May 6, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Kevin Elliott (6) works out during rookie mini camp at Florida Blue Health

Which UDFAs could make the gameday roster?

In about five weeks, training camp will be in full effect. It will be time to see how all of the new pieces acquired during the offseason fit together. The OTAs and mini-camps laid the groundwork. The team began installing the new offense, working on Gabbert’s fundamentals, keeping the top 5 defense in tact, and introducing the players to how the new coaching regime runs shop. From seasoned veterans to the rookies, everyone is learning the new system. In late July, it will be crunch time. It will be time to sift through the 90 man roster and see exactly who fits and how those players will be used.

I thoroughly enjoy studying the roster. I like seeing how each individual player ended up in Jacksonville. I like seeing who excels at what and why. I like analyzing strengths and weakness of each individual player and position. By the time preseason begins, I’m sure that I’ll have a few underdog favorites.

Speaking of underdog favorites, I find undrafted rookie free agents highly fascinating. These are the college prospects no one wanted. Lately, however, it’s becoming more and more common for some of these prospects to become highly sought after once the draft ends. Yes, most of these UDFAs are camp bodies, players to fill out the newly expanded roster deeming their roles somewhat less important, but would you rather have a player who is in camp just to be there? Or would you want the best possible options, players who could push both draft picks and incumbent veterans alike in turn making everyone work harder? This seems to be the role of these undrafted rookies.

Most of these young players stand little to no chance of making the 53 man gameday roster, and most would be lucky to make the practice squad. Why? First things first, most simply aren’t as good as their drafted counterparts. There was something in their measurables, the way they played the game, character issues, that drove teams away. These same kind of factors apply to the late round draft picks as well. That’s why they fall past the first two rounds.

So if these undrafted guys aren’t even as good as the rookies the team DID draft, how in the world are they supposed to compete against NFL veterans? How could they possibly make the team?

Every season someone surprises us. Aaron Morgan, Kevin Rutland, Cameron Bradfield to name a few…granted they are not superstars, but all have the potential to contribute to the team in one way or another.

June 12, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Cameron Bradfield (78) during minicamp at Florida Blue Health

Some positions are a logjam. I feel bad for Kevin Elliot, Chris Gilbert, and Mike Brown. The wide receiver position is as packed as I’ve seen it with the draft’s best wide receiver, a high priced free agent coming off the biggest season of his career, and several other incumbent veterans and NFL journeymen who have been in the league for a few years. The numbers simply are not in the undrafted guys’ favor.

The same principles apply to cornerback. Is there any possible way Antwon Blake and Antonio Dennard could even compete with even the 4th corner on this team? Especially when the Jags drafted CB Mike Harris in the 6th round of this year’s draft to do just that?

These are examples of camp bodies. Are they pointless? No. Are they more talented than you and I? Yes. Could some of these guys make the team?

I was up all night thinking about which UDFAs could step in and provide better depth, develop, and eventually give more than some of the guys already on the roster. How is this possible when these underdogs are obviously on the lower end of the 90 man training camp roster?

Some positions simply aren’t that crowded, that’s how. What happens at times is that some positions are very shallow, and the only thing an UDFA must do is simply beat out the 3rd or 4th man at his position. It certainly makes it easier if no one was signed in free agency or drafted at that position. It’s even better if the backup or rotational guy has been banged up for the last two years and hasn’t been on the field. Maybe one of the guys gets hit in the face with a beer bottle on Baymeadows. Hey, I’m just sayin.

So after racking my brain all night trying to figure out which one of these young players could make our roster stronger, I’ve singled out three players who I believe have a chance. Is it because they are amazing talents? I don’t know, the team doesn’t let out very much. These are just players that have a larger window of opportunity.

1. Matt Veldman, TE, North Dakota State:

June 12, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Matt Veldman (85) runs during minicamp at Florida Blue Health

As of now the tight end position hasn’t seen any turnaround. Mercedes Lewis is a pro-bowler who must return to form. Zach Miller is a 6th round draft pick from the 2009 draft, and Zach Potter was signed off of the New York Jets practice squad in 2009. Colin Cloherty was signed late in the 2011 season when Miller hit IR. Matt Veldman is 6’7, 255 lbs.. In a nutshell he’s a huge target and his large build could give him more leverage as a blocker. If Veldman can block just as well as Potter and Cloherty, and become another pass catching option, he could be a very solid third tight end.

2. Jeremiah Brown, SS, Wagner: The safety position is much like the TE position in the sense that not much happened to it in the offseason. Dwight Lowery was re-signed, and the team got solid, not spectacular play from Dawan Landry. Behind the two starters, you have Courtney Greene; a 2009 7th round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks who has bounced around the league. Greene can play both spots, however, and has been proven serviceable. Behind Greene is 2011 4th and 5th rounders, SS Chris Prosinski, and DB Rod Isaac. Isaac has seen little to no time on the field due to injury, and it seems as if the team isn’t too sure exactly what to do with him. Is he a safety? Is he a corner? Prosinski has seen more game action, but has mainly made his impact on special teams. I’m thinking the Jags will carry four safeties. Jeremiah Brown is a workout player who walked away with a contract. He runs a 4.40 which is pretty good speed. He’ll neeed it considering how fast he will have to get down the field on kick coverage. If Brown turns out to be just as athletic as Prosinski, but is better on the coverage teams, there could be a place for him.

3. Drew Nowak, DT, Western Michigan:

May 6, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch (90) and defensive tackle Drew Nowak (78) work out during rookie mini camp at Florida Blue Health

The Jags’ defensive line is…really, really good. It’s one of the bright spots on a team that went 5-11 last season. So how in the world does this Nowak kid have a chance to make the roster? Well, let’s take a look. Past Tyson Alualu and C.J. Mosley, the defensive tackle position is a question mark. Will Terrance Knighton, who has already had a tumultous offseason, be able to control his weight? D’Anthony Smith has basically been hurt his entire career. This could be like a 2nd rookie season for him all over again. What about Corvey Irvin and his massive tackle total of one in 2011? Nowak is 6’4, 292 lbs., and was named the MAC defensive player of the year with 83 tackles, 20 for a loss, and 8.5 sacks. He also recovered two fumbles and blocked two kicks. If he shows more than 2012 7th round pick Jeris Pendleton, look for Nowak to get in on the rotation if both Knighton and Smith can’t stay healthy again.

So there are my three rookie free agents who I believe could seriously push for a spot. Of course we’re all expecting Blackmon, Branch, and Anger to make an impact. It’d be nice to see Marshall, Harris, and Pendleton provide quality depth and play good special teams as well. Everyone hopes all the draft picks hit, but the more young guys who can play and make a positive impact, the better off this team will be in the future.

Are there any UDFAs that you think could make the roster? Let me know in the comments section!

-David R. Johns

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Tags: Andre Branch Blaine Gabbert Brandon Marshall Bryan Anger Chris Prosinski Colin Cloherty Corvey Irvin Courtney Green D'Anthony Smith Dawan Landry Drew Nowak Dwight Lowery Jacksonville Jaguars Jeremiah Brown Jeris Pendleton Justin Blackmon Matt Veldman Mercedes Lewis Mike Harris NFL 2012 Rod Isaac Terrance Knighton Tyson Alualu Zach Miller Zach Potter

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