Each year following the NFL Draft I like to take a look at some of the more notable undrafted free agents that signed following the draft, and then try and predict which might make a true impact in their rookie season. Often times I’m dead wrong, as there is usually a reason a player goes undrafted, and even if they do latch onto a team, it often takes a few years for them to develop into a key contributor. But then again, there are sometimes when the predictions end up being spot on — such as 2012’s #1 ranking of Vontaze Burfict. So without further adieu, here are the undrafted free agent rookies I think might make an impact this season.
Honorable Mentions: Kickers Chris Boswell (Rice/Texans) and Cairo Santos (Tulane/Chiefs) both have a chance of winning their team’s kicking jobs in camp. But putting a kicker, or two, on this list feels like cheating, so they’ll have to settle for honorable mentions.
5. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Seattle Seahawks: It’s hard to sit here and say that an undrafted rookie is going to become a key contributor for the defending Super Bowl champions, but Jeffcoat at least has a shot. The undersized end has the moxie and production that a coach like Pete Carroll craves from his players, and Carroll and staff have also proven that they aren’t afraid to give late-round or undrafted players a shot. Jeffcoat certainly has the pedigree (father Jim played in the NFL for over 15 years and totaled 100+ sacks) and production (Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year), so he shouldn’t be counted out.
4. WR Allen Hurns, WR, Miami – Jacksonville Jaguars: New quarterback Blake Bortles may get all the love in Jacksonville right now, but ultimately he’s going to need some receivers to throw to in 2014. One-time budding star Justin Blackmon figures not to be with the team much longer, and is currently suspended indefinitely, meaning the only true returning contributors at wide receiver for the Jaguars are Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders. Shorts himself has had some injury concerns lately (including multiple concussions), and Sanders is more of a role player to be honest. Certainly rookies Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson will expected to be big contributors, but Hurns might have the best mental makeup and focus of any of the three rookies. That calm in the eye of the storm could serve him will in 2014 if given the chance.
3. Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma – Miami Dolphins: The Miami Dolphins thought so much of free agent running back Knowshown Moreno that they waited weeks to try and sign him and only gave him a one year deal. And they thought so much of current running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas that they signed Moreno. So it’s not too difficult if you squint your eyes to see a scenario where Williams not only makes the team, but ends up performing admirably. The former Sooners back was kicked out of Oklahoma for his final year, but has clearly shown the ability to be productive against talented teams and on a big stage. If Williams has his mind right, Miami could be the perfect spot for him.
2. Louchiez Purifoy, CB, Florida – Indianapolis Colts: The Colts corners don’t strike fear into many opposing offenses, and while Purifoy might not either as a rookie, there’s certainly plenty of talent in his body. The biggest question surrounding Purifoy will be his mindset. The one-time potential first round pick has been in and out of trouble for a while now, including on odd situation where Purifoy was arrested, agreed to work as an informant, and then apparently failed to do so. Still, teams will take chances on players who produce on the field. If Purifoy can avoid being the next ticking time bomb, then he could contribute for the Colts this season.
1. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State (pictured, top) – Cleveland Browns: Are you going to sit here and tell me that Ben Tate is the answer to everything that is wrong with Cleveland’s running game? Don’t get me wrong, I like Tate a lot, but he’s shown an inability to stay healthy for long stretches of his brief career. After Tate, the Browns running back corps looks more like guys you might find on the back of a milk carton: Edwin Baker and Dion Lewis. The Browns liked Crowell enough to give him a $10,000 signing bonus as a free agent (team’s only get about $80,000 total), so clearly the team likes his chances. So do I. The one-time Georgia player could potentially be the team’s number one back at year’s end.