My undrafted free agent dream team and some dreamy wines you should draft into your cellar

3 Jul

Arian Foster Right now most of the sports programs not talking about Aaron Hernandez are talking about free agents and their new teams, or how the high draft picks will fare with their new teams. Occasionally there will be transactional stories about people at the bottom of the roster being signed or cut. Everyone knows that over 40% of the people on the current 90 man roster will be gone by the end of August when the NFL goes to 53 players per team.
The truth is that there are potentially some great players on the bubble. The league average is almost 13 undrafted free agents per team.
Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk has created an all star team of unsigned free agents. When free agency started, that team could have been a contender. At this point in the year, it lacks the firepower, but still could be competitive. I was thinking the other day about what kind of team you could create with just current players who were undrafted free agents. I looked around and didn’t see any articles about that, so I figured I should write one. It also reminded me of some wine equivalents of undrafted free agents. So I’ll cover them below. For now, here are my picks for a current team featuring only players who no NFL team thought was good enough for a 7th round draft pick. I think that this team could compete for the Super Bowl.
Offense
I am listing 13 players here. I figure that sometimes you will have a two back set. Sometimes, you will have three wide receivers. Sometimes, you will need a crunching fullback to clear the way.
Quarterback Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys)
Romo was undrafted out of Eastern Illinois University. After a couple of seasons as a holder and backup quarterback, Romo became the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. His career has had highs and lows. He has the 5th highest career passer rating of all time at 95.6. He holds or shares 13 Dallas Cowboy passing records. That’s extremely impressive considering that there are two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in team history (and Don Meredith was no slouch either). The knock on Romo has been that he makes mistakes at crucial times. I think that you could see him pressing last year after DeMarco Murray was injured. The team had no running game, a suspect defense and I think he felt he had to win games by himself. On this team, he wouldn’t have to do as much and I think that the results would be phenomenal.
Running backs Arian Foster (Houston Texans) Fred Jackson (Buffalo Bills)
A pulled hamstring kept Arian Foster from participating in the NFL combine and when he was able to run, he turned in a relatively slow 4.71 second 40 time. That, and an underwhelming senior season, led to him being undrafted. Since gaining the starting job with the Texans, he has been sensational. In his first start, he ran for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. He hasn’t slowed down since. In three years as a starter, he has reached the Pro Bowl three times. To me he is one of the top three running backs in the NFL and his peers ranked him in the top 10 players in the NFL this year.
Fred Jackson played in Division III in college and couldn’t stick with the Bears, Broncos, or Packers in training camp. He ended up playing for the Sioux City Bandits in the National Indoor Football League and then the Rhein Fire in Europe. In 5 seasons with the Bills, he has gained over 5,000 yards rushing and receiving. He was injured in week 1 last year, but should be fine this year.
Fullback Vonta Leach
Not many teams still use a full time fullback, but a great fullback can make the difference when you have to have the tough yards. Vonta Leach has been the best in the league for the last few years. The combination of a small school (East Carolina University) and the diminished need for fullbacks meant that he wasn’t drafted. He had 3 unremarkable years in Green Bay and a cup of coffee in New Orleans. He came into his own in Houston. After 2 stellar years there, he took a huge contract to play for Baltimore and he helped them win a Super Bowl. After 3 Pro Bowl years in a row for 2 teams, he was cut by the Ravens for salary cap reasons. He won’t be unemployed for long though and he would be great on this theoretical team. I would love to see him blocking for Arian Foster again. My honorable mention here is John Kuhn in Green Bay.
Tackles Jason Peters (Philadelphia Eagles) Donald Penn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Tackle is a tough position to find an undrafted standout. There are only so many humans big enough and nimble enough to play tackle in the NFL. Usually if a player looks like he has any chance at all of making it as a tackle, he gets drafted. Sometimes the theory is that if they can’t cut it at left tackle, they will move them to right tackle, and if that doesn’t work, they will get moved to guard. Some guys still slip through. Jason Peters and Donald Penn are both excellent tackles. Peters was a tight end in college who recorded more pancake blocks than catches. It was somewhat of a surprise that he wasn’t drafted in the 2004 draft. He developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Bills, but was unhappy with his pay. He eventually was traded to the Eagles for the 28th pick in the 2009 draft. So he went to not being worth any pick to being worth a first round pick. If he can stay out of jail after some issues this offseason, he will remain a tremendous starting tackle.
Donald Penn wasn’t drafted, but has managed to start 92 games at left tackle for the Buccaneers. He doesn’t allow a lot of sacks. He has some health issues and has trouble keeping his weight down, but sliding him over to right tackle for this mythical team would keep Romo clean in the pocket.
Guards Dan Connolly (New England Patriots) Brandon Moore
Dan Connolly had a solid college career. He was all conference for 4 seasons. Since he was at Southeast Missouri State College though he didn’t get much notice. I hadn’t even heard of Southeastern Missouri State College before I looked it up for this post. He bounced around with the Jaguars and the Patriots before getting a chance to start when Logan Mankins was injured. He performed extremely well and when Mankins came back, Connolly was moved over to start at right guard. He also had an awesome 71 yard return of a squib kick that led to him being named AFC special teams player of the week. There are few things in life more fun than watching a 300+ pound man run 71 yards with the ball. Other than watching Vince Wolfork intercept a pass, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Brandon Moore is a free agent and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because his most visible moment was being the “butt” part of Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble last Thanksgiving. He was solid in protection last year, had only 4 penalties, and was a great run blocker. At 33, he should still have a few years left and he is just a year removed from his first Pro Bowl season. Some team could use him and my all undrafted team definitely needs him.
Center Ryan Wendell (New England Patriots)
If I could get any offensive line coach for an all undrafted team (or really any team), it would be Dale Scarnecchia. The job he does in New England year after year is simply phenomenal. It doesn’t matter what happens to the line, he turns the next guy up into a great blocker. Ryan Wendell went undrafted in 2008. Then he signed with the Patriots. Then they cut him. Then they signed him to the practice squad. On December 31st 2009 he was promoted to the 53 man roster and this time it stuck. In 2012 he beat out Dan Koppen for the starting job. That wasn’t a case of Kopppen being too old to play anymore. Koppen will start in Denver this year for the 2nd year in a row.
Tight End Antonio Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers)
After reaching the Elite Eight with Kent State in the NCAA basketball tournament, Gates was told that he wasn’t going to make it in the NBA because his 6 foot 4 inch height was too small for his skill set. Basketball’s loss was the San Diego Charger’s gain. A number of teams reportedly contacted him for a try out, but the Chargers had him try out first and signed him immediately. All they got out of that was their all time receptions leader, 8 Pro Bowl seasons, and 5 All Pro seasons. He was named to the NFL all decade team for the 2000’s. Last year his numbers were down, but he still had over 500 yards in receptions and if his quarterback hadn’t been sacked 49 times, he would have had more.
Wide Receiver Wes Welker (Denver Broncos), Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys), Victor Cruz (New York Giants)
Wide receiver was actually one of the easier positions to fill. There were many other candidates, but I think this group would be a formidable receiving corp. I’ll grant that it has 2 players perceived as slot receivers, but I think it would work out fine. The most experienced player here is Wes Welker. He had a great career at Texas Tech, but was considered too small for the NFL and Tech receivers under Mike Leach were underrated because the perception was that whoever he had would post great numbers. After being cut by the Chargers, he showed potential with the Dolphins. Once he was traded to the Patriots, he went nuts. He is the Patriots all time reception leader, a 5 time Pro Bowler, 2 time All Pro, and he has led the league in receptions 3 times. This year he headed to Denver as a free agent, trading one future Hall of Fame quarterback for another. In New England he was replaced by Danny Amendola, another undrafted Texas Tech wide receiver.
Miles Austin played for the Monmouth Hawks in college. He signed as a free agent with the Cowboys and worked his way up to the 3rd receiver. In October of 2011, he got his first start when Roy Williams was injured. He responded by catching 10 passes for a Cowboy’s single game record of 250 yards. He hasn’t looked back since. That year he led the NFC in yards in despite the late start. He has had hamstring problems, but still has over 4,000 yards receiving and is a receiver who demands a double team.
Victor Cruz is the least accomplished and most publicized member of this group, but he still has made a huge impact. He holds the Giants’ single season reception yards record and has over 2,600 yards in 2 years. He only played a couple of years at the University of Massachusetts, but was productive during that time. He just signed his restricted free agent tender with the Giants. The fact that no other team offered him a contract this year really makes you wonder whether there is collusion on restricted free agents in the NFL. If he were in the draft this year, he would certainly be a first round pick.
Defense
There are tons of different defensive schemes and position names can be somewhat flexible because of that. The 11 undrafted players below would make a good defense in whatever scheme you want to run. This looks like a 3-4 line up to me though.
Defensive End Cameron Wake Miami Dolphins) Chris Clemons (Seattle Seahawks)
Cameron Wake seems to be the poster boy for CFL players hoping for a shot in the NFL. He actually had a solid college career at Penn State, but was mainly used as a linebacker. After going undrafted in 2005, he signed with the British Columbia Lions in the CFL. He became a full time defensive end and was the first CFL player to be named Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. By 2009 (I’m not sure why it wasn’t sooner), he made the jump to the NFL. After working out for several teams, he signed with the Dolphins. He has made 2 Pro Bowls and 1 All Pro squad. He is a force that keeps offensive coordinators up late at night.
Chris Clemons was a linebacker at Georgia who had some injury problems. After signing with the Redskins in 2003, he spent his first season on injured reserve. He earned a starting spot for a few games in 2004 he was cut by the Redskins, signed by the Browns, and then spent the season on the Browns practice squad. The Redskins signed him again the next year. He then bounced around with the Raiders and the Eagles. In 2010 he was traded to the Seahawks. He has averaged 11 sacks a year since then. He tore his ACL in January, but should be back to start the season.
Linebacker James Harrison (Cincinnati Bengals), London Fletcher (Washington Redskins) Bart Scott Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals)
I’ll admit that my linebacking corps is pretty old. They are all still good though and I’m sure we could round up some young undrafted free agents to back them up. Vontaze Burfict is only 22, so he brings down the average age a bit.
James Harrison is one of three Kent State alumni on this list. It might be a good idea for NFL scouts to look at Kent State a little more closely. In high school he showed the kind of ability that normally would lead to recruiting wars for his commitment. Unfortunately he also showed the kind of lack of maturity that made you wonder if he should be saving bail money instead of college money. The big schools passed on him as did all of the teams in the draft. The Pittsburg Steelers gambled on him as a free agent though and hit the jackpot…eventually. First they cut him three times, sent him to play in Europe, and let him sign for a season with the Baltimore Ravens. By 2005, he managed to start 3 games for the Steelers. In 2007 he became a regular starter. Since that time, he has had a Hall of Fame level career. He has made the Pro Bowl 5 times, been an All Pro 4 times, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He gets too many penalties, but he has 2 Super Bowl rings and has the second longest scoring play in Super Bowl history, so the trade off is worth it. He couldn’t reach a deal with the Steelers this year, so he signed with the Bengals.
London Fletcher was the Division 3 National Linebacker of the Year playing for the John Carroll Blue Streaks. Despite that lofty accolade, he was undrafted in 1998. He signed with the Saint Louis Rams and hasn’t stopped playing since. He has played in 240 straight games over the last 15 seasons. He has started 199 games in a row. He has played for the Rams, Bills, and Redskins and been impressive at each stop. He hasn’t always been the most heralded player and has probably been overshadowed by Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis. I think that he is a lock for the Hall of Fame when he retires. Last year was another solid year for him and I expect an excellent 2013 season from him.
Bart Scott isn’t a linebacker that you want working in space these days, but he is a smart and tough veteran that brings energy and leadership to any team. Low SAT scores scared off major colleges. Scott ended up at Southern Illinois University, where he was suspended for the final 6 games of his junior season. Undrafted in 2002, Scott signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens who were the only team to send a scout to look at him. After a couple of years as a special teams leader, he had the opportunity to start a few games when Ray Lewis was injured. He became a full time starter and by the next year he was a Pro Bowler and a second team All Pro. He followed Rex Ryan to the Jets and was an impact player there as well. He was cut this year in what looks like a salary cap move. I expect him to sign somewhere during training camp this year. Scott has had some issues, but that SAT score was a red herring. He completed his degree in economics and is generally an intelligent, articulate player. He has also been extremely generous to charities, which doesn’t help my imaginary team win games, but it shows that you shouldn’t judge too quickly.
A poor junior season and a bad combine workout (and a positive marijuana test) helped Vontaze Burfict drop from a projected first round pick after his sophomore season to an undrafted rookie for the Bengals. He started 14 games last year and even had 18 tackles in the last game of the season against the Ravens. If he can keep off field distractions to a minimum, he can have a great career.
Safety Ryan Clark (Pittsburgh Steelers) Quintin Mikell
After almost 10 years in the NFL, Ryan Clark finally made the Pro Bowl in 2011 as a replacement for Ed Reed. Making the Pro Bowl at Safety in the AFC is pretty tough as long as Reed and Polamalu are playing. Clark played for Louisiana State University and had a solid college career. Looking at his 2001 season, I am surprised that no one took him with a late pick. He signed with the Giants and played for them and then the Redskins. Since 2006 he has been a starter for the Steelers. My team of undrafted players won’t be playing in Denver, so we won’t have to worry that his sickle cell issues will cause him to be held out of any games.
Quintin Mikell is currently a free agent, just like he was in 2003 after finishing as the #2 tackler in Boise State history. He signed with the Eagles and was a great special teams player. From 2007-2010, he was a starter for the Eagles, and he went to the Pro Bowl in 2010. He played 2 years for the Rams, but was cut in March. He should still have some football left in him though.
Cornerback Tramon Willams (Green Bay Packers), Brent Grimes (Miami Dolphins)
Tramon Willams was a walk on at Louisiana Tech. He became a starter by his junior year. He signed with the Texans in 2006 and made it to final cuts there, but didn’t make the team. The Packers must have seen something that they liked though because they signed him immediately after he was cut. Since 2007, he has played in all but 1 Packer game. He has been the full time starter opposite Charles Woodson since 2010.
Brent Grimes went from Shippensburg University n Pennsylvania to the Hamburg Sea Devils in Germany. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. He had breakout seasons in 2009 and 2010(including a Pro Bowl year in 2010). Unfortunately he was injured in 2011 and tore his Achilles tendon in the first game of 2012 and missed the rest of the season. He signed with Miami this off season. If he can stay healthy, he is a solid cornerback.
Defensive line Cullen Jenkins NY Giants
Cullen Jenkins played college at Central Michigan. He signed with the Packers in 2003 and then played in Europe for a year. By 2006, he was a starter. In 2011 he signed with the Eagles as part of a crop of free agents. He played fairly well, but was cut in February. He signed with the Giants in March.
I was close to going with Armond Armstead with this pick. I think that he has a ton of potential. He played at USC, but had a heart attack. Last year he played in Toronto and this year he signed with the Patriots.
Kicker Adam Vinateri (Indianapolis Colts)
At South Dakota State University Vinateri set the record for most points in school history. I think that it is more likely that he will be remembered as one of the most clutch field goal kickers in NFL history, or as the only kicker with 4 Super Bowl rings, or mainly as the guy who kicked last second field goals to win the Super Bowl twice.
Punter Jon Ryan (Seattle Seahawks)
Ryan was born and raised in Saskatchewan. He played college in Canada and was drafted by the CFL not the NFL, so I’m counting him. Bleacher Report rated him the 4th best punter in the league for last year. Surprisingly, even though punters don’t get much respect from fans, they do tend to get drafted. I think Ryan is the best undrafted punter in the league. He also caught a 109 yard touchdown pass in college, so he gets bonus point there.
Kick returner Josh Cribbs (Oakland Raiders)
Josh Cribbs was a record setting quarterback at Kent State. He wasn’t drafted and wasn’t really considered a quarterback prospect, probably due to accuracy issues and his height (6 foot 1 inch) being considered short for the NFL. He signed with the Cleveland Browns and played receiver, but really excelled as a kick returner. His 8 kickoff returns for a touchdown is tied for the NFL record with Leon Washington. For years he was practically the only Browns player who was a threat to score any time he touched the ball. He holds 7 Browns franchise records and has been named to 3 Pro Bowls and 2 All Pro teams. Despite that, he was released by the Browns this year and signed with the Raiders. At 30, he should still have another return touchdown or two in him. Of course Wes Welker and Miles Austin have had some highlights in the return game as well.
That’s what I came up with. If you have better suggestions, let me know. I think the offense is stronger than the defense, but I think it would be a very competitive team across the board.
In wine, we don’t really have undrafted free agents, but considering how much wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon dominate the grocery store, sometimes it feels like we do. Here are a few grapes and wines that deserve a little more of your scouting interest.
Jovly ChinonJovly Chinon (Cabernet Franc)
Cabernet Franc doesn’t get much love these days. Much of it goes anonymously into Cabernet Sauvignon bottling to add structure. On its own it can be delicious. Chinon is an AOC in France’s Loire region that specializes in Cabernet Franc. This smells of dark fruit, bell pepper, and chalk. It has bing cherry and herbal components. I tasted this at an event in Levelland Texas and a guy behind me said it reminded him of dip. That’s West Texas for you, but he wasn’t wrong. This would be great with grilled chicken or even a steak. Try a Cab Franc the next time you are reaching for a Merlot!
Lois Grüner Veltliner
If you like really crisp Pinot Grigios, try a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. This is a perfect summer wine. I think that I have written about this before, so I will just say that it has minerality, and tropical notes, and it would be a refreshing wine with seafood, or just on the beach.
Vietti Arneis Roero DOCG 2012
If you like a lighter style of Chardonnay, you will love Arneis. This one is a nice example. There is apple, citrus, and melon. There is a mineral component at the back of this wine and it has a very long finish. I really enjoyed it.
I could go on about unusual wine possibilities, and I probably will at some point. This is a long post though and those three should start you off well for now.

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