Every year, approximately 25% of NFL rosters are composed of undrafted free agents. As the UDFA circuit for the 2023 NFL Draft slowly winds to a close, who are the winners and losers from the most underrated portion of the draft process? Let’s take a closer look.
NFL UDFA: Winners After the NFL Draft
At the end of the day, there’s only so much scrutinizing you can do for an undrafted free agent pool — especially before any football has been played. But gems can be found in the UDFA market, and the opportunistic are rewarded. Which teams put themselves in the best position to capitalize this cycle, and which teams fell short?
The Eagles always do well in the UDFA market. They scored an incredible value deal with safety Reed Blankenship in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, and they might see similar success in 2023.
Eli Ricks is the headliner — a former five-star recruit with the length and physicality to mold behind Darius Slay and James Bradberry. But the Eagles also added a flexible size/speed threat in Jadon Haselwood, a potential safety convert with range and strength in Mekhi Garner, and two athletic freaks at LB and OT in Ben VanSumeren and Trevor Reid.
The Eagles nabbed a headliner in Ricks, but there’s a case to make for the Cowboys having the strongest all-around UDFA class.
Jalen Moreno-Cropper is a brutal route-running technician with 4.4 speed. Myles Brooks is a size/speed ball-hawk with smooth coverage athleticism at CB. David Durden is a hyper-productive vertical threat from the FCS ranks. Durrell Johnson is a long, athletic tackling machine off the edge (27.5 TFLs in 2022). And Earl Bostick Jr. is an explosive, powerful lineman who has some projected versatility.
MORE: FREE 2024 NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades!
Even beyond the first names up, the Cowboys managed to sign Hunter Luepke as a promising fullback, and Isaiah Land, who distinguished himself as a nuanced sack artist at Florida A&M. Someone from this vast group is bound to make an impact.
The Vikings have one of the best mixes of volume and value in their UDFA group. Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., receiver Malik Knowles, and nose tackle Calvin Avery were all in my top 200 and could go on to carve out legitimate roles. And if Andre Carter II can get stronger, he has the flexibility, length, and pass-rush upside to be a steal.
Even past those players, Minnesota has more names to know. Ben Sims is an explosive seam and red-zone threat at TE with immediate blocking utility. Jaylin Williams is a ball hawk with natural coverage athleticism and instincts. Alan Ali is a versatile center who could serve as valuable depth. The list goes on.
The wild card of this group is Cephus Johnson III — a 6’5″, 223-pound QB-to-WR convert who logged a 4.6 40-yard dash and a 36.5″ vertical at his pro day. At every level, this UDFA class has plenty of upside.
Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, I know you’re shocked, but the Kansas City Chiefs are winners in the UDFA cycle. The Chiefs distinguish themselves every cycle as an organization that can identify talent deep down the draft board. Their UDFA class is very much indicative of that.
The Chiefs class is highlighted by a barrage of Shrine Bowl standouts. Deneric Prince is a size/speed specimen at running back, sporting a 6’0″, 216-pound frame and 4.41 speed. Truman Jones is a well-built EDGE with finesse and speed to power. And Quinton Barrow is a quality depth tackle who has all the desired measurements.
Many more intriguing prospects have camp invites from Kansas City — among them Aidan Borguet, Ekow Boye-Doe, Jeremy Cooper, and Jamal Turner. But the signee I’m most excited about is Missouri safety Martez Manuel.
Manuel was a top-150 prospect on my board. He’s a 6’0″, 217-pound ball of aggression, on a constant warpath in the box with his physicality and pursuit urgency (10 TFLs in 2022). But he’s also able to play the slot in off-man and press coverage. Especially in Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, he could be a gem — and at the very least, he’s extremely translatable on special teams.
Many quality prospects signed in the UDFA cycle, but the Baltimore Ravens signed my highest-remaining player in East Carolina RB Keaton Mitchell.
Mitchell was just outside my top 100. His size (5’8″, 180 pounds) likely played a part in him going undrafted, but he has legitimate two-phase ability. He has an inspiring mix of vertical explosiveness, speed, and short-area agility when flowing through lanes. He can also slip through arm tackles, and he shows promise as a receiver.
MORE: Top Undrafted Free Agent Signings Following the 2023 NFL Draft
Mitchell has a chance to truly carve out a place in the rotation with J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill. But he’s not the only Ravens UDFA to make note of.
Jaylon Thomas is a lineman who could earn a spot with his explosive athleticism, power drive, and positional versatility. Brandon Kipper is a mauler at guard. Travis Vokolek is an able seam threat at TE with good blocking utility. And Jeremy Lucien is a long-striding cover man with ball skills.
Biggest UDFA Losers
New England Patriots
Often, teams can help themselves in the UDFA cycle just by getting as much volume as possible. It’s not dissimilar to stockpiling draft picks, increasing the number of swings, and by extension, potentially increasing the hit rate.
The Patriots weren’t able to do that this time around. In fairness to New England, the Patriots did add a whopping 13 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. They didn’t have much room left to peruse the UDFA market, but regardless, they only signed three prospects, with a fourth invited to camp.
Of the Patriots’ small group, there is some intrigue present, nonetheless. Johnny Lumpkin could earn a place as a tools-rich blocking TE. And Malik Cunningham naturally draws attention as a QB. He brings unique creative capacity to New England’s QB room — something that could serve him well.
Much like the Patriots, the Steelers’ lack of volume hurt them on the UDFA front. As of this writing, they only signed six UDFA prospects, with two more invited to camp in Clemson’s Hunter Johnson and B.T. Potter.
Within their small group, the Steelers weren’t able to add much athletic upside, but there is some security with the prospects present. Tanner Morgan is an experienced collegiate starter who could earn the QB3 spot. Trevor Downing is an experienced center who could provide depth. And David Perales is a hyper-productive EDGE with a reliable motor.
The name to watch in Pittsburgh’s group is Merrimack DL James Nyamwaya. Nyamwaya is 6’4″, 294 pounds, with over 34″ arms, and he logged a 5.08 40-yard dash, a 35″ vertical, and a 9’3″ broad jump at his pro day. He could be a tools-rich, alignment-versatile defender for Pittsburgh to mold.
Finally, Buffalo’s UDFA crop was a bit uninspiring — again, in large part due to the lack of depth. The Bills, to this point, have signed just seven prospects in the UDFA pool, with four more invited to camp.
The Bills didn’t necessarily need to splurge in the UDFA market, but the team quietly lacks depth at a few key spots, even after the 2023 NFL Draft. It would have been nice to shore up the roster with more numbers.
MORE: Ranking Every NFL Team’s Offseason — Trades, Signings, Draft, Free Agency, and More
Within Buffalo’s class, however, there is some cause for excitement. DJ Dale is a quality run defender who could earn a place in the DL rotation. Jordan Mims has some appeal as a Devin Singletary-lite, who compensates for non-elite size and athleticism with quick feet and versatility. And Richard Gouraige fits the mold of a potential swing tackle.
Leave a Reply