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There are stars to be found in the forgotten, undrafted free agents


Houston receiver Patrick Edwards caught 43 career touchdowns passes. (US Presswire)  
Houston receiver Patrick Edwards caught 43 career touchdowns passes. (US Presswire)  

The undrafted rookies may be the forgotten wave of talent to enter the NFL. They receive little to no signing bonus, inevitably sign split contracts (which leave them close to half pay if they happened to be injured in camp and have to go on injured reserve), and if they show any signs of hope they are invited to join the practice squad as a weekly employee.

Once the draft is over and the UFA players aren’t selected, they become the forgotten men and, of course, the public thinks something has to be wrong with them since no one thought enough to draft them in one of the 253 draft spots.

I have had great experiences with undrafted players who went on to do great things in the NFL. My advice: don’t sell this group of players short!

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As Bill Belichick said to me today when we spoke about the undrafted class: "I think there is always talent in the undrafted pool" and he mentioned Brian Hoyer, Kyle Love, and Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis among others that competed well enough to make the Patriots' roster.

Do I have to remind anyone that Houston Texans running back Arian Foster was an undrafted player?

I remember the day we brought Wayne Chrebet over for the ceremonial tryout which I gave at least one Hofstra player every year I was with the Jets. We shared facilities with Hofstra University, plus I was the offensive coordinator at the school many years before joining the J-E-T-S.

Chrebet was supposed to be a token signing except he turned out to be a great player. Soon after signing him I signed a center from Iowa with an injury history who was a bit short on height. His name was Casey Wiegmann, and he just finished up a 15-year career with 200 starts.

This year there are a number of undrafted players I would have run out and signed as the draft ended. Teams that inked the good undrafted rookies stand to make a killing if they blossom into NFL players.

Here’s my list of 20 undrafted free agents in no particular order that I like as much as third-day draft picks to make teams or at the very least get to a practice squad.

1. Mike Brewster, C Ohio State (Jacksonville) -- I watched him for a week at the Senior Bowl. He competes to the whistle and sometimes after the whistle. He started 48 games for the Buckeyes and has been named captain eight times in his college career. He is a competitor.

2. Drew Butler, K Georgia (Pittsburgh) -- Son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler, and the game isn’t too big for him. He has 167 punts and a 45.4 yard average. He should beat out Jeremy Kapinos for the job.

3. Chris Polk, RB Washington (Philadelphia) -- He had second-round talent but an injury history kept him undrafted. A shrewd move by the Eagles to pick up the 225-pound back with 4,146 yards of offense and 30 touchdowns. He has good receiving skills for a back his size.

4. Quentin Saulsberry, C/G Mississippi State (Minnesota) -- My favorite player on tape all spring. He is a wild and intense football player that could play defensive line as well as center or guard. He will mix it up every day in camp and the coaches are going to find it hard to cut him.

5. Jeff Fuller, WR Texas A&M (Miami) -- The Dolphins need big receivers since Brandon Marshall left. The new QB is Fuller’s old college teammate, Ryan Tannehill, and the offensive coordinator is his old college head coach, Mike Sherman. Fuller is a 6’4" wide receiver with 233 receptions and 34 touchdown passes.

6. William Vlachos, C Alabama (Tennessee) -- I watched the undersized center at the pro bowl and he reminds me of Casey Wiegmann. He has 40 college starts and a knack for winning in the trenches.

7. Patrick Edwards, WR Houston (Detroit) -- He’s a slot receiver with 45 starts, 291 receptions (over six a game) and 43 touchdowns. He also has return skills.

8. George Bryan, TE North Carolina State (Dallas) -- Blocking tight ends with 126 receptions at 265 pounds are hard to find. The Cowboys lost Martellus Bennett in free agency and drafted 6th round TE James Hanna.

9. Nick Jean-Baptiste, NT Baylor (Baltimore) -- The Ravens like 3-4 nose tackle types to keep Ray Lewis free to roam. Nicholas can hold the point of attack and force some double teams. He’s a hard-working, tough guy and will fit the mold of the Ravens.

10. Duke Ihenacho, S San Jose State (Denver) -- Duke has the size to be an effective strong safety. The retirement of Brian Dawkins leaves a spot on the roster. Duke finished his college career with 265 tackles, seven interceptions and seven forced fumbles. The Broncos didn’t draft a safety.

11. Carson Wiggs, K Purdue (Seattle) -- Wiggs is a big kicker that also kicks off. He has field goals of 59, 53, 53 and 52. I liked him at the Senior Bowl.

12. Leonard Johnson, CB Iowa State (Tampa Bay) -- The Bucs went for safety Mark Barron in the first round instead of CB Morris Claiborne. Johnson is a solid tackling corner with 250 career tackles. He will be a standout on special teams and will be mentored by Ronde Barber.

13. Brett Roy, DT Nevada (NY Jets) -- The guy loves the game and can line up at a lot of defensive positions. Rex Ryan loves guys like this and will want him on special teams. I remember when Mike DeVito won a job on the Jets because of his love of the game. He had 53 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 27 starts.

14. Tyler Nielson, S/LB Iowa (Minnesota) -- He had a neck injury in 2010 but came back to start all 12 games in 2011. He is a big-time hustler that will excel on special teams.

15. Christian Tupou, DT USC (San Diego) -- Christian is a competitor and could make the Chargers as a backup defensive lineman. Antonio Garay made this team with great effort and intensity. Tupou has the same qualities.

16. Ryan Steed, S Furman (NY Jets) -- Steed is a football player that has corner skills and a safety mentality. He has blitz skills and the Jets like to blitz. He will cut his teeth on special teams. He had 14 interceptions in college and could remind Rex Ryan of Jim Leonard in the pressure packages.

17. James Brown, OG Troy State (Chicago)-- Most thought he would be drafted but after the Senior Bowl I thought free agent was more realistic. He’s more of a guard than a tackle and may have to go to the practice squad for a year, but he does compete. He will battle in the trenches as indicated at Senior Bowl practices and if O-line coach Mike Tice likes him he will be on the active roster sooner rather than later.

18. Markus Zusevics, OT Iowa -- The Patriots have taken offensive linemen that never played college football and turned them into starters; Markus has been well coached at Iowa and plays on his feet. He built himself up from a 225 lb. freshman into a 295 lb. senior. He will keep plugging until he makes the active roster.

19. Kellen Moore, QB Boise State (Detroit) -- Don’t underestimate winners! 52 starts for the lefty and most of them are 'W’s'. If he gets on the field in the preseason he will do things that will make the Lions sit up and take notice.

20. Brandon Bolden, RB Mississippi (Not signed yet) -- I watched a number of Mississippi games and Bolden was a one-man army. Stop Bolden and you stopped Mississippi. Ben Jarvis Green Ellis came up through the same experience except Bolden is a better receiver out of the backfield. He has some issues off the field but he has burst, vision and strength.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.

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