In the 2013 NFL Draft Awards, we outlined the best undrafted free agent signing with the Saints bringing in Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas. There are some talented players who go undrafted every year and end up having good NFL careers. Part of the success of a player depends on his landing in a good situation where he is in a position to make a roster.
Running back Arian Foster decided to sign with the Texans in 2009 over a few other teams in large part because of the recruiting efforts of area scout Mike Martin. Foster could have signed with the Saints or Buccaneers. However, he saw the Saints already had Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Tampa Bay had Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham and the newly signed Derrick Ward. The Texans needed a back behind Steve Slaton, and Foster saw a better opportunity in Houston. Now, he is one of the best running backs in the NFL.
That kind of success obviously isn't the norm for undrafted free agents, but there should be some good undrafted talents from the 2013 class. Here is a short list of some of the potential candidates.
Carolina Panthers: Robert Lester, S, Alabama
Considering how terrible the Panthers safeties were in 2012, it was a surprise that the team didn't draft a safety. Signing Lester after he went undrafted was a nice move for Carolina. He was a 3-year starter for Alabama and is a polished safety. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder had 48 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, three passes broken up and four interceptions in 2012. His best season came as a sophomore in 2012 when he had eight interceptions, 52 tackles, a sack and four passes broken up. Lester could compete immediately for playing time and end up being a steal for the Panthers.
New Orleans Saints: Rod Sweeting, CB, Georgia Tech
There were some scouts at the East-West Shrine who felt that Sweeting was in the running as the best defensive player there. He had a solid career for Georgia Tech. The 5-foot-11, 189-pounder has quality size and showed some speed with a time of 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Sweeting would be best as a zone or press-man corner in the NFL.
The Saints' secondary had a lot of problems in 2012, so Sweeting could compete for a backup spot behind Keenan Lewis and Patrick Robinson. New Orleans has had a knack for finding some diamonds in the rough and Sweeting is worth watching.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
Many teams thought Bray would end up getting drafted in the third round, but he fell undrafted because of maturity issues. There is no doubt that Bray has a cannon for an arm, but he has to improve on his accuracy and decision-making. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has done well developing some quarterbacks and Bray is a good talent for Reid to mold.
Bray completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,612 yards, 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2012. With Alex Smith established as a starter, Kansas City can take its time with Bray (6-6, 232) and see if he can take advantage of his great skill set. Perhaps falling undrafted will serve as a wake-up call for Bray and he will dedicate himself to football.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Otten, TE, San Jose State
The Jaguars could use a receiving tight end to pair with Marcedes Lewis and Otten was a great value as an undrafted free agent. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Otten is a quick receiver with good hands. He had 47 receptions for 742 yards and four touchdowns in 2012 after a strong junior season with 52 receptions for 739 yards and five touchdowns. Otten played well at the Senior Bowl, but was unable to fully work out at the Combine because of an illness. Jacksonville needs two tight ends to emerge behind Lewis, so it wouldn't be surprising if Otten makes the team and has an impact in 2013.
Washington Redskins: Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida
Washington entered the offseason with a hole at right tackle and addressed it with some cheap veterans like Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos and Tyler Polumbus. None of them is established as a starter, so Nixon has a nice opportunity to compete for playing time. He also could move inside to guard.
The 6-foot-6, 321-pound Nixon is quick and athletic. He is a nice fit in a zone-blocking system. Nixon held his own against a lot of elite first-round pass-rushers at Florida. Typically, he would have play well except for a handful of plays per game. If the Redskins can get Nixon to be consistent enough and eliminate those plays, he could be a steal.
Houston Texans: Ray Graham, Dennis Johnson and Cierre Wood, RBs
Foster is established as the top back, but Houston could use some depth behind him. Ben Tate is near the end of his contract, so one of these talented college runners could make the team as the third back in 2013.
Wood (5-11, 213) ran for 742 yards and four touchdowns in 2012 while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Graham 5-9, 199), meanwhile, averaged 4.7 yards per carry while running for 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns. He played at less than 100 percent after a 2011 knee injury. Johnson had 757 yards on 137 carries (5.5 average) and eight touchdowns in 2012. The 5-foot-9, 213-pounder gradually earned more playing time over Knile Davis.
If one of these backs performs well, he could become the backup running back in 2014 if Tate leaves in free agency.