Undrafted NFL Free Agents 2013: Studs Who'll Earn Way to Starting Positions

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVApril 29, 2013

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29:  Da'Rick Rogers #21 of the Tennessee Volunteers drops a pass in the endzone during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Neyland Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

NFL teams are no strangers to having undrafted signees earn their way to starting positions, but only a lucky few have seen those players turn into stars. 

These teams may not be in that department, but we should see each of these players impress in his opening season in the big league and start to rack up stats while earning a starting spot on his team.

Are these players going to be the next Antonio Gates, Wes Welker or Arian Foster? That much is unlikely. However, you will see increased production and playing time out of these guys as they earn their way into the NFL the hard way.


Lerentee McCray, OLB, Denver Broncos

A product of the Florida Gators, Lerentee McCray blew up SEC backfields during much of the 2012 season but didn't stand out enough to get drafted. Now, he'll make teams pay for that.

I noticed McCray as an elite pass-rusher in the SEC last season, using his quickness and versatility to get around the edge. He can rush from both sides of the line, which is an invaluable trait and one that is underappreciated.

With the Broncos, McCray won't be asked to come in and shoulder any load right off the bat, but he won't waste any time proving what he's capable of as he vies to get on the 53-man roster. 

McCray will show glimmers of hope in his 2013 rookie campaign, but over the course of the next few seasons he'll prove to be a replacement for departed Elvis Dumervil while aiding the Broncos' already stout defense that just added Shaun Phillips to act as an immediate replacement (per Denver Post). 


Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Buffalo Bills

Less than a year ago, Tennessee wideout Da'Rick Rogers was heralded as a potential first-round pick if he could excel in the SEC. Then, a plethora of behavioral issues culminating in a couple of failed drug tests (per USA Today) ended his playing days with the Vols, and he used his junior season at Tennessee Tech trying to boost his nonexistent draft stock.

Fortunately for the Bills, they landed one of the most physically gifted receivers in the draft class and one that I wouldn't have been surprised to see come off the board in the second round. Rogers' unique combination of size, speed and strength make him nearly impossible to cover without double coverage, which he saw most of in his breakout sophomore campaign.

Rogers played his best at Tennessee when there was no Justin Hunter or Cordarrelle Patterson on the field, which means he'll give defenses fits when they're forced to have single coverage on him.

The Bills landed a diamond in the rough and will reap the benefits of what should be one of the most obvious undrafted free agents who will contribute next season and beyond.


Chase Thomas, LB, New Orleans Saints

Linebacker Chase Thomas brings a unique level of intelligence and strength to the game, and that will help him anchor a defensive unit and further prove his worth on the Saints team.

New Orleans' defense is run cerebrally behind the guidance of Jonathan Vilma on the field, which is why Thomas will fit in perfectly. There were questions about his speed coming into the draft, but with Stanford, he torched Pac-12 offenses and found himself chasing down the fastest playmakers.

Thomas may not blow anyone away with a 40-yard dash time or any official workouts, which is likely why his draft stock fell so far.

Still, there's no doubting this kid can play on the big stage against some of the best athletes, and that's what will earn him a starting spot somewhere down the line in his career.