Only 256 prospects will hear their name called on draft weekend and with a large amount of underclassmen entering the NFL early, the number of draft slots dwindles for college football seniors. However, every FBS-level football program will have at least one prospect who will sign a free agent contract or receive a tryout.
Arian Foster, Alex Boone, Sam Shields, Chris Harris and C.J. Anderson are a few examples of current NFL players who competed at the FBS level, but nonetheless went undrafted. And through one way or another worked their way into a camp and not only earned a roster spot, but far exceeded expectations.
While everyone knows about the nation's top pro prospects, below is a team-by-team look at one prospect from each FBS program who probably won't be drafted, but there is a good chance their professional dream isn't over. Based on my evaluations, and those of decision-makers around the league, these players might not hear their names called on draft weekend, but have a realistic chance to make a NFL roster as undrafted free agents.
Monday, Part One (FBS Schools, A-M)
Tuesday, Part Two (FBS Schools, N-Z)
(Programs are listed in alphabetical order)
FS Christian Spears (5-9, 195, 4.72)
A three year starter, Spears finished among the team leaders in tackles and passes defended the last three seasons and was considered the glue of the Falcons defense.
WR Zach D'Orazio (6-2, 217, 4.52)
A surprise early declaration to this draft class, D'Orazio is a good-sized possession target who struggles to separate, but tough and can create as a ballcarrier.
FS Nick Perry (6-1, 205, 4.42)
After missing the 2013 season with a shoulder injury, Perry started 13 games in 2014 and displayed assignment sound cover skills and proper angles in run support.
WR Tacoi Sumler (5-8, 188, 4.49)
An Oregon transfer, Sumler has marginal size and durability, but his speed and ability to create after the catch are qualities that could earn him a roster spot.
OT Fabbians Ebbele (6-8, 311, 5.18)
Although his height causes flexibility and leverage issues, Ebbele is a developmental candidate with his large wingspan and enough foot quickness to mirror on the edges.
TE De'Marieya Nelson (6-2, 235, 4.76)
A player who has struggled with injuries, Nelson looks more like a bulky running back than tight end and has the soft hands to be an effective pass-catching option.
CB Tevin Mitchel (6-0, 183, 4.52)
A four-year starter with a lot of mixed results on tape, Mitchel will get burned, but his aggressive, tough approach allows him to make his share of plays as well.
ILB Qushaun Lee (5-11, 225, 4.78)
A highly competitive player who feeds off tackles, Lee has an impressive collegiate résumé with three straight seasons of 100+ tackles and 15 career turnovers, including eight interceptions.
FB Larry Dixon (5-10, 237, 4.78)
Powerfully-built runner, Dixon rushed for 1,102 yards in 2014 (5.8 average) with four 100-yard rushing performances, including a career-best 188 yards vs. Ball State.
RB Corey Grant (5-10, 205, 4.34)
The rare Alabama-to-Auburn transfer, Grant struggled to find consistent playing time on offense in college, but his special speed could earn him a spot on special teams in the NFL.
RB Jahwan Edwards (5-9, 215, 4.58)
Physically strapped-together and a chore to bring down, Edwards isn't dynamic, but he's tough and gets everything out of each run as a workhorse type back.
WR Levi Norwood (6-0, 193, 4.52)
The son of a coach, Norwood is a string bean with a skinny body type, but is tougher than he looks with upside to be a slippery slot option and punt returner in the NFL.
CB Cleshawn Page (5-9, 174, 4.43)
Although his lack of discipline and physical traits diminish his chances to stick on a NFL roster, Page plays the game with the speed, swagger and feisty demeanor coaches covet at corner.
OT Ian Silberman (6-5, 299, 5.17)
A Florida transfer, Silberman joined his former coach Steve Addazio at Boston College for the 2014 season and attracted the attention of NFL scouts at right tackle.
OLB Gabe Martin (6-1, 229, 4.77)
Martin can be eaten up by blockers and his size will make it tough for him to match power-with-power, but there is no doubt he has the play speed and motor for the NFL.
OT Jake Silas (6-7, 306, 5.38)
While he lacks elite lateral range, Silas sets up quickly in his pass-sets and effectively uses his length to keep space between him and rushers.
FS Skye PoVey (5-11, 200, 4.64)
A two-year starter at safety, PoVey has NFL functional athleticism that has drawn the attention of NFL teams, some who like him best on offense in a Julian Edelman role.
WR Chris Harper (5-11, 176, 4.53)
An early declaration who didn't receive a Combine invite, Harper was among Cal's leading receivers the last three years and is at his best as a slot or underneath target.
RB Thomas Rawls (5-10, 217, 4.63)
After struggling to see the field at Michigan, Rawls flashed NFL potential in his one season with the Chippewas, although his off-field issues need investigated.
DE Terrell Hartsfield (6-3, 245, 4.89)
After two seasons at the JUCO level, Hartsfield emerged as a defensive playmaker in 2014 with a conference-best 9.0 sacks and a team-best 12.0 tackles for loss.
DT Josh Watson (6-4, 290, 5.08)
A former top recruit, Watson, who is already 25 years old, became a rotational interior lineman at Clemson and shows the hand use and secondary quickness to be effective.
CB Greg Henderson (5-11, 181, 4.53)
Lack of size and streaky awareness makes him a liability at times, but Henderson has the foot quickness and fluidity that many bigger players don't possess.
CB Bernard Blake (5-11, 177, 4.52)
Blake's lack of length and size shows, especially with his tendency to allow big cushions, but he finds the ball well and squeezes the field to contest throws.
DT B.J. McBryde (6-5, 292, 5.05)
Impressive movement skills for a 290-300 pounder, McBryde played end in UConn's scheme, doing a great job shooting his hands at the point of attack with a motor always revving.
LB David Helton (6-3, 235, 4.85)
Duke's leading tackler in 2014 with 134 stops, Helton is a smart, heady player who shows the football awareness to quickly locate and break down in space.
DT Terry Williams (6-0, 344, 5.36)
Nicknamed the “Swamp Monster,” Williams carries his weight well to be a NFL nose tackle, but he needs to prove he's accountable off the field to survive at the next level.
RB Bronson Hill (5-10, 221, 4.47)
Although his zero rushing touchdowns in 2014 sticks out like a sore thumb, Hill gets north-south well with better than expected speed for his build.
LB Neiron Ball (6-2, 230, 4.68)
With his injury history, Ball faces an uphill climb to carve out a NFL career, but when healthy, his athleticism and nose for the ball are highly impressive. Don't bet against him.
FS Justin Halley (6-2, 190, 4.56)
Splitting his time between football and his modeling career (yes, you read that correctly), Halley is a tough, aggressive player with desired range for the next level.
WR Lucky Whitehead (5-9, 170, 4.50)
Although undersized with only average speed, Whitehead was the FAU offense in 2014, leading the team with 76 catches (more than double the Owls No. 2 receiver).
CB Nick Waisome (5-10, 182, 4.48)
While not as naturally gifted as Ronald Darby or P.J. Williams, Waisome is a scrappy corner with the lower body fluidity and work ethic to continue his football career.
LB Donavon Lewis (6-2, 249, 4.84)
An edge rusher in Fresno State's defense, Lewis has only ordinary size and strength, but is instinctive and fluid with the range to hold up off the line of scrimmage.
SS Corey Moore (6-2, 206, 4.62)
A part-time starter the last three seasons, Moore doesn't have an impressive resume (14 starts, 76 tackles in his career), but he has the size/speed blend teams covet.
OT Garrett Frye (6-4, 295, 5.20)
Three-year starter at left tackle, Frye is an adequate mover to cut off speed, using his limb strength to initiate the action and drive defenders away from the ball.
OC Tim Wynn (6-3, 285, 4.98)
Alternating starts between center and guard over his career (33 starts), Wynn earned All-Sun Belt honors in 2014 as a team captain, starting every game at center.
RB Synjyn Davis (6-1, 232, 4.67)
After starting his career at quarterback, Davis lined up as both the A-back and B-back the last two years and showed nifty moves for a player of his size.
FB Joey Iosefa (6-0, 245, 4.67)
Although limited if asked to be a consistent ballcarrier, Iosefa is built like a tank and uses his leg drive to pump downhill, never going down without a fight.
WR Markeith Ambles (6-2, 215, 4.62)
A USC transfer, Ambles is a good size/speed athlete with a quick release off the line of scrimmage and the competitive nature to win in contested situations.
DE Maxx Forde (6-4, 265, 4.74)
Forde, the son of former NFL and CFL linebacker Brian Forde, started three seasons at defensive end for the Vandals with average production (20.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks).
TE Matt LaCosse (6-6, 257, 4.71)
Underutilized at Illinois, LaCosse finished ninth on the team in catches (14) in 2014, but his size/athleticism mixture is an intriguing foundation to develop.
CB Tim Bennett (5-10, 185, 4.58)
Although his lack of size, speed and durability will limit his next level ceiling, Bennett has elite competitiveness with the quick reflexes to make plays vs. the pass and run.
SS John Lowdermilk (6-1, 210, 4.58)
The son of a long-time NFL center, Lowdermilk isn't afraid to throw his body around, which is good and bad, using aggressive angles to attack at the contact point.
OC Tom Farniok (6-3, 301, 5.39)
A veteran, battled tested center, Farniok is overeager, but plays with a grinder mentality and forceful hands, showing no issues getting to the second level with urgency.
WR Nick Harwell (5-11, 193, 4.57)
A Miami (Ohio) transfer, Harwell operates well out of the slot to manipulate the middle of the field with quick hands, short-area burst and veteran sense of his surroundings.
LB Ryan Mueller (6-2, 248, 4.84)
A Tedy Bruschi style of player, Mueller didn't have a single college scholarship offer and walked on for the Wildcats, moving up the depth chart with his motor and determination.
TE Casey Pierce (6-4, 244, 4.78)
The Golden Flashes' leading receiver in 2014, Pierce showed off his receiving skills at the Senior Bowl and gained the attention of scouts who knew little about him prior to Mobile.
RB Braylon Heard (5-11, 198, 4.53)
A Nebraska transfer, Heard is a poor man's version of Reggie Bush, including his number and hip towel, but will need to thrive as a pass-catcher to earn a spot on a roster.
DT Justin Hamilton (6-2, 315, 5.12)
A wide-bodied prospect, Hamilton played inside and out on Lafayette's three-man front, carrying his weight well with the motor that allowed him to make plays he had no business making.
QB Pete Thomas (6-5, 228, 4.98)
A prospect with a prototypical passing skill-set, Thomas started his career at Colorado State before transferring to NC State and then moving on to the Warhawks for the 2014 season.
OLB Houston Bates (6-1, 245, 4.77)
After spending most of his career at Illinois, Bates transferred to LA Tech for his senior year and had his best season with 10 sacks, using a relentless motor to push the pocket.
RB Michael Dyer (5-9, 215, 4.50)
A well-traveled prospect, Dyer was a top recruit and looked like a future high draft pick at Auburn, but injuries and off-field issues have diminished his NFL chances.
RB Kenny Hilliard (6-0, 235, 4.63)
While his lack of speed, vision and versatility limits his NFL ceiling, Hilliard has the size and toughness to be a short-yardage grinder who can eat carriers for an offense.
OC Chris Jasperse (6-3, 297, 5.16)
James Rouse, Tommy Shuler, Darryl Roberts, Neville Hewitt – there were a lot of options here, but Jasperse gets the nod with his outstanding resume (school-record 53 starts).
DL Andre Monroe (5-10, 294, 4.88)
It's tough to find many in the NFL with his size finding any type of sustained success, but Monroe is a joy to watch play the game with the production that backs up his positive tape.
ILB Stanley Andre (6-2, 240, 4.90)
A former defensive lineman, Andre moved to linebacker as a junior and tallied 239 total tackles the last two seasons as an inside thumper for the Minutemen.
OLB Tank Jakes (5-10, 218, 4.82)
Although he lacks ideal size and speed, Jakes is well-rounded and was one of only three FBS players to lead his team in tackles (92), tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (6) and forced fumbles (4) in 2014.
OLB Thurston Ambrister (6-2, 241, 4.77)
Denzel Perryman receives most of the pub among Miami's linebackers, but Ambrister certainly popped off the film in several games and has a skill-set to survive on special teams.
QB Andrew Hendrix (6-1, 221, 4.79)
Hendrix struggled to show any consistency at Notre Dame so he transferred to the Redhawks in 2014 with good (29 total touchdowns) and bad (48.5-percent completions) results.
WR Devin Gardner (6-4, 217, 4.62)
Although he's not a NFL quarterback, Gardner is a good-sized athlete and looked better than expected at the East-West Shrine Game as a receiver considering his lack of experience.
DE Marcus Rush (6-2, 243, 4.86)
Michigan State's record-holder in starts (53), Rush is clearly limited, but also hyperactive with a bag of tricks to confuse blockers and keep them guessing.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
RB Reggie Whatley (5-6, 178, 4.46)
Although he finished third on the team in rush attempts, Whatley led Middle Tennessee in rushing yards (767) in 2014, averaging 6.8 yards per rush and 25.6 yards on kick returns.
DT Cameron Botticelli (6-4, 292, 4.98)
His lack of length and core strength limits him, but Botticelli has the smarts and tough as nails resolve that could land him on a NFL roster, likely as a five-technique.
DE Carlos Thompson (6-4, 243, 4.76)
Although he was highly recruited, Thompson was a part-time player at Ole Miss and struggled to find an identity, but the pure athleticism (38-inch vertical) is intriguing.
ILB Matthew Wells (6-2, 219, 4.43)
A two-year starter, Wells wasn't overly productive (45 tackles in 2014) or stand out on tape, but the testing numbers are highly impressive with a 4.43 40-yard dash and 36-inch vertical.
WR Bud Sasser (6-2, 210, 4.62)
A good-sized target, Sasser needs refinement and will never be a consistent separator, but he catches well in stride with a large radius to pluck the ball out of the sky.