2021 NFL Draft: Best landing spots for undrafted free agents

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.

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2021 NFL Draft takeaways: Which teams nailed it and which teams would like a do-over

The 2021 NFL draft is in the books! While I don’t believe in giving out draft grades as soon as the draft ends and none of these players have played even a down in the NFL, I do think it is interesting to look at how the draft unfolded. There were a few teams that found great value at positions of need while others were left reaching or neglected to fill large holes on their roster. Here are my initial reactions to what went down in Cleveland.

Talk about nailing the draft

At first glance, there were a few teams that I think had really strong drafts. They navigated the board well, found great value and filled out their roster for 2021 and beyond. If your team is not here, that does not mean I hated their draft. There are only so many clubs that can impress in a weekend.

Washington Football Team
Biggest impact: Dyami Brown, WR, UNC (82nd overall)
Best value: Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State (246th overall)
This is by far my favorite draft class. It is way too early to start handing out grades, but Jamin Davis, Samuel Cosmi, Benjamin St-Juste and Dyami Brown could all be starters this year. Washington filled a number of positions of need and found some great value throughout the draft. Darrick Forest, Dax Milne and Toney are all solid depth pieces who could contribute in situational roles as early as this year. I think there is tons of upside with both Cosmi and Toney. I couldn’t believe they were both still available when they were finally selected. The only knock you could have would be not finding a quarterback to develop. Perhaps Washington really views Taylor Heinicke as a developmental option, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously a stop-gap solution.

Atlanta Falcons
Biggest impact: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (4th overall)
Best value: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (68th overall)
Atlanta quietly had a great draft. They grabbed one of the best receivers in the draft in Pitts. Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman will all push for playing time this year. Avery Williamson will be a special teams standout. Ade Ogundeji has outrageous length to work with and Frank Darby could be a steal in the sixth round. The Falcons also grabbed Jaret Patterson as an undrafted free agent. Not drafting a running back was one my biggest negatives here, so getting him helps soften that blow.

Carolina Panthers
Biggest impact: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (8th overall)
Best value: Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa (158th overall)
There was a lot to like in what the Panthers did in this draft. Carolina found some gems in the later rounds. Tommy Tremble could be the team’s No. 2 tight end this year and his blocking is a huge asset. Daviyon Nixon had a second-round grade from me and Shi Smith earned a late third-round mark. Landing them in the fifth and sixth respectively is great value. Terrace Marshall gives Sam Darnold another reliable receiver to work with as well. Chuba Hubbard will be a great change-of-pace back behind Christian McCaffrey. Oh, and Jaycee Horn fills a huge need and is pro ready. Carolina has put all the pieces in place for Sam Darnold to be successful.

Cleveland Browns
Biggest impact: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
Best value: Owusu-Koramoah
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a top-20 player on my board and the Browns got him at 52. That alone might be enough to make them winners. However, they also grabbed Greg Newsome, one of my favorite corners in this draft, and Anthony Schwartz, a field-stretching receiver with untapped potential. James Hudson is a great value in the fourth round with a lot of upside. Having depth on the offensive line is never a bad thing either. I really like all of the Browns picks across the board. Tommy Togiai could compete for a role this season, maybe in goal line and short yardage situations. Tony Field is a great depth linebacker with a nose for the football. Richard LeCounte is talented but has to clean up his off-the-field issues. Demetric Felton is a fun gadget player for Kevin Stefanski to deploy as well. Well-rounded draft for Cleveland that filled a lot of team needs.

Minnesota Vikings
Biggest impact: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (23rd overall)
Best value: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State (97rd overall)
When you trade down and take a player everyone expected you to take before the trade, you are doing well. Minnesota landed two new starting offensive linemen in Darrisaw and Davis. I had both ranked in my top 32 players. The Vikings landed some other key contributors in Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Janarius Robinson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Jalen Twyman are all good value picks in the later rounds. I think Minnesota did an excellent job of planning for the present and the future. Kellen Mond gives the Vikings a development quarterback as well, who could potentially take over for Kirk Cousins down the line. Bottom line, Minnesota addressed some big needs without reaching. That’s a recipe for success.

Even the best laid plans go to waste

We all go into the draft expecting to go one way. Very quickly, it ends up going another way. The best front offices can pivot and recover when the unexpected occurs. With the benefit of hindsight, here a few teams that might want a do-over.

Seattle Seahawks
Biggest surprise: D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan (56th overall)
Biggest reach: None
Let’s make something clear, this has nothing to do with who the Seahawks decided to draft. It is much more about who Seattle didn’t decide to draft. Russell Wilson made it clear he wanted offensive line help. The front office ignored that entirely, waiting until the sixth round to select Stone Forsyth. D’Wayne Eskridge is an exciting player, but the Seahawks absolutely could have filled the role of a third receiver later in the draft, especially when your top two options are D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I touched on it in my Day 2 surprises, but there were a number of good linemen on the board at that spot. I was also stunned that Seattle did not trade down. With only three picks in the whole draft, moving down to pick up one or two more selections would’ve been a wise move. The three players they took were good ones, but it feels like the Seahawks could have done more.

Dallas Cowboys
Biggest surprise: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (12th overall)
Biggest reach: Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State (99th overall)
It feels weird to put the Cowboys in this category. On one hand, I love Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox. I think both are great players and Cox was an absolute steal in the fourth round. However, this is a team that already has Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith at linebacker. While Dallas was smart to address its defense, linebacker was the one spot that didn’t feel like a huge need. Rashawn Slater was still on the board with both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins coming off major injuries. Then there was the Cowboys’ third round. Osa Odighizuwa went a bit earlier than expected, but filled a need. Chauncey Golston did too, but I liked him in the fifth round. NahShon Wright is long, but I was shocked to see him go this early. I don’t think this was an awful draft for Dallas by any means, but it was a weird one. I think they could’ve done better with the picks they had and the players still on the board.

Indianapolis Colts
Biggest Surprise: Dayo Odeyingbo, EDGE, Vanderbilt (54th overall)
Biggest Reach: Kylen Granson, TE, SMU (127th overall)

Indianapolis got off to a great start to the draft with Kwity Paye in the first round. Things went downhill from there. Dayo Odeyingbo is an intriguing talent, but he is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in January, so he likely won’t contribute this year. It was also a bit early for him and they had already drafted Paye. With a huge need at left tackle and other needs at receiver and corner, doubling up at defensive end was an odd choice. Kylen Granson was one of my least favorite picks. He went way too early and there were better players on the board, both in general and at the position. Waiting until the seventh round to draft an offensive lineman is questionable given the team has no real plan at left tackle. Carson Wentz proved last year that he does not thrive under pressure. I thought the Colts would prioritize protecting him. Still don’t understand the Sam Ehlinger selection either. Indy just took Jacob Eason last year. Definitely not my favorite draft on paper.

Dylan Moses and Mavin Wilson
Heading into the 2020 NFL draft, I had a late first-round grade on Dylan Moses. Even with the ACL injury and him missing his entire junior season, I figured a team would take a flier on him by the end of the second round at the latest. When he returned to school, he became one of the top prospects for 2021. I mocked Moses No. 10 to the Dolphins in my way-too-early mock draft. Moses had a rough 2021 season. He looked nowhere close to the explosive athlete we saw in 2019. His change of direction speed was gone and he reportedly dealt with a meniscus injury. I thought he would slide into the middle rounds of this draft. For him to go undrafted is wild. It was likely due to the lack of medicals for teams this year. Still, Moses missed out in a big way by returning to school. I will be rooting for him to prove people wrong in Jacksonville. Much of the same can be applied to Marvin Wilson. He was a fringe first-round pick in 2020 mocks, but decided to return to school. He debuted at No. 17 to the Jaguars in my way-too-early mock for 2021. Wilson had a checkered season that started with a public dispute with new Florida State coach Mike Norvell. He only recorded one sack, which came against Jacksonville State, in a disappointing season. Wilson ended up going undrafted as well, signing with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent. He signed a deal worth $192,000 guaranteed. For reference, Joe Tryon, who went to Tampa with the final pick of the first round, is expected to sign a deal worth $11.1 million with a $5.4 million signing bonus, per Spotrac.

While I have you here, a few more thoughts on this draft

These next two teams didn’t really fall into either category, but I felt like they were worth talking about because of the moves they made.

Houston Texas
Biggest impact: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan (89th overall)
Best value: Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (147th overall)
Houston has now signed Tyrod Taylor, traded for Ryan Finley and drafted Davis Mills. Deshaun Watson’s future looks murkier than that of even Aaron Rodgers right now. Adam Schefter was reporting on Saturday that there are people in NFL circles who believe Watson won’t play in 2021. Credit the Texans for being aggressive in trying to find his successor. Well, as aggressive as a team who traded away a ton of premium draft picks to acquire Laremy Tunsil can be. Houston is still undoubtedly one of the worst-run franchises in football, but this is a positive start for Nick Caserio and company. Instead of feeling like this team is headed for a tear down, they suddenly have an exciting, raw quarterback to develop with an on rebuilding. Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan could both be involved in the offense this year. The Texans are still bad, but I like what they did with limited resources.

Buffalo Bills
Biggest impact: Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest (61st overall)
Best value: Basham
For the third year in a row, Buffalo invested significant draft capital into its defensive line. In 2019, it was Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick. A.J. Epenesa landed with the Bills in the second round in 2020. This draft saw Buffalo grab defensive linemen with its first two picks, selecting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Only San Francisco is able to rival the amount of young talent the Bills currently boast up front. What makes this group particularly scary is the versatility. You could really start any of them anywhere along the defensive line and feel pretty good about that decision. That doesn’t even take into account that Buffalo still has veterans like Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler. This undoubtedly sets the Bills up to have one of the best defensive lines in the league going forward. Also love the addition of Spencer Brown in the third round.

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