FedEx Field, October 6th, 2019. The Washington Redskins take the field for their second drive against the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots.
It’s second-and-eight and quarterback Colt McCoy steps back in the pocket and fakes a pass. Steven Sims Jr. crosses his face on an end around, and takes the ball.
He avoids one defender, then two. He sees daylight. The wide receiver accelerates 65 yards to the house and the Redskins take the lead 7-0. His first rushing touchdown of his career.
Your friend turns to you and asks, “Where was Sims Jr. drafted again?”
You answer, “he wasn’t… he was an undrafted free agent.”
Players like Steven Sims Jr. pop up all across the league, and show the vital importance of the undrafted free agent (UDFA) market that transpires shortly after the NFL draft.
As soon as “Mr. Irrelevant” (Trey Quinn, knocked out last year, was this pick in 2018) is selected, executives across the league make a mad dash to solidify negotiations and bring undrafted college prospects to their team. It’s an essential, and often underrated, aspect of roster building.
Over the last decade, the Redskins have found unlikely contributors from the UDFA market. For example, Sims Jr. carved a niche for himself last season and is projected to be the starting slot receiver in 2020.
Will a breakout candidate arise from this year’s free agent class? I think there’s a shot. But before we get there, let’s look at the importance of the UDFAs and the Redskins recent success of acquiring them.
The Hidden Value of Undrafted Free Agents:
Considering the Redskins ranked 32nd in points scored last season (266), the team is looking for talent anyway they can get it. And they are crossing their fingers that their rookie class, in addition to their four undrafted free agents, can contribute.
Undrafted free agents have had a sneaky role in the NFL in terms of success. Many forget that Tony Romo, Wes Welker, and Arian Foster were undrafted. And at the local level, Donald Penn, Case Keenum and Lorenzo Alexander were all former ‘Skins who did not hear their names called by the commissioner.
In a recent article for Rotoworld, acclaimed writer Thor Nystrom shared the importance of UDFAS by sharing that, “Over the last three seasons, 297 undrafted free agents made NFL rosters. That’s 9.28 per team every three years, or a little over three UDFA per organization per year. That doesn’t include the practice squad, where the numbers are more significant, almost double. Since 2017, 17% of players who signed UDFA deals made Week 1 rosters. Undrafted players comprise about one-fifth of NFL rosters.”
Considering the Redskins have the third youngest starting lineup in the league with an average age of 25.1 (FootballOutsiders.com), I anticipate a few undrafted free agents to make the team.
This would echo the sentiment shared by Ron Rivera, when he said he wants to build the team “the right way” and he has a “long term approach” to this roster.
Redskins Track Record of Undrafted Free Agents
Believe it or not, the Redskins front office has found a knack at finding undrafted gems over the years. Whether it has been the prowess of the scouts, or an overall lack of talent on the team, it seems like every other year an UDFA becomes an unlikely starter and logs major minutes.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at some recent UDFA “hits” for the organization. The statistics shown are a compilation of their time in Washington. The year in parenthesis denotes the year they were acquired.
Logan Paulsen (2010): 42 starts, 79 Receptions, 801 yards and 6 TDs
Will Compton (2013): 33 starts, 282 tackles, six tackles for loss, three interceptions
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Quinton Dunbar (2015): 25 starts, 150 tackles, nine interceptions
Rob Kelley (2016): 16 starts, 906 yards and 9 TDs
Maurice Harris (2016): 28 games played, 432 yards and 1 TD
Steven Sims Jr (2019): 2 games started, 395 yards from scrimmage, 6 total TDs
Many of the players above went on to spend several seasons in the burgundy and gold. Some played for division winners, while a few went on to find second contracts elsewhere.
Regardless, there should be a sense of optimism for this year’s undrafted class. And I believe two in particular have an opportunity to thrive.
The Redskins 2020 UDFA Class:
The Redskins added four undrafted free agents to their 2020 roster. They include:
Johnathon Johnson, WR Missouri
Steven Montez, QB Colorado
Isaiah Wright, WR Temple
However, two standout as the most likely to make the team and in-effect an impact.
Moss appears to have the most direct path to playing time and potential success. He was projected as a late-third to early-fourth round selection, but saw his draft stock fall due to concerns of a foot injury that many thought would require surgery. In a COVID-19 world, teams couldn’t conduct their due diligence in terms of physicals, and this may have had a lingering effect on how he was viewed. He was also criticized for his height, which at six-foot-two, is a few inches shorter than a prototype tight-end. For example, Travis Kelce is six-foot-five.
Yet, the opportunity is there for him. Moss will battle it out with journeyman Logan Thomas, Richard Rodgers and incumbent Jeremy Sprinkle at the tight end position. None of these players have had a significant impact as pass catchers. Moss is renowned for being a sure-handed receiver, and did not drop a pass last season. I think he’s a sure bet for the roster and will likely be on the field early.
Isaiah Wright from Temple is also a breakout candidate for me. He doesn’t come with the acclaim or the pedigree of Moss, but I believe his versatility will be very appealing to Scott Turner and Ron Rivera. For the Owls, he was their primary punt-returner, kick-returner and starting wide receiver. He also received reps at halfback and was used in gadget plays such as end-arounds.
The Temple coaching staff manufactured opportunities for him to be successful. This should blend favorably with how OC Scott Turner used Curtis Samuel in Carolina.
And at 6’2” and 220 pounds, he offers a big body option for any quarterback. Considering the competition ahead of him, he may sneak into a largely unproven wide receiver room in Washington.
Keep an eye out for Moss and Wright as training camp approaches. They may surprise people, and you heard it here first.
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George Carmi is an editor/contributing writer to FullPressCoverage.com or @FPC_Redskins. He is a native of the DC metropolitan area and is an avid fan of DC Sports. A former journalism major at the University of Maryland, his focus is now in public education. His earliest memories consist of Darrell Green, "The Posse" and Super Bowl XXVI. Follow him on twitter @Gcarmi21