One full month after the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft, much of the discussion surrounding the event has ended. Meanwhile, many prolific collegiate prospects who landed contracts with NFL teams may have gone unnoticed. These players agreed upon terms with their inaugural professional homes after the end of the three-day draft event, becoming known as undrafted free agents. Needless to say, as it happens during every offseason, most undrafted free agents have extremely low ceilings, with few being able to contribute immediately in a significant manner. Nevertheless, their pleasant additions have substantial importance to the depth of their respective clubs.
The following are the five best undrafted free agents who were acquired following the 2021 NFL Draft.
2021 NFL Offseason: Best Undrafted Free Agents
Shane Buechele | QB | Southern Methodist | Kansas City Chiefs
The quarterback post, as well as the future of and the depth at the position, weren’t amongst the primary concerns of the Chiefs entering the 2021 offseason. After all, under center is one of the most talented yet young passers with Hall-Of-Fame potential in Patrick Mahomes, who is heading into his fourth year as a professional QB. However, it is also true that no team anywhere else is looking for a playmaker of a seventh-round caliber either. That is, not for the purpose of anything more than emergency backup depth.
As far as that duty goes, Buechele might be the best option at this advanced point of the draft process. He was projected as a seventh-round selection in our Houston Texans mock draft. From that article:
“SMU playmaker Shane Buechele is perhaps their best gamble from the sixth round on. Since transferring from Texas to the Mustangs, Buechele has been a very accurate and relatively risk-free quarterback. In the last two years, his completion percentage remained over 62 percent and reached a career-high of 65.4 percent in 2020. This was the first year that saw him post a figure over 64 percent across more than 200 passing attempts. Furthermore, the 2020 season also marked the first time Buechele had an Int./passing attempt ratio south of 3% across at least 200 throws.”
Tommy Kraemer | OL | Notre Dame | Detroit Lions
Despite his avid limitations, Tommy Kraemer is one of the best pickups from the UDFA process for any team. That’s because most added assets will amount to nothing more than light-workload backups for the immediate, and, in many cases, the long-term, future. The Notre Dame offensive guard, expected to be valuable on the right side, at least promises to be efficient in specific schemes. On the one hand, this is what The Draft Network expects from him. The credible draft evaluation outlet anticipated his most beneficial role to be as a part of either gap or power O-Line schemes.
On the other hand, the display he turned in throughout his 2020 senior campaign could make for more confidence as regards his development within an NFL roster. Initially valued as a preseason ACC Second-Teamer, Kraemer climbed to the conference’s top-tier awards list. Furthermore, he was also named on the All-American Third Team and the Reese’s Senior Bowl Top-250 list. However indicative these accolades might be of his true potential, it is unlikely that there are many more usable undrafted players at Tommy Kraemer’s post.
Javian Hawkins | RB | Louisville | Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were eager to snatch one or more last-minute ground-game reinforcements amidst the shortcomings they have in that department. After the departure of Todd Gurley for free agency, the only weapons in Atlanta’s running faction currently are Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson, in addition to the likes of Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James, who combined for four carries last winter.
Louisville’s Javian Hawkins could be a slight improvement as far as the options in that unit go. Hawkins was nicely situated as a potential fifth-round pick as of mid-April. Ultimately, his UDFA deal with the 2016 NFC Champions would be an accurate depiction of his fall outside the top 259 players on the official list of 2021 draftees.
“Javian Hawkins could be a welcome addition to one of the league’s least productive ground-game units [the New York Jets’]. Hawkins has been a regular part of the Louisville offense since 2019. That means a heavy workload but he has been able to stay efficient and put on prolific figures, with his success now being credible due to that workload. In 2019, the Titusville native averaged 5.8 yards across 264 runs, following that up with an average of 6.2 on 133 attempts the next campaign.”
These are not only impressive figures but also very consistent on an annual basis. That will make for the team [the Jets] adding a very productive running back to its woeful rushing unit.”
Paris Ford | S | Pittsburgh | Los Angeles Rams
Paris Ford‘s downfall outside the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft came as a shock to many, even to people within the industry. The Kansas City Chiefs, for instance, were said to have shown pre-draft interest in the former Pitt safety, according to Chiefs Wire. Yet, his status as a then-unsigned undrafted free agent was confirmed shortly after the conclusion of the third day. Ultimately, general manager Les Snead and the front office of the LA Rams would acquire a very solid depth asset at the safety post for, virtually, next to nothing.
Ford enjoyed a tremendous 2019 campaign that guaranteed him a respectful position in his first year of draft eligibility. Or at least so he had thought. Moreover, he was close to replicating that high level of productivity throughout 2020 before opting out of the season due to COVID-19 with four games left.
During his sophomore year, he was the main contributor and amongst the best in the ACC both in pass coverage and near the line of scrimmage. The Pittsburgh native led the team in total tackles with 90 and in interceptions with three, duplicating the latter number the following campaign. Furthermore, Ford turned in nine passes defended and ranked tenth within the conference with 56 solo tackles, eventually being named a member of the ACC First Team. In 2020, Paris Ford was close to his past success halfway through the number of games he played in 2019. However, he would use his option to opt out, with rumors pointing to an intra-team dispute as the underlying reason.
The Los Angeles Rams currently have Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller at the top of their safety depth chart. Down the hierarchy are the likes of Terrell Burgess, Nick Scott, JuJu Hughes, and J.R. Reed, a few of whom Ford could be in serious competition with. The Rams have gotten playing time from recent undrafted free agents such as Corey Littleton and Nsimba Webster, so Ford is surely hoping to follow in their footsteps.
JaQuan Bailey | DE | Iowa State | Philadelphia Eagles
Former Cyclone JaQuan Bailey is, without a doubt, amongst the very best pass-rushers in this class of undrafted free agents. Although he was technically a redshirt senior when he graduated in January, Bailey missed almost the entirety of the 2019 season. Therefore, he generated his productive display in the span of just four years. Meanwhile, his figures are more impressive even than some players drafted on Day Two.
Throughout his five seasons for Iowa State, Bailey accumulated 25 sacks and 44 tackles for loss. These rank sixth and seventh, respectively, amongst all Big 12 pass-rushers since the beginning of the 2005 season. Additionally, he posted more than six sacks and ten TOL on three occasions, reaching eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss during his 2018 peak. That year, he placed fourth and third, respectively, within his conference. At the same time, he was also third in TOL in 2020.
The Eagles‘ pass-rush department is one of the most powerful in the league, particularly ranking third across the 2020 NFL season. This will make the task for Bailey to win a roster spot as difficult as it gets. However, he promises to develop into a surprisingly productive edge rusher for his draft position in the long term either in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
2021 NFL Offseason: Best Undrafted Free Agents – Honorable Mentions
Marlon Williams | WR | UCF | Houston Texans
Jaret Patterson | RB | Buffalo | Washington
Tyler Vaughns | WR | USC | Indianapolis Colts
Carson Green | OT | Texas A&M | Houston Texans
Hamilcar Rashed Jr | DE | Oregon State | New York Jets
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