While the preseason may simply be a tune-up for veterans across the league -- it is a career audition for hundreds of undrafted free agents looking to continue their dream of playing in the NFL. Whether that means consistently shining in training camp or fighting for a spot on special teams, it is no secret undrafted players have an uphill climb to make a 53-man roster. However, five UDFAs from the 2019 NFL draft class have made a statement this summer, both in training camp and the preseason, that they are here to stay. Here are those players:
Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots
Not only has Jakobi Meyers comfortably played his way onto the New England Patriots’ 53-man roster this preseason — he’s also made a legitimate case for early playing time in the regular season. You rarely ever seen undrafted players catch on so quickly with an NFL team, but it looks like Meyers has a specific role with the Patriots going forward. His precise route running skills and sure hands at the catch point will make him a valuable slot receiver for this offense. Here are Meyers’ preseason stats through three games: 19 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns. With those numbers and his development in camp, I could make the case that no 2019 prospect has helped their outlook more than Meyers so far.
Keelan Doss, WR, Oakland Raiders
While Keelan Doss has not been a total monster like Meyers during this preseason in the box score, he has proven the last three games that he deserves to be on the 53-man roster. Wide receivers his size should not look as smooth as he is, especially in terms of gaining separation against man coverage. In addition, Doss has a level of body control that most starters across the league don’t have. You can lock Doss in for the Raiders’ opening day roster.
Greg Dortch, WR, New York Jets
It’s always difficult to watch underclassmen forego their college eligibility and then go undrafted, but I really think Greg Dortch landed in a really good situation and has made the most of it. One of the best ways to secure a spot on any 53-man roster? Special teams. The former Wake Forest star has had a stranglehold on the punt returner spot this summer, showing his potential with an electric 32-yard return against the New York Giants. As a wide receiver, Dortch has also proven his worth as a quick, reliable slot receiver who could be the primary backup behind Jamison Crowder. Like Meyers and Doss, I think Dortch has locked up his roster spot.
Fred Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh Steelers
I was a huge fan of offensive guard Fred Johnson coming out of Florida, as I gave him a solid fourth round grade on my draft board. He ended up signing a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers after the draft, and he has been turning heads since. In fact, he found himself playing nearly the entire preseason opener from start to finish, which speaks to the coaching staff’s trust in him as a versatile, productive option. You won’t find many guards who are 6’7, but if anyone knows about developing undrafted free agents, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it looks like they’ve hit big time on another one. Don’t be surprised if Fred Johnson is starting in regular season games, sooner rather than later.
Malik Reed, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Malik Reed is the only defensive player on this list, and that is because he has stood head and shoulders above every other undrafted defender this summer. Not only is he a virtual lock to make the Broncos’ 53-man roster, but I fully expect him to get legitimate snaps as a situational pass rusher in the regular season. Teammate Von Miller has repeatedly praised Reed’s performance in both training camp and this preseason, comparing him to Shaq Barrett. Pass rush talent has never been the question with Reed, as he showed bend and explosiveness on tape at Nevada. It was his lack of size that made him fall out of the draft. But as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Denver, Reed landed in the perfect spot to maximize his strengths and hide his biggest weakness. Many teams will regret passing on the former Wolfpack star.