An undrafted player in the NFL makes about $50,000 less than a drafted player in the later rounds for the first contract of their careers, if both make the active 53-man roster come regular season). But as important as five figures may be, it’s the opportunity and mindset from the coaches, as well as the player, that make the difference between being drafted and being brought in as a college free agent when starting an NFL career.
For Dominique Easley, Jaylen Watkins, Jon Halapio and Ronald Powell, being selected marks the beginning of their NFL careers and a guaranteed chance at competing for a roster spot in their first year out of college. It also signifies they’re coveted enough for an NFL team to spend a draft pick on claiming them – a dream come true for many of these athletes and for athletes in the future.
But for Solomon Patton, Trey Burton, Darrin Kitchens, Damien Jacobs, Kyle Koehne, Jonotthan Harrison, Loucheiz Purifoy, and Marcus Roberson, their chance at achieving that goal was dashed this weekend after going undrafted.
The UDFA stories don’t end there, however, just as the drafted four’s stories don’t end when their names were called. Now, it’s about being ready, and those stories will be told in variations that differ from each man who will live his career to tell his own story of success from here on out.
But for the early years of those stories, let’s grade at the fits, starting from the top.
Dominique Easley, New England Patriots, pick No. 29, first round
Easley’s talents were top-class before his 2013 injury and I had a hunch one of the later teams had a good chance to take his bait – turns out, Seattle traded their No. 32 pick out of the first round because their only interest at that spot was Easley. When asked about which of Easley’s skills New England head coach Bill Belichick saw as translatable to the Patriots’ defense, Belichick responded “All of them”.
Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork – New England’s starting interior pass rushers -- will be 33 this season and that’s Easley’s ideal spot to take over. I expect the Pats to handle his recovery with great care, but when Easley is physically ready in the first five weeks, I expect him to be thrown right into that rotation in his first year.
Jaylen Watkins, Philadelphia Eagles, pick No. 101, fourth round
I’m going to be honest: I really didn’t see Watkins dropping all the way to the fourth round – but after seeing Purifoy and Roberson go undrafted, now we have perspective on how the NFL viewed Florida’s corners.
Watkins joins a team that doesn’t have dominant talent at the top of their defensive back depth chart, but still has 15 (!) DBs listed. I expect Watkins to make the roster and play some special teams assignments for now. Barring injury, I don’t think he beat out Williams, Boykin or Fletcher quite yet, but he’ll contribute.
Ronald Powell, New Orleans Saints, pick No. 169, fifth round
I was surprised to see Philadelphia pass up Powell all the way up to the fifth round without scooping him up, but New Orleans is a great landing spot.
The 3-4 defense is ideal for Powell as an edge rushing outside linebacker; he’s at his best when he can play the hybrid DE/OLB role. There isn’t much competition for Powell on the depth chart (though they’re deep at linebacker, they’re not very talented), and for that, I could see him accumulating 10-20 tackles his first year as they ease him in and keep an eye on that knee.
Jon Halapio, New England Patriots, pick No. 179, sixth round
One of my many favorite moments of the draft might have been when Halapio was drafted in the sixth round and his next tweet was just...
EASE!!!!!!!— Jon Halapio (@Jhalapio67) May 9, 2014
Yeah, I think they wanted to be teammates again.
Halapio was impressive in the pre-Draft process, once his pectoral muscle was back near full health. His strength as a run blocker is very appealing; he just needs to work on being consistent by channeling his strength into technique when pass blocking. If he can do that, he’s a starter at some point in his career. Fills a need for the aging Pats, too.
Solomon Patton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs waited 35 years to have a kick return brought back for a touchdown and that poor history of success could be why they brought in Patton. Patton is versatile as a slot receiver and a return man. Tampa could even have Patton and Jeff Demps as their primary return options.
Damien Jacobs, Buffalo Bills
After a sub-par performance at Florida’s Pro Day, it’s not a surprise Jacobs didn’t get drafted, however, Buffalo isn’t a bad fit for him with just three DTs on the roster. With Buffalo running a DT and NT type of rushing front, Jacobs will have to get good at splitting double teams or clogging up lanes in run defense.
Darrin Kitchens, Buffalo Bills
Kitchens's main plus is his versatility as a linebacker, because he’s able to play inside and outside in a 4-3. I don’t expect Kitchens to start, not with Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, and D.J. Williams on the roster, but Kitchens has a chance to be a contributing special teams player if he's not designated to the practice squad.
Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles
Burton was always the player that had a diversity of talent but never a perfect single place to excel by using it; he’s spent time at QB, RB, WR, and TE.
In Philly, Burton has the chance to still be that player in Chip Kelly’s unconventional offense. If Burton would’ve been drafted or even sign by another team, they may have limited him to a certain position in their scheme. I think the Eagles give him the best chance to utilize who he is as a football player, and that, is not just one position.
Kyle Koehne, Atlanta Falcons (tryout)
For a team that needs a fair bit of offensive line help, the Falcons aren’t a bad team to have a tryout with for Koehne. I don’t think he makes the active 53-man roster, but Atlanta could be a place to start his career on the practice squad.
Jonotthan Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
Harrison is a mauler who was based as a center in 2013. He has abilities to play offensive guard if needed and looks like a solid pick up for a team that swears they’re a power running team.
Marcus Roberson, St. Louis Rams
Not the best start to Roberson’s NFL career – not getting drafted, that is. St. Louis has shown to make top talent out of questionable players like former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Loucheiz Purifoy, Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis's roster doesn't have the strongest depth chart for defensive backs. I don’t expect Purifoy to make the team to play outside corner, but becoming a top special teams player is possible.