred to Georgia, putting him in the first round of my way-too-early 2021 mock draft. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Newman lost the starting job and then opted out. He did not look good at the Senior Bowl and struggled at Georgia’s pro day. There are moments of his film at Wake Forest that are special. For the Eagles, who are clearly trusting Jalen Hurts to run the offense, this is a fun project with tons of upside. If Hurts struggles, Newman could be a potential future option. More likely, the team will target a quarterback with one of its likely three first-round picks in 2022, but this is a savvy move by Philadelphia.
Shakur Brown, CB, Steelers
Pittsburgh’s secondary took a hit this offseason. The team cut Steven Nelson to save cap space and lost Mike Hilton in free agency. Joe Hayden is clearly the top option with Justin Layne and Cameron Sutton behind him. After that, there is very little depth. Shakur Brown could be in line for some snaps this season in that nickel corner role with Hilton gone. He is a bit undersized, but Brown was a playmaker at Michigan State. He had five interceptions this past season for the Spartans. He did not test well at his pro day, but I think his game speed might be slightly better than his 40-time would indicate. Brown will never be a fixture on the outside, but he could make the roster as a slot corner.
Tamorrion Terry, WR, Seahawks
A rough 2020 season tanked Tamorrion Terry’s draft stock. Jordan Travis did not have a great year, which I think could be a big reason for his drop off in production. Terry had 700-plus yards and eight touchdowns in 2018. He followed that up with nearly 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019. For him to finish out his career with 289 yards and one touchdown in his final season is incredibly disappointing. That being said, I think he will bounce back in Seattle. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are the clear starters and the Seahawks spent a second-round pick on D’Wayne Eskridge. Freddie Swain is probably locked in as the fourth receiver, but there is definitely room for a fifth or sixth receiver on this roster. Aaron Fuller and fellow undrafted free agent Cade Johnson will probably be Terry’s biggest competition, but his size, length and athleticism could give him the inside track to making the roster.