There are only 256 picks in the NFL draft every year but the number of players who declare and are eligible to be picked is at least double that amount. But if players such as Kurt Warner, Tony Romo and Michael Bennett have taught us anything, it’s that teams can find diamonds in the rough with undrafted players. And with rookie minicamps opening up this weekend, here are five undrafted free agents (UDFA) from the class of 2018 who could not only make a roster, but end up having a significant impact in the NFL.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Even though he is one of the more accomplished quarterbacks in Buckeyes history, none of the 32 teams felt compelled enough to use a draft pick on the 23-year-old. Initially, the three-time, All-Big Ten selection was offered a tryout at the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie minicamp. But he spurned that offer in favor of an official contract with the New Orleans Saints. As good as Drew Brees is, he can’t play forever. And his current backups only have nine combined starts between them. Barrett could be the wild card in the backup race this year mainly because of his dual-threat abilities.
Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida
Despite throwing for 8,124 yards and rushing for another 3,672 in just 43 games for the Bulls, no NFL team felt Flowers was worthy of a draft selection. But the Cincinnati Bengals decided to take a chance on the man who’s considered to the greatest player to ever suit up for USF. AJ McCarron had served as Andy Dalton’s backup the past four seasons before signing with Buffalo in free agency. Aside from his duel-threat skill set, what sets Flowers apart from the others hoping to be Andy Dalton’s No. 2 is that he also can be used in wildcat and read-option packages.
Nyles Morgan, LB, Notre Dame
Plenty of teams were looking for help at inside linebacker in this year’s draft, but supply didn’t seem to be an issue. One of the players at the position that seemingly got lost in the shuffle was Morgan. But the Chicago Bears, a team that has a history of Fighting Irish alumni among their ranks, decided to give him a chance. The Bears entered the offseason with a definite need at linebacker so Morgan could be another piece to the puzzle. Morgan is certainly no stranger to facing tough competition based on the teams he faced while at Notre Dame. That big game experience should serve him well the NFL.
Shane Wimann, FB/TE, Northern Illinois
A rarity at any level football of these days, Wimann can play both fullback and tight end and has the ability to contribute as a runner, receiver and blocker. The former Huskie, who will be in rookie minicamp with the New England Patriots, is a throwback of sorts. He accounted for 640 yards from scrimmage along with 17 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter for Northern Illinois and also pitched in on special teams. The Patriots have the luxury of boasting All-Pro Rob Gronkowski at tight end, but it’s anyone’s guess how much longer he will play. Martellus Bennett retired in the offseason and current fullback James Develin doesn’t see a ton of playing time. NFL teams may not feature a fullback on offense that much anymore, but those that do often find theirs among players that don’t get drafted. And Wimann’s unique skill set could help him prove himself valuable as an H-back type, a hybrid fullback and tight end.
Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern
Unfortunately for this former Wildcat standout, an impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.44 40-yard-dash, 35.5-inch vertical jump, 19 reps on the bench press) wasn’t enough to get his named called during draft weekend. The good thing is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who need to fill some spots on defense, noticed his body of work and signed him to a contract. He can play both free and strong safety spots and can cover receivers in the slot. Don’t be surprised if Igwebuike makes the Bucs’ roster.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He’s also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He’s a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.