Get all of Chris Burke’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
As soon as the 2016 NFL draft ended, all 32 teams immediately hit the phones to start signing undrafted free agents. Most of those prospects will wind up being camp bodies—guys who participate in minicamps, maybe even training camp, with an inevitable cut looming.
However, a few will stick, whether it's with their first roster or another. Every single year, there are examples of players who slip through the cracks, only to prove everyone wrong. Just last year, Thomas Rawls, La’el Collins (in a bizarre situation) and Bobby Richardson were among the undrafted free agents who wound up playing significant minutes.
Which players could break through this season? Below is a team-by-team look at the favorites.
Arizona Cardinals: Elie Bouka, DB, Calgary
Almost certain to be a fairly high CFL draft choice later this month, Bouka is a 6' 1" prospect with 4.4 speed and experience playing WR, DB and special teams. He has a really quick, choppy backpedal but closes in a hurry. If he can get all the way back from the Achilles injury that cost him his 2015 season, he’ll be an intriguing option for an Arizona team that covets versatility.
Atlanta Falcons: Brian Poole, CB, Florida
Poole (5' 9", 213) played the slot at Florida, and the Falcons just so happen to have an opening there because Jalen Collins has a four-game suspension awaiting him. He should be able to hold his own playing inside.
Baltimore Ravens: Matt Skura, C, Duke
Skura is a really intelligent center who offers decent footwork to offset his strength issues. The Ravens are shy on depth along their interior O-line, so Skura has a chance to stick if he can pick up some guard reps.
• BURKE: 2017 Mock Draft: The quarterbacks set to dominate next spring
Buffalo Bills: Justin Zimmer, DT, Ferris State
This is a nice landing spot for Zimmer, who turned in an insane pro day (4.9-second 40 and a staggering 44 bench reps). The Ryan brothers could have uncovered a gem here in the small-school, pass-rushing tackle.
Carolina Panthers: Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
Duke safety Jeremy Cash was the obvious undrafted free agent score for Carolina. Beyond that, though, it’s also hard to imagine how the FBS’s leading receiver in 2015 was left undrafted. Garrett, like Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, cuts an imposing figure (6' 3", 220 pounds) with the ability to win on contested catches downfield. If the Panthers cannot find room for him, someone else will.
Chicago Bears: Taveze Calhoun, CB, Mississippi State
Calhoun broke up 20 passes combined over the past two seasons. He doesn’t have great speed, but he does position himself well enough to make receivers’ lives tough. He faces an uphill battle to make the roster, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he did so.
Cincinnati Bengals: Darrien Harris, LB, Michigan State
Harris stands just 5' 11", so it was no shock that he slipped through the draft—that is undersized for a linebacker, no matter how you slice it. However, the ex-Spartan is a menace on early downs, having racked up 90 tackles last season. The Bengals are deep at linebacker, counting rookie Nick Vigil, but they also will be down Vontaze Burfict a few weeks for suspension and could be ready to move on from Paul Dawson and/or Jeff Luc.
Cleveland Browns: Mike Matthews, C, Texas A&M
The Browns are counting on Cam Erving to take over at center. If that plan falls through, for whatever reason, they now have a solid safety net in Matthews—the nephew of Clay Matthews and son of ex-NFLer Bruce Matthews.
Dallas Cowboys: Ed Eagan, WR, Northwestern State
Eagan was a late add to the Senior Bowl roster, where he was coached by the Cowboys’ staff, so they obviously saw something they liked. While the 5' 10" Eagan may not see many passes, he could win a job as a return man.
• MMQB: Dallas laments draft night prize that got away
Denver Broncos: Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
One of 30 early entrants to go undrafted, Addison has an enticing skill set as a slot receiver/punt returner. He likely will head to camp behind both Emmanuel Sanders and Jordan Norwood at both spots. If he has a big summer on special teams, Addison could land on a 53-man roster.
Detroit Lions: Jay Lee, WR, Baylor
For all the weapons the Lions have, they are lacking a true deep threat. They would love third-year receiver Corey Fuller to be that guy, but Lee could push him. The Baylor product is very limited as a route-runner, but he can go deep.
Green Bay Packers: Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State
The Packers did address their ILB deficiency by drafting Stanford’s Blake Martinez. Brown could provide another option as a physical two-down type. He will have to show a presence on special teams.
Houston Texans: Stephen Anderson, TE, Cal
Anderson will be a bit of a pass-catching specialist—he's not going to move anyone as a blocker. But the 6' 2", 230-pounder runs with 4.6 speed and could turn into a dangerous threat if the Texans opt to get their TEs more involved.
Indianapolis Colts: Ron Thompson, DE, Syracuse
Thompson probably plays as a pass-rushing OLB on the Colts defense, which actually may be the best news for him—Indianapolis is a little thin there. He plays faster than his workout numbers suggested.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Minnesota
As was the case with Atlanta, Jacksonville finds itself potentially in need of an early-season slot corner due to a suspension—in this case, Aaron Colvin. Boddy-Calhoun is limited as a physical presence, but he might wind up fitting a need.
Kansas City Chiefs:Terrance Smith, LB, Florida State
It's not a stretch to see Smith putting together an NFL career as an inside or weakside linebacker, if he can stay healthy following a frustrating 2015. The Chiefs do not have anything set in stone for when Derrick Johnson calls it a career.
Los Angeles Rams: Paul McRoberts, WR, Southeast Missouri State
The Rams just keep throwing receivers at the depth chart, including draft picks Mike Thomas (Southern Miss) and Pharoh Cooper. McRoberts has to prove he is more than just a big body (6' 3") who can win some 50-50 balls.
Miami Dolphins: James Burgess, LB, Louisville
Burgess is an interesting name for a Miami linebacking corps that has struggled to find athletes. There had been discussion of him moving to safety as a pro. Any defender who can cover and play on special teams can make it in the present-day NFL.
Minnesota Vikings:Jhurell Pressley, RB, New Mexico
Pressley’s draft profile was limited in part because there is little evidence he can be of use on passing downs: He caught just one ball last year in an option offense. That said, he averaged 6.9 yards per carry in his career, thanks to a sharp cut-and-go. Possibly an RB3 behind Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon.
New England Patriots: Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Jones is a mid-round talent who was no doubt driven down the board by his small stature (5' 9", 186 lbs.). He ran a blazing 4.33 40 at the combine, and he combines that with the chops to play nickel. Of course, the Patriots just drafted a second-round nickel in Alabama’s Cyrus Jones.
• McCANN: Hiring Ted Olson shows Brady isn’t done fighting NFL
New Orleans Saints: Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
The Saints enjoyed a fruitful undrafted free agent period, landing (among others) both Allen and North Carolina guard Landon Turner—two potential starters down the line. Allen could be ready to start just in time for Max Unger to hit free agency next off-season.
New York Giants: Greg Milhouse, DT, Campbell
Several teams sniffed around Milhouse during the pre-draft process, but the level-of-competition argument probably worked against the FCS product. That said, Milhouse is quick enough at 309 pounds to develop into a one-gapping rusher.
New York Jets: Tom Hackett, P, Utah
It should be a fun, Aussie-themed punter battle in Jets camp. They drafted Lachlan Edwards in Round 7, then signed Hackett—both are from Down Under. The Utah product won the Ray Guy Award last season as a rugby-style punter.
Oakland Raiders: Darius Latham, DT, Indiana
Give Latham a couple of years, and he could turn into a starter-caliber tackle with his power against the run and the occasional pass rush. He very well could head into Week 1 as part of the Raiders’ rotation.
•BANKS: Connor Cook's long-term NFL future remains bright
Philadelphia Eagles: Hunter Sharp, WR, Utah State
The Eagles seemingly have options in the slot, including Jordan Matthews and newcomer Rueben Randle, should they choose to play either guy there. That reality may put a cap on Sharp’s Philadelphia hopes, yet he could turn the tables in camp. He usually finds a way to get open quickly.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Canaan Severin, WR, Virginia
I barely heard anything about Severin leading up to the draft, despite his 800-plus yards in 2015 and NFLPA Bowl invite. Circle him as a candidate to excel in the preseason. His size (6' 2") and route-running will make him a tough cover ... and could get him on the Week 1 roster.
San Diego Chargers: Terrell Chestnut, CB, West Virginia
The 5' 11" cornerback struggled to stay healthy, a factor that contributed to his undrafted status. But he formed a strong tandem with third-round pick Daryl Worley for the Mountaineers. The on-field gap between those two was not as evident as the draft implies.
San Francisco 49ers: Devon Cajuste, TE, Stanford
Is he a tight end? Receiver? Does it matter? Cajuste essentially played both roles for Stanford, just as 2016 Falcons draftee Austin Hooper did, often lining up in the slot. His size-athleticism combo gives him an edge in intermediate areas. The 49ers can use all the reliable pass catchers they can get.
Seattle Seahawks: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
A rather obvious selection for the Seahawks, although camp invitee Vernon Adams will draw a ton of attention in the coming weeks. Time will tell if the Seahawks plan to keep Boykin at QB, but their history with Russell Wilson and the lack of anyone else on the depth chart behind their starter suggests they will.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dominique Robertson, OT, West Georgia
It's been a topsy-turvy path to the pros for Robertson, who went from the Juco ranks to Texas Tech before arriving at West Georgia. At Tech, he battled 2016 third-round draft pick Le’Raven Clark for the starting left tackle spot. He may wind up at guard—he’s huge (6' 5", 324 pounds). Either way, he’s a developmental project.
Tennessee Titans: Antwaun Woods, DT, USC
Woods (6' 0", 318 pounds) eats up a lot of space, an ability he showed often as the Trojans’ nose tackle. His NFL role is limited, even more so with the Titans behind veteran Al Woods and draftee Austin Johnson. He provides a clear service, but he may wind up elsewhere.
• VRENTAS: With plenty of picks, Titans choose to build the Patriot Way
Washington Redskins: Tevin Carter, S, Utah
Carter was a 185-pound wide receiver when he signed with Cal in 2010. Five years and 30 pounds later, he notched 55 tackles for the Utes last season. His profile is somewhat similar to that of Washington draft pick Su’a Cravens: a hybrid safety/linebacker type with range and limited strength.