The 2016 NFL Draft saw a great number of college stars who went undrafted. But their dreams of playing on Sunday haven’t died yet.
NFL rosters were filled shortly after the final pick of Mr. Irrelevant with undrafted rookie free agents. The money isn’t great, but they still keep alive the notion of playing past the college level. Hundreds of undrafted rookies signed with NFL teams, but only a few will find their way to an NFL roster.
Here are 10 former Southeastern Conference players with the best chances of landing on an NFL roster:
Mike Matthews, C, Texas A&M — Cleveland Browns
Forget about the NFL family bloodlines that landed in Cleveland with Matthews … actually, don’t. Having a Hall of Fame father (Bruce) and seven other family members with NFL experience (brother Jake and cousin Clay are still active NFL players) could help.
Last year’s center, Alex Mack, signed a free-agent deal with the Falcons. Second-year pro Cameron Erving seems to be the next in line, but he doesn’t have nearly the college experience that Matthews brings.
Matthews owns a plus-grade in both pass protection and run blocking and has the capabilities to be a more-than-solid backup to Erving, who still has to prove he’s ready to start in the NFL.
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn — New England Patriots
According to Pro Football Focus, Jones was the third-most efficient tackler in the SEC last season. He made very few mental mistakes in 2015 as well.
Fun fact on Patriots UDFA CB Jonathan Jones: Didn't commit a single pass interference or holding penalty in 2015.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) May 9, 2016
Jones has the athleticism and skills desired of NFL corners. His issue: the 5-foot-9-inch frame that accompanied his big-play ability. He was a four-year contributor at Auburn and finished his career with 129 tackles, seven interceptions, 3.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Jake Coker, QB, Alabama — Arizona Cardinals
Coker doesn’t have a ton of college experience like a lot of rookie quarterbacks, but he does have a College Football Playoff championship ring to go along with his 3,110 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes last season. And even though he wasn’t drafted, Arizona coach Bruce Arians said the path of Coker landing on the Cardinals’ roster isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“That journey isn’t far-fetched,” Arians said to Adam Green of Arizona Sports 98.7. “Somebody this weekend is coming here unsigned that’s going to get signed, and it’s how fast can you learn and process that information and show off to the coaches, where other guys can’t.”
Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton sit at the top of Arizona’s quarterback depth chart. But with Palmer getting up in age, the Cardinals likely need to carry a third quarterback. It’ll be either Coker or Matt Barkley.
Brian Poole, CB, Florida — Atlanta Falcons
Poole picked off six passes during his time with the Gators while notching 120 tackles and 23 pass breakups.
He also was recruited by Falcons coach Dan Quinn while Quinn was with Florida.
“I knew they were interested in me before the draft, and I felt most comfortable there because of their scheme and Coach Quinn,” Poole said to Alan Dell of the Bradenton Herald. “He called me and told me he wanted me to be a part of the Falcons organization.
“They see me as a DB and are going to play me at corner and safety and special teams.”
Atlanta’s defensive backfield isn’t chock-full of talent just yet, and Poole could make a difference as a multi-purpose player: He can play both corner and safety, as well as move inside to the slot.
Taveze Calhoun, CB, Mississippi State — Chicago Bears
Calhoun built a reputation while at Mississippi State of being a hard-hitter, not afraid to lay a lick on anyone. He was also very difficult to beat deep, according to Pro Football Focus.
On 11 vertical routes, he allowed zero completions and picked off two passes. An enforcer with ball-hawking skills should be welcomed to the Bears’ secondary.
I think CB's Kevin Peterson and Taveze Calhoun will challenge for roster spots with #Bears. Still have Jacoby Glenn as well.
— James Fox (@JamesFox917) May 2, 2016
Richard Mullaney, WR, Alabama — Houston Texans
Rookies in the NFL are marred with vicious nicknames almost instantly upon landing with a team. Mullaney’s moniker of “Slottie Pippen” may be one of the worst ever.
Mullaney caught five touchdown passes last season at Alabama and absolutely shined at Rookie Minicamp, where he seemed to be always open and didn’t drop a pass.
Melvin Lewis, DT, Kentucky — New York Giants
Lewis only played in five games last season after fracturing his fibula. Now healthy, he’s a huge (6-foot-3, 325 pounds), lane-clogging lineman powerful enough to fight off double teams with a strong base to firmly entrench himself on the line of scrimmage.
Giants UDFA Melvin Lewis had the 8th-best run stop rate (5.7) among draft-eligible SEC DTs
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 1, 2016
USA Today’s Kristian Dyer reported that Lewis had a strong rookie camp and was invited to stay and participate in OTAs.
Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
McKinzy hit double digits in tackles for loss during his final two seasons at Auburn and came away with 29.5 for his career. He also sacked the quarterback 8.5 times and forced three fumbles.
Reported Buccaneers UDFA Cassanova McKinzy had 4 sacks and 39 total pressures in 2015, helping him to a +13.5 pass rush grade
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 1, 2016
McKinzy can be moved around, playing both inside and outside linebacker spots. The Bucs may keep him on the outside but will enjoy his versatility. He had 263 tackles during his college career, showing both an affinity at getting the ballcarrier and rushing the passer.
Dillon Lee, LB, Alabama — New Orleans Saints
Lee could get a chance to flourish with the Saints, who are in desperate need at the linebacker position. He can do a little bit of everything, coming down with two picks and a sack during his senior season at Alabama.
— Tanner Watson (@TannerDWatson) May 6, 2016
Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Barber went undrafted after rushing for 1,017 yards last season, but had the opportunity to choose between a number of NFL destinations, including at least two in the NFC South.
Peyton Barber picked Bucs over offers from Rams, Patriots, Packers & Falcons, money, opportunity key factors https://t.co/D8Pj4veCDT
— WarEagleExtra (@wareagleextra) May 6, 2016
Barber seemed to like the depth chart situation in Tampa, with only Doug Martin and Charles Sims entrenched ahead of him.