Each year following the 259th selection, the NFL draft kicks into another gear as teams and agents rush to slap together deals often based on mutual fit, rather than ones predicated on the whims of general managers. Waiting until after the whirlwind of a weekend and choosing from a handful of teams can often serve a player better than being assigned a seventh-round deal, expendable anyway, with one team.
It’s one of the biggest and most popular parts of the annual draft cycle, as the undrafted free agent (UDFA) moniker often coincides with an undervalued, blue-collar prospect who fans have historically flocked to in the summer months. Some will make teams, some will become impact starters, but for some players, it’s their last shot.
With Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson serving as the most recent UDFA impact stud, becoming just the fourth undrafted rookie rusher in NFL history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards. Here are five UDFA’s from this year’s draft cycle who could provide a similar impact as we head into offseason workouts in the coming weeks.
Javian Hawkins, RB, Atlanta Falcons
The Todd Gurley experiment ultimately was a disaster, as were a lot of things for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. General manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith have ushered in a new era of football with an excellent rookie class headlined by tight end Kyle Pitts and safety Richie Grant, but the addition of Javian Hawkins behind Mike Davis could provide the 1-2 punch Fontenot envisions in his aging backfield.
Hawkins was electric in his time at Louisville, accounting for 1,533 yards in two seasons. Hawkins, aptly nicknamed “PlayStation”, due to his video game-esque agility and speed, has an outstanding opportunity to work into a significant role alongside the veteran in Davis under the umbrella of Atlanta’s high0flying offense headlined by quarterback Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Ar’Darius Washington, S, Baltimore Ravens
With safeties DeShon Elliott and Anthony Levine Sr. set to enter free agency next year, the Ravens failed to address depth in the seven allotted rounds. Ar’Darius Washington fell in their lap, and his raw tools could develop into a starting role as soon as this fall. Although a smaller safety prospect at 5-foot-8, Washington touts above-average physicality in all facets of his game. He has excellent footwork, a great eye for passing concepts, and has a unique inkling to identify plans of attack from opposing offenses. Chuck Clark has developed into a formidable apex defender who is locked up for the next couple of seasons at strong safety, but Washington has all the tools in the shed to provide a punch on the backend for an established Baltimore defense under Don Martindale.
Marvin Wilson, IDL, Cleveland Browns
Many speculated Marvin Wilson, at the latest, would be a Day 2 selection, but here we are labeling Wilson as a potential UDFA impact player. His non-selection within the allotted seven rounds provided a glimpse into the unique overall evaluation process from the 2020 collegiate season. NFL teams opted for production and outstanding film rather than fliers on prospects with an eye for projection. With 34 games under his belt at Florida State, Wilson brings both experience and a pro-ready frame that could develop into a 3-technique defensive tackle for Cleveland. With eyes focused on the outside to stop defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, Wilson should challenge Andrew Billings and Malik Jackson for snaps. The team added Tommy Togiai in the sixth round for added depth; but from a projection point of view, Wilson could be the steal of the entire class. He’s strong, quick, and has the necessary agility to slide in gap control. I love Wilson's addition from general manager Andrew Berry.
Jonathan Adams, Sage Surratt, WRs, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions added Tyrell Williams off waivers but only used one selection in the draft on former USC pass-catcher Amon-Ra St. Brown to boost an abysmal group of wide receivers. With the losses of Kenny Golladay (New York Giants) and Marvin Jones Jr. (Jacksonville Jaguars), the Lions are in desperate need of pass-catching talent for quarterback Jared Goff in his first season. Penei Sewell is the Lions’ shiny new anchor along the line, but someone has to get open down the hashes.
Jonathan Adams totaled over 2,300 yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons at Arkansas State, similar to Sage Surratt’s gaudy 1,582 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in just 19 games. Both wideouts are 6-foot-2-plus with excellent ball skills and a diverse route tree that will allow their game to translate well into coordinator Anthony Lynn’s offense. It’s an all-hands-on-board approach to the Lions rebuild, and the additions of Adams and Surratt could prove to be much more than just post-draft roster fillers.
Dylan Moses, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Dylan Moses, a former 5-star recruit and overall top-ranked player in the entire country during the recruiting cycle, never developed into the Reuben Foster or C.J. Mosley mold head coach Alabama head coach Nick Saban envisioned. However, I can’t say enough good things about Moses’ game if he’s able to put it all together, especially in a hybrid 3-4 defense Jaguars defensive coordinator Dan Cullen will deploy. His speed, within a front seven of defensive end Josh Allen, EDGE K’Lavon Chiasson, and linebacker Myles Jack, will be a force to reckon with. If he’s able to stay healthy, Moses has the fundamental talent to become a multi-year Pro Bowl honoree.