Top rookie longshots for all 32 teams
The Sports Xchange
By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange
While most public attention was focused on the big name draftees or free agent acquisitions, the NFL OTAs and minicamps served as a first proving ground for longshot rookie hopefuls.
Whether drafted late or signed as undrafted free agents, players defy the odds every year and make the cut to become starters, stars and even Hall of Famers.
In the month before teams hit training camp, coaches are reviewing video and making notes on which of these longshots might become a steal, even a star. Reporters for The Sports Xchange took similar notes during the recent workouts and selected the longshots most likely to succeed on each team.
The list includes 20 players whose name was not even called in last month's highly-hyped draft and four each who were taken in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
While it may be easy to dismiss such early impressions, history reminds us that 38 men in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were taken after the seventh round, including 15 who began as rookie free agents, the most recent being former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle (Class of 2010).
There are a couple of well-known names, of sorts, on this early 2014 list of promising longshots -- Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III, who signed as a free agent with the team his father starred with, the Oakland Raiders, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee's sixth round pick out of LSU, whose talents were known but his draft-ability diminished by an injury.
Here is a closer look at the most promising longshots on each team based on performance in OTAs and minicamps:
--Ed Stinson, DL, Alabama, Round 5/160th overall: Judging from the way general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians constantly churned the roster during their first year, it probably won't be a surprise if an undrafted free-agent rookie gets a shot to start the season with the Cardinals.
There is not a sure-fire low pick who stands out, so Stinson could be the name to watch. The 6-foot-3, 287-pounder was drafted EXACTLY where NFLDraftScout.com projected him -- fifth round, 160 overall.
He has the size and strength to play tackle or end and Arians already said he can envision Stinson getting into a defensive rotation up front once the season starts. Alabama defensive players have found the going rough in the NFL in recent years, however, and Stinson will need to have a very productive training camp and preseason to earn a spot on the roster, let alone some playing time.
--Jacques Smith, LB, Tennessee, undrafted rookie: With the season-ending Achilles injury to Sean Weatherspoon, the Falcons are thin at inside linebacker. Smith, signed as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee, may have a shot to make the roster. He played defensive end and outside linebacker during his Tennessee career, finishing with 92 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and has been impressive this offseason, showing an excellent burst and ability to diagnosis plays.
NFLDraftScout.com rated Smith as the 55th outside linebacker and projected him as a priority free agent. He is 6-foot-2, 258 and had a 40-yard time of 4.59 seconds.
--Ayodeji "Deji" Olatoye, CB, North Carolina A&T, undrafted rookie: He has an excellent combination of size and speed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds. Olatoye made several good plays during minicamps and organized team activities.
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