Take a look at every roster in the NFL and you will find difference-makers who did not get their name called on draft day. Here are a few names that weren’t called during the draft that could become difference-makers for their respective teams as soon as the 2016 season. Here are your 2016 UDFA Gems.
Jeremy Cash – Duke Safety – Carolina Panthers
Despite being named the 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, ahead of 1st round selections: Jalen Ramsey FSU, Sheldon Rankins Louisville, Shaq Lawson Clemson, and Artie Burns Miami (FL), Jeremy Cash was not selected during the 2016 NFL Draft. Cash began his collegiate career as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes but transferred to Duke University after the resignation of then head coach, Jim Tressel. Talent evaluators feared that the 6’2 210 lbs. Cash would be a liability in deep coverage as he doesn’t possess exemplary coverage skills or blazing speed (4.56 – 40 yard dash). That being said Cash is an intelligent playmaker who isn’t a liability athletically. His down-hill tackling and blitzing prowess is better suited for a safety-linebacker hybrid role in sub packages. Considering the likes of Deone Bucannon, Shaq Thompson, Su’a Cravens and Miles Killebrew where all selected as strong safety-linebacker hybrids, Bucannon and Thompson both in the 1st round no less, it’s a wonder why Cash wasn’t selected at all. The Blue Devil standout recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his three seasons at Duke and amassed an eye-popping 38 tackles for loss over a three-year span including 8.0 sacks. I liken Cash’s game to that of Roman Harper (2nd round pick in 2006), with Cash being substantially more gifted athletically. Interestingly enough, Cash could very well be Harper’s replacement in Carolina.
Josh Ferguson – Running Back Illinois – Indianapolis Colts
The NFL is about matchups and the oft-injured Ferguson presents a tremendous mismatch in space for opposing defenses. His ability to make defenders miss and prowess as a receiver out of the backfield are of particular note. If Ferguson can make an impact on special teams and earn game day activation he may find his way on the field in obvious passing situations where he could do serious damage spelling incumbent Frank Gore. With question marks on the defensive side of the ball and an improved AFC South division as a whole, I could see the Colts playing from behind quite a bit in 2016 which potentially means more Ferguson. Andrew Luck got into a bad habit of forcing the football downfield resulting in low percentage throws and turnovers. Ferguson’s soft hands and ability to easily beat linebackers and safeties underneath could help remedy Andrew’s tendency to do “too much” and mitigate the Colts’ protection issues. His short area quickness and acceleration would only be enhanced on the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium and enough cannot be said about a running back with career receiving numbers (168/1507/8 ) like Ferguson’s in today’s NFL.
Aaron Green – Running Back TCU – Los Angeles Rams
Similar in stature to Josh Ferguson, Green isn’t as fast nor the receiving threat that Ferguson is. However, Green is a competent receiver out of the backfield and offers more as a ball-carrier as evidenced by his 445/2426/20 rushing line over the last three years at TCU. Todd Gurley is without question the every-down workhorse in Los Angeles but considering the legal issues hanging over Tre Mason’s head Green is an astute UDFA signing. Green won’t wow in terms of speed but he has excellent agility, elite foot quickness, gets to his top gear quickly and has exceptional instincts and vision which he demonstrated at the 2016 Senior Bowl (@ 4:30). He will have to continue to grow as a receiver out of the backfield and demonstrate competency in pass protection (poor pass protector) to earn snaps but he has enough “make you miss” (avg. per carry 5.5 yards at TCU) to make a living in the NFL although he may be destined for the practice squad initially.
Keyarris Garrett – Wide Receiver Tulsa – Carolina Panthers
At 6’3 220 lbs. with 4.5 speed and big time production (particularly in 2015) Garrett is the classic case of a toolsy but raw and unpolished prospect. Injuries and the aforementioned “rawness” ultimately led to Garrett going unselected in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Golden Hurricane standout led the FBS in receiving yards last season with 1,588 yards, finished in the Top 10 with 96 receptions and found pay dirt eight times. He demonstrates the ability to stack cornerbacks and get the football at the highest point. Garrett’s 28 receptions for 20+ yards gives Cam Newton a potential big play threat with a large catch radius. Desipte running a limited route tree the fit in Carolina and the nature of their passing offense shouldn’t prevent Keyarris from seeing the field early in his career. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Garrett makes an impact as early as 2016 even with Kelvin Benjamin returning from the ACL injury he suffered last August.
Victor Ochi – Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Stony Brook – Baltimore Ravens
The “Great Oz” found a true UDFA Gem in Victor Ochi. I was certain Ochi would be the first player out of Stony Brook to be drafted in NFL History but that wasn’t the case. That being said Ochi’s pass rushing ability and motor belong in the NFL. He doesn’t have the prototypical size to put his hand in the ground every down in an even man front; nor does he have movement skills to drop into coverage and play in space but his length, explosiveness at the snap, physicality and nastiness should help him succeed at the NFL level despite the substantial leap in competition from the FCS to the pros. Teams undoubtedly passed on Victor because from a measurable and athletic standpoint he doesn’t fit most schemes. But the fit in Baltimore is a good one and you can never have enough pass rushers. I expect Ochi to study and develop under Elvis Dumervil as an undersized yet highly effective edge rusher in an odd man front. The CPGM family had an opportunity to watch the 2015 CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year live during the East-West Shrine Game and he didn’t disappoint, flashing on just about every snap he was on the field. Ochi amassed 29.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss over the last three seasons and the physical edge he sets could earn him a role beyond “pass rush specialist” once he debuts.
Other notable UDFAs:
- Antwaun Woods – Defensive Tackle USC – Tennessee Titans
- DeAndre Elliott – Cornerback Colorado State – Seattle Seahawks
- Jack Allen – Michigan State Center – New Orleans Saints
- Eric Striker – Linebacker Oklahoma – Buffalo Bills
- Tyvis Powell – Safety Ohio State – Seattle Seahawks
- Marquise Williams – Quarterback North Carolina – Minnesota Vikings
- Devon Johnson – Running Back Marshall – Carolina Panthers
- De’Vante Harris – Cornerback Texas A&M – New Orleans Saints
- Terrell Lathan – Defensive Lineman TCU – Tennessee Titans
- Ufomba Kamalu – Defensive Lineaman Miami (FL) – Houston Texans
- Brian Poole – Defensive Back Florida – Atlanta Falcons
- Ben Braunecker – Tight End Harvard – Chicago Bears
- Devon Cajuste – Wide Receiver/Tight End Stanford – San Francisco 49ers