Every season, there are several surprise undrafted free agents who emerge as perennial difference makers. Last year, Kentucky Wesleyan product Keelan Cole rose from the ashes to become a big time playmaker, leading the Jaguars in receiving yards.
This time around, there are several undrafted rookies who have a chance to earn their way onto the 40-man roster for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here are five of them:
- Allen Lazard, Wide Receiver, Iowa State
Standing at 6-5, 227 lbs., Lazard is a huge, physical receiver who has the ability to box out defenders similar to the way Jimmy Graham does. Unlike many of the receivers who were drafted, Lazard was a contributor for his entire four years with the Cyclones. While his lack of long speed and definitive route running ability will make it difficult to gain leverage and separation from NFL defensive backs, he has the physicality to win 50-50 balls. In the pass happy Big 12, Lazard was also a red zone nightmare and touchdown machine – finding the endzone 17 times the past two seasons.
With a already crowded receiving room, the team could also move him to tight end – a position with no definitive depth – to try and exploit mismatches against smaller linebackers and safeties. If put in the right position, there’s no doubt that this is a guy who can become yet another solid pass catching option for the Jaguars.
- Quinton Meeks, Defensive Back, Stanford
Projected to go in the fourth or fifth round, Meeks was a absolute steal as an undrafted free agent. His large build and wide wingspan give him the ability to play on the outside, or overpower smaller receivers in the inside. In three seasons at Stanford, Meeks had a nose for the football, recording seven interceptions and seventeen pass breakups. Like all-pro Jalen Ramsey, he also isn’t afraid to get physical away from the ball – something that led to a whopping 61 tackles in his junior year. Meeks also wasn’t flagged at all last season, which is an impressive attribute that could help his case on a defense that puts a large emphasis on getting off the field.
While Meeks’ skillset is undoubtedly raw, his athletic technique, ballhawking ability, and position flexibility, perhaps serving as a third safety, make him an interesting prospect who could evolve into a surprise contributor.
- Andrew Motuapuaka, Linebacker, Virginia Tech
While nothing stands out definitively about his game tape, Andrew Motuapuaka is a guy who does a lot of things right. Playing next to 2018 sixteenth overall pick Trumaine Edmunds for the Hokies, Motuapuaka recorded a team high 114 tackles in 2016, and 11.5 tackles for a loss in 2017. The third-team all ACC selection is a hard nose, gritty, player and excellent form tackler. He has experience serving as the defensive play caller, and also plays the game with a high sense of passion, tenacity, and leadership.
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While he undoubtedly struggles in play recognition – something that is huge for linebackers, is underdersized, and has been caught in no man’s too many times, Motuapuaka definitely has the tools, and valuable experience on special teams to earn a roster spot at a middle linebacker position that lacks depth.
- KC McDermott, Offensive Tackle, Miami
With right tackle Jermey Parnell’s days in Jacksonville likely numbered, and no clear cut replacement on the roster, McDermott is another guy who should compete for a roster spot. Yes the team drafted Will Richardson in the fourth round, but it’s important to remember that once training camp starts all bets are off. Coming out of high school, McDermott was a highly touted prospect receiving offers from Alabama, Auburn, and Florida, before committing to Miami. While injuries, position movement – he started every position on the offensive line besides center – and lack of technique, hampered his college career, he has the raw strength, quickness, and big 6’6, 311 lb. frame, to be molded into a NFL starter.
McDermott will likely need a year of development before he’s ready to become a starter, but with a impressive training camp could earn time a spot on the 53-man roster and get snaps as the team’s swing tackle in 2018.
- Mike Hughes, Defensive Tackle, UNLV
Sharing a name with the Minnesota Vikings 30th overall pick, Hughes definitely has an outside shot of making the team, especially considering the Jaguars took another defensive tackle – Taven Bryan – in the first round. Becoming the first defensive lineman in UNLV history to earn Second Team All-Mountain West honors, Hughes recorded a team high seven tackles for a loss in 2017.
That ability to burst into opposing team’s backfields and make crucial stops is what makes him special. While the small school standout will undoubtedly need to make a big adjustment to NFL competition, he is an explosive athlete and big body in the middle who could surprise many.