The Scratch-off Lottery Ticket that is Undrafted Free Agents

Every year in the hours immediately following the draft, teams scramble to sign undrafted free agents. Anticipating they will not be drafted, teams court these players for weeks before the draft, and if a team is looking at a set of say, CBs and there’s a run on CBs late in the draft, they might just call dibs on them with a 7th round pick. Teams generally sign 8-10, maybe more, and except for kickers and punter, they usually they pan out to be nothing more than warm bodies for camp or the 53rd man on the roster for a year. Sometimes though, you get lucky and one turns into a quality player like Stephen Neal or Adewale Ogunleye.  Maybe you hit pay dirt and get a James Harrison, Wes Welker or Pat Williams. Perhaps you hit the jackpot and get Kurt Warner or Antonio Gates. But realistically speaking, if you get a season or two out of a UDFA, that’s a pretty good get. In recent years the Eagles have seen Chad Hall, Hank Baskett, Akeem Jordan, Greg Lewis and Reno Mahe have been UDFAs who have made contributions. They’re obviously not game changers, but they’re contributors, which is as good as you can expect from a guy every team passed on for 7 rounds.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the UDFAs the Eagles signed on Tuesday, which got more attention than usual since it happened not in the hours after the draft but as the first thing done since the lockout has been lifted. That’s how starved for real football talk we are, we are excited by the signing of guys not expected to make the roster. But hey, it’s nice to talk real football.

RB Noel Devine, West Virginia

Devine was a big time player his sophomore and junior years, with 1289 and 1465 yards respectively, although in his sophomore year he only scored one TD from scrimmage. His junior year he scored 14 in 13 games though, and had 1,742 all purpose yards. Devine fits the mold of Shady McCoy and 2011 5th rounder Dion Lewis: quick, agile, a good pass catcher and small. At 5’8″ he gets by with his athleticism at full speed and shiftiness. His draft stock, already precarious, fell when he chose not to run at the combine. Devine is the type of high-ceiling guy that a number of teams would be after as a UDFA, he’ll get a fair shot to make the team otherwise he wouldn’t have signed with the Eagles. Leading up to the signing period, the Rams and Falcons were rumored to be after him. Additionally, considering his style of play, this signing makes it even less likely the Eagles would be interested in Reggie Bush should he become available.

Chance to make the team: He’s got a good shot, but with McCoy, Lewis and Weaver the backfield is crowded. Should make someone’s practice squad at the very least.

WR DeAndre Brown, Southern Mississippi

Well, if you were hoping the Eagles would land a former Southern Miss. Golden Eagle to be a backup on the Philadelphia Eagles, you’re in luck. Brett Favre isn’t coming to town, but DeAndre Brown is! There’s not much to say that National Football Post didn’t already say about him in February. Quite simply he’s got loads of potential and loads of question marks. Let’s look at the upside though: at 6′ 6″ 240 lbs., Brown is huge, and he was productive when healthy. This isn’t a case of a guy who has never put it together on the field but has all the parts you want, he has shown he can play. And with that size and skill set, he’s got a pretty good chance at being the 5th WR on a team full of very good but very small WRs. He just has to put it all together on and off the field. The Eagles will give him as good a chance as any to do that. And considering his size and type, like Devine and Bush, this decreases the chances that the Eagles try to sign Plaxico Burress.

Chance to make the team: Fairly good if health isn’t an issue.

P Chas Henry, Florida

Here’s probably the only text we’ll use about a punter: Henry was the 2010 Ray Guy Award winner and with Sav Rocca a free agent, it appears the punting job is his to lose. Also with fellow rookie Alex Henery as the kicker, Merrill Reese will have to make sure he doesn’t trip over their names. Here’s hoping he wears #8.

Chance to make the team: Excellent.

QB Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M

Johnson was a QB to watch for coming into the 2010 season. In 2009 he was all that TAMU had on offense, putting up a school record 3,217 yards and leading the Big 12 in TDs, earning him 2nd-team All Big 12 honors behind Colt McCoy. Johnson’s 314 yards per game made him the 3rd in the nation in total offense. Entering the 2010 season, he was the Big 12 Pre-Season Offensive Player of the year. Clearly, things were looking up for Johnson. Then it all came crashing down. Johnson struggled with his accuracy and arm strength, and was benched after 5 games. In 7 games total, he threw 9 picks and was sacked 25 times. His stock plummeted, and he did not have a good showing at the East-West Shrine game. Arm strength was a big issue, but perhaps he was playing through an injury considering the sudden drop off he apparently suffered from 2009 to 2010.

Chance to make the team: Practice squad at best.

WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa

DJK, as he is thankfully called, doesn’t have eye popping numbers, but he was a top player for a good Iowa program for four years. During that time though, he had a pretty good college QB in Ricki Stanzi throwing him the ball, so it’s fair to wonder how much of a product of a good QB he was. That said, he was consistent, with reception totals of 38, 44 and 45 and TD totals of 2, 3 and 2 his first three years. His senior year was a bit of a breakout, with 41 catches and 9 TDs in 10 games. His season ended after 10 games when he was arrested and subsequently plead guilty to possession of marijuana. Highly athletic, DJK is also a gifted kick returner, which might be where he can make the team. Jorrick Calvin did a nice job last year, but isn’t by any means a lock to make the team.

Chance to make the team: Outlook not so good, but you never know. With 4 WR spots in stone, he has to show more than DeAndre Brown or be too good to turn down as a kick returner to have any chance to make it.

The remaining UDFAs have little shot to make the roster in any capacity. Every training camp needs some warm bodies to help give the guys they really want to look at some reps without wearing down the guys who will make the team. So when Mike Kafka stays late to throw some balls, the Eagles are going to want him to do it with guys they expect to cut. Sounds kind of dumb, huh? Well, not really, you want your QB to make everyone around him better, and if your 3rd string QB makes camp fodder look passable, then that’s a point in his favor. And with training camp rosters up from 80 to 90, there’s going to be some extra warm bodies in camp. You never know, sometimes you just plain get lucky.

RB Graig Cooper, Miami

At 6’0″ and 202 lbs., Cooper’s got decent size, and he fits the Eagles mold of shifty athletic guys who can also return kicks. But he’s coming off a highly disappointing year where he never really played after recovering from an ACL tear in Miami’s 2009 bowl game. He had a nice showing at the combine, finishing 15th in the 3 cone drill and tied for 13th in the 20 yard shuttle. But the Eagles backfield is pretty crowded and he’ll have to do better than Noel Devine to have any chance.

DT Cedric Thornton, Southern Arkansas

A D-II player, Thornton impressed enough to get a combine and Senior Bowl invitation. Thornton showed flashes at the Senior Bowl, which is about what you would expect. At 6’3″ and 309 lbs., he’s got the advantage of being a bit bigger than some other Eagles DTs, but it may not be enough.

WR Perry Baker, Fairmont State

Another D-II all star. Baker isn’t big or strong and his 4.69 40 at the combine was a disappointment. The scouting report says good hands and good speed, but he appears to be a dime a dozen UDFA. Kafka needs someone to throw to.

TE Martell Webb, Michigan

The lack of an entrenched third TE gives Webb a decent shot to make an impression. Webb was a special teams captain at Michigan, so this move appears to be geared more towards solidifying the ST unit, which is fine. With 9 career NCAA receptions, he wasn’t signed to be a downfield threat. Best case he’s a practice squad player.

WR Terrance Turner, Indiana

It doesn’t matter how bad your QB is, 4 career TDs is weak. And Indiana was not a weak passing team, they were 14th in the NCAA in passing yards and Turner had only two games of 100+ yards. He isn’t a KR or PR, so he’s got a mountain to climb.

LB Brandon Peguese, Hampton

Peguese transferred to Hampton after his red-shirt freshman year at South Florida. Hampton lists him as a linebacker but last year he made the All-MEAC team as a lineman, so he appears to be a OLB/DE tweener. In the musical chairs that is the Eagles linebacking corps, Peguese will probably be out of a seat early considering the Eagles drafted 3 linebackers.

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