I learned a long time ago that you can't go to sleep after the draft and pay little attention to the undrafted rookies still available to be signed. They represent the absolute cheapest pool of players.
In July, when undrafted John Randle goes into the Hall of Fame, it will be another reminder of what still awaits clubs if they do their homework.
While I never signed an undrafted rookie who turned out to have Hall of Fame talent like Randle when I was director of player administration for the Jets in the '90s, I did have some fair success, including the post-draft acquisition of wide receiver Wayne Chrebet.
Wayne walked over to our practice field like many undrafted rookies did before him and looked less like a candidate than the men who preceded him or for that matter followed him. If he hadn't gotten injured he might have rivaled Steve Largent's production as a pro. Not bad for a 5-foot-9 kid from Hofstra who got double-teamed in the 1998 AFC Championship Game and led the NFL for two seasons when it came to third-down conversions.
Will there be a Randle or Chrebet in the 2010 undrafted class? Below is a list of 21 undrafted players (in alphabetical order) I would keep an eye on this summer. Keep in mind, the 21 players combined were cheaper to sign than one second-round pick. I like playing those odds, and it wouldn't surprise me if one of these players became a fine NFL talent.
Freddie Barnes, WR, Chicago Bears (Bowling Green): Barnes caught 297 passes and had 30 touchdowns and will work out of the slot for Mike Martz. Not bad for a guy who is 6-foot and 215 pounds.
Kevin Basped, OLB, New York Jets (Nevada): The 6-4½, 260-pound Basped had 20 sacks and five forced fumbles for Nevada last season. He may start out on special teams and head to the practice squad but he has a chance as a situational pass rusher.
Joique Bell, RB, Buffalo Bills (Wayne State): Bell did a pretty good job at the Senior bowl. He scored 78 rushing touchdowns in college and another eight receiving. At some point he could have the same opportunity as Fred Jackson got in Buffalo.
Chris Brown, RB (Oklahoma): Brown was signed by the Broncos but released on Monday. He is more quick than fast but he also found the college end zone 45 times and could be a nice third back for a team in need of one. It just won't be in Denver.
Jeff Byers, C, Seattle Seahawks (USC): Pete Carroll knows Byers well having coached him at USC. He can play guard or center. He demonstrated a mean streak at the Senior Bowl and reminds me of a guy I signed after the draft, Casey Wiegmann, who is still playing in the league after 14 seasons.
Kevin Haslam, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars (Rutgers): Haslam started 32 games at Rutgers. He doesn't measure or time well but he can play. Shaun O'Hara came out of Rutgers as an undrafted free agent, too. A year on the practice squad and Haslam might stick.
Shay Hodge, WR, San Francisco 49ers (Mississippi): Hodge caught 173 passes and 22 touchdowns and will compete for a ball in a crowd. He may be destined for the practice squad but will show the coaches his toughness and talent running the other team's plays on the scout team.
A.J. Jefferson CB, Arizona Cardinals (Fresno State): Jefferson looked like a guy who might be drafted early on Day 2. The Cardinals are the perfect team for him to earn a roster spot. He didn't have an interception in college but he has man coverage skills as well as return ability.
Micah Johnson, LB, New York Giants (Kentucky): Johnson received a tryout last weekend and was the only tryout player to get signed by the Giants. He had 285 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, in college. He can play on first and second downs and special teams.
Brandon Lang, OLB, San Diego Chargers (Troy State): Troy State produces NFL talent, especially on defense. In 38 starts, Lang produced 24.5 sacks and 38.5 tackles for loss. At 6-4, 270 pounds, he should play outside linebacker in the NFL and could grow into a Greg Ellis-type backer.
Matt Mayberry, LB, Chicago Bears (Indiana): I had a chance to sit down with Mayberry last week and I was impressed with his football intelligence and his speed (4.5-second 40). I could see Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli loving the idea of coaching this kid.
Jeromy Miles, S, Cincinnati Bengals (UMass): Miles was not invited to the combine but he has the size and speed to be a fine safety. He has matchup man skills and the Bengals need a safety. He could stick this year.
Mike McLaughlin, LB, Baltimore Ravens (Boston College): McLaughlin is very tough and smart. Some might see him as a special-teams guy only but that's how undrafted Bart Scott was viewed when he arrived in Baltimore.
Lonyae Miller, RB, Dallas Cowboys (Fresno State): Miller lived in the shadow of first-round pick Ryan Mathews. When he got his chance to play he delivered. He scored 20 touchdowns, but his ratio was an incredible one TD for every 19 touches.
Alex Parsons, OL, Oakland Raiders (USC): Parsons has played all five line spots and line coaches love versatile guys when it comes time to making the decision of who makes the final roster. Parsons ran a 4.93-second 40 at 305 pounds at USC's pro day.
Joe Pawelek, LB, Seattle Seahawks (Baylor): Pawelek had more than 400 tackles in college. He also picked off nine passes and broke up another 17. He will stick as a backup if he can show a knack in pass defense from the MLB spot.
Sergio Render, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Virginia Tech): Render never missed a week in college, starting all 52 games for the Hokies. He can bench press 500 pounds, but he needs technique work. At the very least, he should make camp interesting. Render probably heads to the practice squad for 2010.
Blair White, WR, Indianapolis Colts (Michigan State): Blair might be my favorite undrafted player. He walked on at Michigan State and just kept getting better every year. He has size (6-2, 205) and good speed (4.42). he was one of the stars at the combine in February and tore it up at his pro day. Peyton Manning is going to love working with him.
Keiland Williams, RB, Washington Redskins (LSU): Williams lived in the shadow of Charles Scott at LSU. When Scott was injured, Williams responded. He's a cutback runner who scored 19 times in limited action.
Jeremy Williams, WR, San Diego Chargers (Tulane): Willaims was at the Senior Bowl and held his own most of the week. He's a possession receiver with soft hands who has to learn to separate better if he wants to make it in the NFL.