CFB 24/7  

 

Allen Hurns, Branden Oliver among 11 best undrafted rookies

Print

There are 15 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who went undrafted, two more than the number of busts in Canton of former No. 1 overall draft picks.

I love that stat. It shows how inexact the draft process is and the high-quality players that, for whatever reason, have fallen through the cracks.

» Watch: 'Undrafted' series debut, 9 p.m. ET Tuesday

I don't know if Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, will ever find his way to Canton, but I do know there were plenty of really good undrafted players who have already made an impact in the first half of their rookie seasons.

Currently, there are 74 undrafted rookies on active 53-man NFL rosters. The Indianapolis Colts have the most with six, followed by the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys with five each. Here are my top 11, ranked in alphabetical order:

Carolina Panthers WR Philly Brown (Ohio State)

Coming out of Ohio State, Brown lacked exceptional traits. He was lean and had small hands. He wasn't considered explosive and didn't have top-end speed. However, he did return punts, and in the NFL, if you're not an elite player, the difference between making a team and getting cut is contributions to special teams. While he has contributed some as a receiver (11 catches, 113 yards), he has been used primarily as a ruturn man by Carolina on poth punts and kickoffs. He's had some trouble back there, but he has returned one for a touchdown.

Arizona Cardinals PK Chandler Catanzaro (Clemson)

Catanzaro has converted on all 16 of his field-goal tries, a new NFL record for consecutive makes to start a career. He has a lot of leg strength (five field goals of 40-plus yards and one from beyond 50). It's hard to evaluate kickers because you never know how they'll perform in certain conditions; two kickers were drafted in 2014, neither are in the league.

Seattle Seahawks MLB Brock Coyle (Montana)

It's hard enough to make the Seahawks' roster as a defensive player, but try doing it as an undrafted rookie. Coyle did, and he's been a solid contributor. He's played in all seven games, and started one (for the injured Bobby Wagner). He's a special-teams maven, which should keep him in the league for a long time. If the draft were done all over again, he'd probably be a fourth-round pick.

Cleveland Browns RB Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State)

Crowell originally started his college career at Georgia, but that ended in his sophomore season when he was kicked off the team following an arrest on weapons charges. He transferred to Alabama State, an FCS school, to avoid sitting out a year. He has really good vision and running strength. He's also a good receiver, although the Browns haven't used him that way. He's currently stuck in a crowded backfield rotation that includes free-agent acquisition Ben Tate and fellow rookie Terrance West. He has 256 rushing yards and is averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. He leads all Browns players with four touchdowns.

Indianapolis Colts C Jonotthan Harrison (Florida)

It's an almost impossible task to go from undrafted to starting center in the NFL, much less the starting center for the highest-scoring team in the NFL. But that's what Harrison has done. He got his chance when Khaled Holmes, a fourth-round pick in 2013 out of USC, went down with an injury in the preseason. Veteran A.Q. Shipley started the first four games, but Harrison has played virtually every snap since, relegating Holmes to inactive on game day. Not too long ago, Holmes was the Colts' center of the future. Now that title belongs to Harrison.

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns (Miami)

If you did the 2014 NFL Draft today, Hurns would probably be taken in the third or fourth round. He has good size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), long arms and big hands. He's not terribly fast, but runs well after the catch and adjusts well to the ball. He is second on the Jaguars with 45 receptions for 354 yards, and leads the team in TD receptions with three. He'll play a long time in the league at a starter's level.

Dallas Cowboys CB Tyler Patmon (Oklahoma State)

Patmon is a very interesting guy. He originally went to Kansas, but after his senior academic season (he redshirted as a freshman), the Jayhawks' coaching staff told him to go on and graduate even though he had one more year of eligibility. He wanted to play another year so he transferred to Oklahoma State, where he led the team in pass breakups. He wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, or any of the all-star games. The Cowboys, one of only two NFL teams who called him after the draft, took a flyer. He solidified his position on the roster in a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, in which he forced two turnovers against the Dolphins' No. 1 offense, including a pick-6 touchdown. He has played well for Dallas, showing good coverage skills and plus-ability on special teams.

San Diego Chargers RB Branden Oliver (Buffalo)

It's amazing how many scouts were at Buffalo last year to see LB Khalil Mack (No. 5 pick by the Oakland Raiders). And they all had a chance to see Oliver, but the problem was, at 5-foot-6, he wasn't easy to see. He's a quick back who's gotten a chance to play because of a depleted Chargers backfield, and he's made the most of his opportunities, rushing for 352 yards and adding an additional 162 receiving. I don't think he'll be a full-time back in his career, but he has a chance to be a special third-down player. I met his mother and father at training camp and asked them if they liked the San Diego weather. They both answered in the affirmative, so I said, "Good, because I think your son will make this team."

Philadelphia Eagles K Cody Parkey (Auburn)

I liked Parkey coming out of Auburn. He has a good leg, and nothing seems to bother him. He was originally signed by the Colts, but had little chance of beating out Adam Vinatieri. However, he was able to showcase his talents in training camp and was dealt to the Eagles in a player-for-player trade. Philadelphia was looking to upgrade the position held by Alex Henery, a disappointment as a fourth-round pick in 2011. Parkey has been more than an upgrade. He has converted 14 of 15 field-goal tries (including two game-winners) and all 23 of his extra points. He also has shown a strong leg with a long field goal of 54 yards.

Denver Broncos RB Juwan Thompson (Duke)

Thompson is a big, stocky player (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) who can play fullback or tailback. He has some running skills, but has been used mostly in short-yardage situations by the Broncos, including on the goal line. Last week against the San Diego Chargers, he had seven carries for 24 yards and two short TD runs. He also is a very smart special-teams player. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who also serves as Peyton Manning's QB coach and confidant, petitioned the Broncos to sign Thompson after he went undrafted.

Dallas Cowboys QB Dustin Vaughan (West Texas A&M)

Vaughan was a prolific passer in college. He was the only quarterback in the NCAA last year to pass for more than 5,000 yards, setting a Division II record in the process. He has good size, accuracy and intelligence. His hand size (8 7/8 inches) is less than ideal. I watched him warm up last week before the New York Giants game with Troy Aikman, and Troy was impressed with how he could spin the ball. He obviously has done enough to impress the Cowboys, who didn't want to expose him on the practice squad so they elevated him to the 53-man roster -- the first time Dallas has kept three QBs on the roster since 2011.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop