7 Undrafted Free Agents to Watch During NFL Rookie Minicamps

Not every NFL star comes through the draft

In a perfect world, every NFL player would be selected in the draft every year. But with the draft only being seven rounds long that just isn't possible. Which is why undrafted free agency takes place immediately after the draft's conclusion. The majority of NFL rookies take the undrafted free agent path into the league. Now while the contracts for these players have less money and no guarantees, it's not as bad as one would assume.

 

After all, Kurt Warner led both the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl and is now in the Hall of Fame. Wes Welker was a five-time Pro Bowler for the New England Patriots, while James Harrison won two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, just to name a few. A couple of players from last year's rookie free agent class are currently thriving in the league. In particular, Denver running back Phillip Lindsay put together a 1,000-yard rushing season and made the Pro Bowl.

 

The downside to this, however, is that these undrafted rookies are under a thinner microscope in order to land a roster spot as opposed to their drafted counterparts. But these players will put in the work in order to make their dreams come true. Some undrafted players were stars in college but got overlooked in the draft. Others may have had doubt cast upon them based on injuries, personal issues, or on-field shortcomings. Here are some of rookie free agent signings for 2019 that took part in rookie minicamps this past weekend.

 

Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo

Signed with the Buffalo Bills

 

The 6-foot-7 signal-caller was one of the mains reasons why the Bulls overcame three straight losing seasons in order to win the Mid-American East title and play in their first bowl game since 2013 last year. Production certainly wasn't an issue as Jackson completed 56 percent of his pass attempts for 6,999 yards and 49 touchdowns, while running for an additional 757 yards and 16 scores. What has been the issue are concerns about his fundamentals and technique, especially since he played in a spread offense. Some scouts and executives felt that Jackson should have used his final year of eligibility to improve in those areas before coming out.

 

Jackson, however, decided to take his chances and enter this year's draft. And while he wasn't selected, he won't have to go too far to try and prove he belongs in the NFL. Only 18 miles separate the University of Buffalo campus from New Era Field in suburban Orchard Park. And considering the issues that the Bills had under center last year, Jackson can stand out and start pushing the other QBs on the roster with some solid practice sessions and workouts.

 

Nate Hall, LB, Northwestern

Signed with the Dallas Cowboys

 

"America's Team" has some solid starters at linebacker in Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee, but Jerry Jones likes to have depth behind them and that's where Hall looks to come in. Despite being somewhat undersized (6-2, 230) for the position, Hall posted 261 total tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, five sacks, five interceptions, 10 pass deflections, and two forced fumbles for the Wildcats. Each year he held his ground against some of the top offensive lines in college football and showcased his ability to defend both the pass and run. I like his chances of making this team.

 

Fullbacks George Aston, Pittsburgh and Alec Ingold, Wisconsin

Signed with the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, respectively

 

If running backs have been devalued in the draft then fullbacks have become an afterthought. No fullbacks were selected in this year's draft and only two (Pittsburgh's Jaylen Samuels and Detroit's Nick Bawden) were chosen in 2018. With the NFL becoming a pass-oriented league many teams are using more spread formations and fullbacks have either been reduced to special team roles or gadget plays, while some teams don't carry fullbacks at all. But for Aston and Ingold, both players find themselves in perfect situations despite going undrafted.

 

The Broncos feel the need to have depth behind Andy Janovich as the running game figures to remain a focal point after the aforementioned Lindsay's breakthrough season. If Aston can prove himself to be as versatile as Janovich, who is used more in the passing game than as a runner, then it's possible he can stick in Denver.

 

Ingold taking his chances with the Raiders also makes sense as Jon Gruden looks to re-establish an old school mentality after Oakland finished 25th in rushing offense last season. First-round pick Josh Jacobs figures to lead the way in the backfield but after him the rest of the depth chart is cloudy. That gives Ingold an opportunity to show what he can offer, whether it be as a runner, receiver or perhaps most importantly, a blocker (or special teams stud).

 

Del'Shawn Phillips, LB, Illinois

Signed with the Atlanta Falcons

 

The Falcons could use some help on defense after giving up 385 yards and 26 points per game last year. Phillips wasn't exactly on the NFL's radar but he was one of the few bright spots for the Fighting Illini over the last two seasons. Phillips totaled 180 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five pass breakups, four interceptions, 2.5 sacks, along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He's also on the smaller side (6-1, 230) but he's fast enough to keep up with the speedy offenses in the NFC South.

 

Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

Signed with the Baltimore Ravens

 

As the Ravens continue to surround Lamar Jackson with more weapons, they decided to bring in one of his college teammates for a trial run. In three seasons (2015-17) together at Louisville, Smith recorded 116 catches for 1,995 yards and 14 touchdowns with Jackson as his quarterback. If they can get on the same page in Baltimore, Smith just might find himself on the roster come September.

 

David Blough, QB, Purdue

Signed with the Cleveland Browns

 

The battle to be the backup for Baker Mayfield just added another name. The Browns already had Drew Stanton on the roster, then they added former Alliance of American Football (AAF) signal-caller Garrett Gilbert after that league folded. Now they bring in Blough, who's had some mixed reviews despite being the heart and soul of the Boilermakers offense, even before Jeff Brohm took over as head coach. Despite the struggles that Purdue has gone through during Blough's time there, he was one of the more consistent players on the field for them.

 

Smaller in stature, Blough's heart and competitive fire were bigger than his frame. He also was effective and consistent as he saw plenty of playing time both as a starter and off the bench in West Lafayette. When all was said and done Blough completed 61 percent of his passes for 9,734 yards, 69 touchdowns (43 interceptions), while adding 264 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught a TD pass during his time at Purdue.

 

His speed, mobility, and accuracy speak for themselves. But questions about his arm strength is what kept Blough from getting drafted. Now he has his chance to prove the doubters wrong.

 

— 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.

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