The next Wes Welker: Finney, Harris among top undrafted free agents
One does not have to look far to find undrafted free-agent success stories. There are those of Arian Foster and Wes Welker, sure, but every roster these days is dotted with at least a handful of guys who slipped out of the draft.
More will make it onto the Week 1 roster in 2015. Here are a few UDFA names to watch as mini-camps get going later this month:
BJ Finney, C, Kansas State and Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn (signed with Steelers): A pair of four-year college starters land together in Pittsburgh, where they likely will be battling each other for one roster spot (if that). Give the edge to Finney, who has the edge in size (6'4", 318 pounds to Dismukes' 6'3", 296 pounds) and power for a transition to guard.
Both players excelled as college centers in spite of their athletic limitations. Their relatively low ceilings pushed them out of the draft, but this is a nice landing spot. The Steelers do not have much in the way of O-line depth, especially on the interior.
Anthony Harris, S, Virginia (Vikings): Harris was the FBS leader in interceptions for 2013 (eight) and he racked up 108 tackles last season, yet still did not hear his name called last weekend. Harris required shoulder surgery after his senior year ended, Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, and his inability to work out drove down his draft standing. As a result the Vikings might wind up with a steal.
ESPN draft guru Todd McShay listed Harris as the best undrafted free agent following the draft, and the Vikings are far from set at safety outside of Harrison Smith. Harris has a chance to make waves come training camp.
Mike Hull, LB, Penn State (Dolphins): Another situation where a team's needs may prop the door open for a UDFA. Miami was thought to be in the draft market for a linebacker, but bypassed the position for upgrades elsewhere. That's great news for Hull, an athletically limited linebacker who also happened to be named Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2014. He's a smart, hard-working player—one for whom Miami might be saving a spot on its 53-man roster.
Titus Davis, WR, Central Michigan (Chargers): Don't be surprised if one week this coming regular season Davis emerges as the obligatory "random Chargers fantasy star." He's not overly big or fast, but Davis runs sharp routes and displays an NFL-ready understanding for how to get open. San Diego's passing attack is ideal for his skill set.
Ladarius Gunter, CB/S, Miami (Packers): The Packers used a first-round pick on a cornerback/safety hybrid (Damarious Randall) and a second-rounder on a cornerback who could see a move to safety down the line (Quinten Rollins), so Gunter may be an extraneous prospect here. If it doesn't work in Green Bay, Gunter should find another opportunity.
His former college teammate, new Colts WR Phillip Dorsett, told SI during a pre-draft interview that Gunter's aggressiveness and length make him a difficult cornerback to beat. While Gunter was hurt by underwhelming 40 times in the mid-4.6 range, his desire to play a physical style helps offset the limited speed.
Devante Davis, WR, UNLV (Eagles): Even in another deep receiver class, it's hard to believe no team spent a draft pick on Davis. He caught 87 passes and scored 12 times for UNLV in 2013; a wrist injury limited him to 34 and four, respectively, last year. The 6'3", 220-pounder is an extremely tough cover, because he boxes out DBs and adjusts when the ball is in the air. Think DeVante Parker or Jaelen Strong—Davis is not as dominant as those players, but he offers a similar skill set with less agility.
Taiwan Jones, LB, Michigan State (Jets): Jones ranked as a fifth-round prospect on SI's draft scale; NFL.com had him pegged as a Round 4 or Round 5 selection. If anyone can max out Jones' rookie value, though, the odds favor Todd Bowles. Jones is a downhill defender—ideal for the sort of A-gap blitzing that Bowles' Arizona defense thrived off of last season when he was the defensive coordinator there. As with Hull in Miami, Jones has in front of him a depth chart boasting limited depth.
Tyler Varga, FB, Yale (Colts): The best thing going for Varga, as it relates to Pep Hamilton's Indianapolis offense, is that he is versatile. Hamilton likes to mix and match within his scheme to keep defenses guessing—i.e. his use of the Colts' tight ends last season, and in particular how he employed H-back Jack Doyle.
Varga did not really begin his conversion to fullback until the Senior Bowl. Once there, he opened a lot of eyes by showing a willingness to take on linebackers. But the 5'11", 222-pound Varga actually has some upside as a three-down running back, albeit one who would have to offer a little special-teams punch.
Derrick Lott, DT, Chattanooga (Titans): Tennessee found a couple of potential contributors in the UDFA process—Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt definitely could stick. Lott (6'4", 314 pounds) spent six seasons in college due to injury and a transfer from Georgia, and at 25 years old, his window for development is slim. However, he's capable of stepping right in as a rotational piece on passing downs. There might be more in Lott down the line, as well, should he stay healthy.
Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State (Raiders): Oakland's competition at receiver will be fascinating to track over the summer. With James Jones out of the mix, the elder statesmen are Michael Crabtree (27), Rod Streater (27) and Andre Holmes (26).
Harper could join the youth movement. A first-team All-MWC selection last season, Harper averaged 84.5 catches and 1,054 yards receiving across 2013–14. He's a reliable possession receiver, flashing enough elusive after the ball is in his hands to be dangerous as an NFL threat.