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The Zone Read – Undrafted Free Agents To Watch: Part Two

The Zone Read

Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: Part Two
By: Dresdon Rohrer (aka: albinosquirrel)
06/03/2017

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Due to a warm reception of my previous UDFA breakdown, I thought I would continue the goodness by highlighting some more deep, deep, deep sleepers who could one day become staples on your fantasy roster. Anybody out there can tell you that Leonard Fournette and Samaje Perine are guys you should target in your rookie draft, that’s no secret. I’m more concerned with what happens after your draft, when the waivers open up and championships begin to be won or lost. Yes, it’s the waiver wire that can win or lose you your championship, not the draft. Your draft merely lays a foundation for what your team could become, it’s waiver claims and other transactions that mold the final product into a title contender.  

Now let’s be clear; I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that adding any of these players will guarantee you a championship, certainly not in year one. These undrafted prospects are more likely than not to require patience, and it could be several years until you see any real results from them. Think back to when Aaron Rodgers was drafted; he was a backup to Brett Favre for three years before he got his shot at starting. How furious would you be to be the guy to pick up Aaron Rodgers as a bench stash only to drop him later on, then watch your buddy swipe and stash him until he got his crack at starting; he probably still laughs in your face to this day. Now to be fair there’s a difference in stashing a high profile draft pick like Aaron Rodgers and an undrafted “could be” prospect like Krishawn Hogan, but the principle is the same.  

That being said, below I’m going to highlight for you several of those “could be” players. None of the players below are guaranteed a starting job, or even a roster spot for that matter. It’s more likely than not that at least half of these players spend some time on a practice squad. However, if you have the patience (and roster space) to sit and watch how they develop, a few years down the road you could be the one reminding your buddies about the time you stole a guy off the waiver wire who’s now a key cog to your championship machine.

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Tim Patrick

The Player

  • Age: 23
  • Ht: 6’4”
  • Wt: 204 lbs
  • 40: 4.47
  • Vertical: 37.5”
  • College Production: 61 rec, 888 yds, 5 TD (18 games played)

The Breakdown

A quick glance at Tim Patrick’s college production paints a picture of a solid one year campaign…the problem is he played three seasons. Patrick’s career at Utah was decimated by injuries, missing 17 games throughout his three year career.  When he was on the field Patrick was a dynamic receiving threat, posting three 100 yard games during his senior season while averaging almost 16 yards per catch, good for 6th in the Pac-12.  Additionally, Patrick shined bright against some of the draft’s top cornerback prospects, torching USC’s Adoree Jackson for one of his 100 yard games.

Tim Patrick is a size/speed prospect that boasts great athleticism with a background as a successful multisport athlete.  What held him out of the draft was undoubtedly his lengthy injury history, as the “injury prone” label is a tough one to shake in the NFL.  On top of that, he’s not very well refined as a route technician, and could very well be a one trick pony.  Still, in the right hands there’s an outside chance that Patrick could emerge as a contributor at the next level.

The Situation

To call the Baltimore Ravens’ receiving core shallow is a gross understatement.  Outside of Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace the Ravens are perilously lacking in depth at the receiver spot.  In need of depth, Tim Patrick has the talent to land a spot on the Ravens starting roster as their 4th or 5th option, and could very easily surpass Michael Campanero and Chris Moore in time.  There’s no guarantee that Patrick would become a fixture in the Ravens’ offense, but should another injury befall one of their receivers then he could well receive a chance to stake his claim as a contributor.

Matt Breida

The Player

  • Age: 22
  • Ht: 5’10”
  • Wt: 195 lbs
  • 40: 4.38
  • Vertical: 42”
  • College Production: 542 attempts, 3,740 yards, 22 catches, 156 yards, 40 total TD’s (37 games played)

The Breakdown

1,485, 1,609, 646. Does anything seem strange about that succession of numbers? What you’re seeing there are Matt Breida’s rushing totals from 2014, 2015 and 2016. “Great”, “Even better”, and then “Whoa, what?”. The dip in Breida’s production didn’t come from injury, he played all 13 games for the Golden Eagles. We can look at the situation in Georgia Southern, where a head coaching change occurred and quarterback play was spotty at best to explain away some of the issue, but such a dropoff is a big red flag for any NFL team. Combine that with his biggest competition coming from schools like Troy and Idaho and his fall out of favor is easy to see.

Okay that’s enough of the negatives, let’s talk about the positives here: the kid can fly. Had he been invited to the combine, Breida would have owned the competition in the 40, vertical and broad jump tests. Breida terrorized the Sun Belt for the majority of his college career, finishing as a finalist for the coveted Doak Award in his 2014 and 2015 seasons. He is an electric athlete with the ball in his hands, and demonstrated good vision and burst. It’s easy to discount the competition, but it’s not easy to discount leading the entire nation in yards per carry (8.2) in 2015. Breida posted 15 100 yard games during his college tenure, topping the 200 yard mark three times. Those are big numbers no matter how you look at it, and he’ll certainly get a shot to show if it can translate to the big leagues.

The Situation

The 49er’s backfield is quickly dissolving into an unstable mess. Incumbent starting back Carlos Hyde is receiving more negative press than a Kardashian, and with no set backup behind him the field is wide open. There has been a lot of hype around 4th round pick Joe Williams, especially since Kyle Shanahan himself campaigned for him to be drafted, however most of the buzz during OTA’s and rookie minicamp has been around Matt Breida. He has been reported as being the most exciting rookie on the field, earning a contract in short order. It’s a longshot for Breida to stake a claim as the starting runningback, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility for him to earn a role as a rotational player if he keeps his play up. Should Carlos Hyde fall even farther or find himself traded to another team, the ceiling goes way up for Breida. It’s early, but he has the look of a possible Jalen Richard-type of rookie campaign.

Corey Clement

The Player

  • Age: 22
  • Ht: 5’10”
  • Wt: 220 lbs
  • 40: 4.68
  • Vertical: 28.5
  • College Production: 576 attempts, 3,092 yds, 29 catches, 279 yds, 38 TD’s, 39 games played

The Breakdown

Corey Clement was supposed to be the next big thing in the Wisconsin runningback pipeline, but things didn’t quite pan out that way. After an incredible sophomore season where he almost posted 1,000 yards as a backup to Melvin Gordon, Clement was unable to build on his success as a sports hernia cut his junior campaign to just 4 games.  He bounced back with a nice senior season, posting a solid 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns.  

At first glance, Clement passes the eyeball test for what a NFL runningback should look like.  He is a wreckingball of a man who shows great power and explosiveness on the field.  He can thump a defense between the tackles, but he’s also got good maneuverability to work the outside.  Clement fits the bill of a solid big back that can grind out tough yards and move the chains.

Now for the not-so-great qualities.  On the field, Clement lacks the high end speed and agility that teams look for.  His game feels stiff, and he’s not much of a creator or technician.  Off of the field, besides his injury in 2015 Clement was called out by his coaches for a poor attitude, and there was also an incident where he punched somebody in an elevator and then lied about it to his team.  Red flags like that combined with a “so-so” athletic profile are a great way for a player to tank his draft stock.

The Situation

Clement likely chose Philadelphia due to the thin depth chart they have at the runningback spot.  2016 rookie Wendell Smallwood showed flashes of good play, but he has yet to establish himself as anything more than a role player, and Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey profile as change-of-pace backs that could share the field with a bruiser like Clement.  The signing of LeGarrette Blount certainly threw a wrench into things for his rookie campaign, but it’s also a potential blessing in disguise as Blount and Clement share a similar skillset. Corey Clement will most likely never be a bellcow back for an NFL team, but if he can learn from a successful veteran thumper in LeGarrett Blount then he could certainly refine his craft enough to carve out a role as a rotational asset.  Philadelphia boasts an offense that has the young talent to emerge as one of the more explosive units in the league over the next few seasons, and if Clement can mature in his game and his demeanor he could well be a big part of it.  His biggest hurdle will ultimately be himself, and if attitude problems continue to follow him he likely won’t be long for the NFL.

Trent Taylor

The Player

  • Age: 23
  • Ht: 5’8”
  • Wt: 181 lbs
  • 40: 4.63
  • Vertical: 33”
  • College Production: 327 rec, 4179 yds, 32 TD’s, 51 games played

The Breakdown

The story behind Trent Taylor’s slide out of the draft can be explained in two words: “Size matters”.  If he were 4 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, there’s no chance that a player with his talent and production would have fallen out of the draft.  Taylor was a dynamic weapon and target hog for Louisiana Tech, finishing only behind Zay Jones in reception total with 136 in 2016 while leading the nation with 1800 yards (all Zay Jones did was break the NCAA reception record that same year).  

Taylor is a technician with the ball in his hands, and shows a solid feel for the game. For a man of his stature, Taylor plays with an encouraging amount of toughness and a willingness to challenge defenders. He’s no track star, but on the field Taylor boasts the quickness and agility to avoid would-be tacklers.

Of course, his biggest knock has to be his size.  Taylor doesn’t boast the size that quarterbacks prefer in a target, and while he beat up on the Conference USA it’s fair to wonder how he’ll fare against the elite defenders of the NFL.  Taylor doesn’t have the profile of a primary target, so he’ll need to go somewhere with an established outside presence to open up opportunities for him over the middle.  He certainly has the skills and the savvy to stick on a roster, but his size could ultimately be the thing that prevents him from becoming anything more than a situational role player.

The Situation

The San Francisco 49ers find themselves in the midst of a massive overhaul.  Years of dysfunction and poor management have rewarded them with a roster depleted of marquee talent and while new GM John Lynch has taken plenty of steps in the right direction it will be a long while before the 49ers are contenders again.  Why this bodes well for Trent Taylor is that the receiving core around him isn’t exactly dripping with talent.  Pierre Garcon is a fine receiver, and his experience with Kyle Shanahan likely solidifies him as the team’s number 1 option, but beyond him it’s a mess. Marquise Goodwin is really fast, but that’s about all he is.  Bruce Ellington and Jeremy Kerley are fine role players with limited upside.  DeAndre Smelter and Aaron Burbridge are running out of time to make their mark.  The opportunity is there for Taylor to step over the competition around him and stake a claim for the team’s slot role.  His first season will likely find him in a rotational role, but if he can continue to develop and grow in his talents he has a very real shot at becoming a piece to the 49ers future puzzle.

Ricky Seals-Jones

The Player

  • Age: 22
  • Ht: 6’5”
  • Wt: 243 lbs
  • 40: 4.69
  • Vertical: 28”
  • College Production: 123 rec, 1442 yds, 10 TD’s, 34 games played

The Breakdown

Ricky Seals-Jones was a five star recruit receiving recruit out of high school that could never live up to his billing. The biggest knock on Seals-Jones is that he could never seem to find a way to get open; combine that with a limited athletic profile and you’ll quickly fall out of favor with just about any quarterback.  It’s not entirely fair to blame his less-than-stellar college production solely on that factor, as he frequently shared the field with other great NFL talent like Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk.  

What Seals-Jones does bring to the table is a good big-bodied frame that provides an excellent target, especially in the red-zone.  He may not separate all that well but he has the frame to fight off coverage for the tough catches.  He also profiles as an exceptional blocker, and that has led many to speculate whether or not a future transition to the tight end position may be in his best interest in order to stick to an NFL roster.  

Seals-Jones is essentially the antithesis to Trent Taylor; he has the size that makes scouts drool, but his toolbox is fairly limited. Inconsistent hands and a maddening drop rate haunted him all through college, and that’s an issue that sometimes can stick around. With his upside as a receiver limited, Seals-Jones best profiles as an in-line blocker at the tight end position who can occasionally move the chains for a first down. That kind of player doesn’t always excite us for fantasy purposes, but in the NFL they still hold a good amount of value.

The Situation

Seals-Jones went to an Arizona Cardinals team that finds itself on the verge of a drastic transition.  Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald highlighted a high profile passing attack, however this year appears to be the final chapter in both of their careers.  With an uncertain future at the quarterback and receiver spots, the team is likely to shift to a run-focused approach with stud David Johnson as the focal point.  With an extra emphasis on run-blocking, Seals-Jones could earn himself a spot on a team that doesn’t boast great depth at the tight end spot. Additionally, when the Cardinals’ next future quarterback comes around Seals-Jones will have a chance to establish himself as a safety blanket, potentially increasing his value.  In the short term there doesn’t appear to be much to get excited about for Seals-Jones, but if he can refine his play and transition smoothly to the tight end position, he could prove to be one of the better, more underrated UDFA signings of this class.

I’Tavius Mathers

The Player

  • Age: 23
  • Ht: 5’11”
  • Wt: 203 lbs
  • 40: 4.41
  • Vertical: 32”
  • College production: 421 carries, 2,618 yds, 84 rec, 773 yds, 27 total TD’s, 40 games played

The Breakdown

When you look at I’Tavius Mathers’ college career, you almost need to view it in two parts.  He played the majority of his career at Ole Miss where he was productive in a limited role. Sparingly used by the Rebels, Mathers transferred to Middle Tennessee State for his senior year for an opportunity at increased playing time, where he blew up the Conference USA for over 2,000 total yards, nearly ⅔ of his entire collegiate production.

Mathers is a dynamic athlete out of the backfield, showing great burst and a high motor playing style. He boasts great versatility, with solid chops in the passing game to compliment his electric athleticism.  He has the speed to beat defenders around the edge, and can break a few ankles in the open field.  When I watch Mathers on film, I see a little bit of CJ Spiller to his game.

There isn’t one glaring negative with Mathers, but rather an assortment of question marks.  He never proved to be a strong between-the-tackles option in college, with a majority of his production coming on flares and draw plays.  He also doesn’t exactly boast the ideal size for a three-down back at the next level, which combined with my last point could pigeon-hole him as a third down back.  Finally, it’s fair to question why he could never seem to get a hold on a consistent role in the Ole Miss offense.  It’s possible that the option-heavy offense that Hugh Freeze ran was more efficient by rotating backs to keep the tempo up, but it could also speak even more into Mathers’ role-specific skillset.

The Situation

Landing on a team that just picked a running back of the future 4th overall doesn’t seem like an enticing location at first glance, but a closer look at Mathers’ choice to go to Jacksonville could be illuminating.  After drafting Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory is likely not long for the team, and former 2nd round pick TJ Yeldon has shown flashes but hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently enough to put it all together.  This leaves a window for Mathers to impress enough to earn a spot as a change-of-pace back behind Fournette, a role that could very well compliment both of their strengths. Fournette isn’t exactly known for his pass-catching prowess, and while he might be capable, the Jaguars brought him in first and foremost as a bruising between-the-tackles smasher to keep defenses reeling. Combining Mathers’ lightning with Fournette’s thunder could give opponents fits, and with all of the talented young pieces at Jacksonville’s disposal this could quickly become a team to fear for years to come.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, Mathers has to first of all prove that he’s got the talent to lock down a roster spot; he could just as easily be another Denard Robinson.

Travin Dural

The Player

  • Age: 23
  • Ht: 6’1”
  • Wt: 202 lbs
  • 40: 4.57
  • Vertical: 30.5”
  • College production: 100 rec, 1716 yds, 13 TD’s, 38 games played

The Breakdown

Travin Dural had the unfortunate college situation of mediocre at best quarterback and an assortment of injuries that only allowed him to play one full season. That one full season was by far his best with him pacing his team with 758 yards and 7 TD’s on only 37 receptions. That stat line should tell you all that you need to know about the offense that he played in; starting quarterback Anthony Jennings only completed 111 passes for just over 1600 yards.  The Tigers cannot be mistaken for a pass-friendly team, and with quarterback turnover a regular issue it’s no wonder that players like Dural and teammate Malachi Dupre had underwhelming stat lines.

Now for the positives: Travin Dural isn’t a prototypical big-bodied receiver, but he does boast good size for the NFL.  His athletic measurables won’t blow anybody away, but he’s a fast player on the field who combines his quickness with a tough, hard-nosed play style. He was a four star recruit coming out of high school, who was also a track star, so he certainly has the athletic background to compete at the next level.

What ultimately held Dural out of the draft was a combination of poor collegiate production and sub-optimal route running.  Playing in a “run first, run second” type of offense, he won more often than not based on speed and athleticism than precision.  That type of play won’t fly in the NFL, so he will need to show great improvement in the technical aspect of his game in order to stick on a roster.  He has the size and the speed, but his toolbox is fairly limited.

The Situation

Landing with his hometown team in New Orleans could be a blessing in disguise for Dural.  He steps into a receiving core that has just enough starting talent that he likely won’t be asked to do a lot in his first year, but could easily earn himself a starting caliber role over time.  Additionally, few quarterbacks in the NFL are better mentors than Drew Brees, and playing with one of the game’s best will greatly help his growth.  Even better yet, he boasts a similar playstyle to veteran Ted Ginn who he can also learn and develop from.  Dural certainly has the measurables and potential to one day work himself into a meaningful role, but he’s likely a “wait-and-see” type of guy for at least one year.

Tanner Gentry

The Player

  • Age: 22
  • Ht: 6’2”
  • Wt: 210
  • 40: 4.53
  • Vertical: 38.5”
  • College Production: 180 rec, 2,815 yds, 20 TD’s, 45 games played

The Breakdown

Tanner Gentry did not fall in the draft because of his measurables, nor was his production the reason for his slide.  It wasn’t his skillset that caused him to fall either; while his game certainly requires some polish he is a reliable receiver that can make every catch and can do just about anything that is asked of him.  His draft day slide was most likely a combination of several smaller things; his college production was never very outstanding until his senior season, and he played in a Mountain West conference that is regarded in a different light than perennial powerhouses like the SEC or ACC.  There are too many players like Gentry that fall through the cracks, guys that don’t necessarily have a glaring weakness but also don’t blow teams away.

Gentry is a player that can do it all as a receiver.  He can make the tough catches over the middle, and while he’s not a burner he can also win on a deep jump ball.  When you look at Gentry’s college production you see a player that improved over each consecutive year, which is a much more encouraging sign for his future outlook than a player whose production spikes in one year only to regress.

Injury could be viewed as part of the reason for Gentry’s fall.  His junior season was cut in half by a shoulder injury, during a time in which he was leading the Mountain West in receiving yards and appeared well on his way to a strong campaign.  Had he completed the season and posted good numbers, it’s more likely than not that he would have earned himself a second look as a draft candidate.  He’s also a bit more of an “effort” player than a guy who gets by on natural skill and athleticism, so his athletic upside could very well be limited.

The Situation

Chicago finds itself in the unenviable position of attempting to rebuild its franchise, and in doing so they’ve gathered an assortment of wide receiver talent to sift through and cobble together a starting roster with.  The range of talent in the Bears’ camp is widespread, ranging from former first round picks like Kevin White and Kendall Wright to veteran re-treads like Victor Cruz and Markus Wheaton.  Cameron Meredith is the only receiving option in Chicago that has produced consistently for them, and he’s only in his second year. The opportunity is wide open for a player like Gentry to make his mark in camp and earn himself a spot, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that he could find himself earning gameday snaps during his rookie campaign.

Pharoah Brown

The Player

  • Age: 23
  • Ht: 6’6”
  • Wt: 255 lbs
  • 40: 4.83
  • Vertical: 34”
  • College Production: 70 rec, 1,011 yds, 13 TD’s (36 games played)

The Breakdown

It wasn’t very long ago that Pharoah Brown was discussed among the group of potential elite NFL tight end prospects.  A big time prospect out of the state of Ohio, Brown was on his way to a monster junior season in 2014 before an awful leg injury derailed his season, an injury that almost resulted in an amputation.  He recovered, but spent an entire year away from the game while he rehabilitated himself.  He returned for his senior season and posted quality numbers, but he definitely looked like a player who had some rust to shake off.

Brown isn’t a pure “move” tight end, and he demonstrates decent ability as a run blocker which is a valuable trait in the “Jimmy Graham” era of tight ends. He’s a big, tough target that can catch well in traffic and also has some good speed to stretch the field.  He has good athleticism, though many question if that was lost to injury.

Perhaps the biggest strike against Brown is his less-than-appealing drop rate.  His hands are inconsistent at best, posting double digit drops in all of his seasons at Oregon (yes, that’s bad).  Brown also doesn’t boast a spotless record, he’s on the record for having several altercations with teammates as well as a domestic violence report that was ultimately dismissed but still appears unsavory.  If he doesn’t improve his ball skills and route tree, Brown could just become another guy who’s easily replaced at the next level.

The Situation

The Oakland Raiders haven’t been a team that has favored the tight end in recent years.  This could be viewed as either a positive or a negative for Brown’s outlook; on the one hand, his position isn’t exactly the focal point of a relatively crowded offense, so the pressure might not be as heavy.  The drawback is that for years the Raiders have gotten by with “so-so” options at the tight end position, so they might not have much value when they already have options that can get the job done.  Additionally, they just brought in veteran Jared Cook who may not be an elite talent but is certainly more than capable.  Still, Brown has the athletic potential and upside to make his mark on a thin tight end depth chart, and the Raiders boast one of the more prolific offenses in the league.  If he can improve his craft and show good growth, he could well earn a spot as the team’s number 2 or 3 option in his first year with the upside for more.

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In Closing

The players that I’ve listed above are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to undrafted free agent prospects, there are dozens of players out there who could all have more impactful careers than any or all of these guys.  There’s a very real possibility that all of these players could be out of the league within the next few seasons, that’s just the nature of the NFL.  This article is not meant to say “this guy will be a sure thing”, it’s about highlighting a guy that you could potentially get a major steal with.  Depending on your league size and format, these players might not even matter to you right now and that’s completely okay.  Just bookmark some of these names, and watch what happen over the next couple of years.  If you swipe one of these guys right before his big breakout, you’ll have the rest of your leaguemates in fits; just ask the guy who swiped Aaron Rodgers off of the waiver wire all those years ago.

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If you missed part one of this UDFA series click here: http://clockdodgers.com/zone-read-udfa/

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