Every year, there are talented prospects who slip through the cracks and don’t hear their name called during the NFL Draft. Whether it’s due to athletic concerns, character concerns, or straight up being overlooked, some players who end up making an impact in the league don’t get drafted.
That applies to the 2019 NFL Draft as well. There are plenty of undrafted free agents who were quickly signed to teams and will now get their chance to show why they should’ve been draft picks all along.
Based on their college performances and how they fit with their new team, these are eight players who weren’t selected in this year’s NFL Draft who can produce early in their careers.
Buffalo Bills: David Sills V, WR, West Virginia
In 2018, Buffalo wideouts combined for 11 receiving touchdowns. In 2018, Sills caught 15 touchdown passes in 12 games for the Mountaineers. This was a decline from his 2017 season, when he sprang for 18 touchdowns and proved he was capable of rewriting his history as a scuttled prep quarterback.
The Bills went through their 2019 draft without adding a single wide receiver, though they did select a pair of tight ends in Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. That gives Sills plenty of room to join a depth chart that includes 2018 standbys Zay Jones and Robert Foster, along with recent free agent additions John Brown and Cole Beasley.
If Sills can build a connection with Josh Allen, he’ll have a real chance to not just make the Bills’ 53-man roster, but open the year in Buffalo’s receiver rotation. While he may lack the top-level athleticism of his peers, the West Virginia wideout has proven to be a real asset for a spread offense — especially in the red zone.
Carolina Panthers: Elijah Holyfield, RB, Georgia
Elijah Holyfield was projected to be drafted before he ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a 4.89-second 40-yard dash at Georgia’s pro day. Those times, combined with other unfavorable testing results, plummeted his draft stock. Despite that, Holyfield still has the chance to make an impact for the Panthers. He was one of the most productive running backs in the entire draft. The Panthers have been looking for a reliable backup to spell Christian McCaffrey since the moment they drafted him in 2017. Now they’ll have two options in Holyfield and fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett.
Chicago Bears: Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri
Chicago is leaning hard into a field-spreading offense under head coach Matt Nagy. Adding Hall gives the Bears another weapon to frustrate safeties vertically. The former Missouri standout averaged nearly 21 yards per catch while teaming with Drew Lock, giving the Tigers a badly needed extra dimension and matching up well against some of the SEC’s top secondaries.
The bad news is that vertical speed was kind of a one-trick pony for Hall. That lack of a route tree — and the injuries that limited him to 32 games in four years of college — pushed him from a potential Day 2 prospect and into the overlooked masses of the UDFA ranks.
He’ll pair with a budding young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, who utilized both Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller as deep threats in his breakout 2018 season. Robinson is only signed through 2019, which could give Hall a chance to shine in 2020 and beyond. The Bears already have a potent uber-athletic group of playmakers in Tarik Cohen, Trey Burton, and Miller in the lineup. Hall can take that lineup to the next level if he can pad out his game and be the game-breaking threat he was at Missouri once more.
Cleveland Browns: Jamie Gillan, P/K, Arkansas-Pine Bluff Gillan may just be the most interesting man in 2019’s pool of eligible players. He played only five games of high school football (and two all-star games) in Maryland after coming to the United States from Scotland, then accepted a scholarship to Arkansas-Pine Bluff sight unseen after a friend of his posted his game tape to the Golden Lions’ Facebook page.
The Inverness native was a potent threat in all three phases of special teams for UAPB. He averaged 42.5 yards per punt while pinning opponents inside their own 20 more than a third of the time. He connected on 20 field goals as a senior and has the range to hit 70-yarders in practice.
And he’s a workout fiend, having ripped off linebacker-esque numbers — a 38-inch vertical leap and 4.6-second 40 time at 6’2 and 210 pounds — at his pro day.
The Browns need a punter to push Britton Colquitt for the top spot on the depth chart. Gillan, who can do a little bit of everything when it comes to both kicking, punting, and wrecking returners who dare range near him.
Kansas City Chiefs: Gary Johnson, LB, Texas
The Chiefs needed some depth at linebacker, but they didn’t take one during the 2019 NFL Draft. Instead, they waited until after the draft by signing speedy Texas linebacker Gary Johnson.
Johnson had a strong senior season for Texas, racking up 90 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He profiles as a weakside linebacker for new Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Johnson has the speed and agility to be a coverage weapon for Kansas City if he can find his way onto the field as a rookie.
Entrenched starters Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens should be better fits for the Chiefs’ new defense, but they don’t have the speed that defenses have been trending toward over the past few years. Johnson has a chance to get reps in nickel and dime sets to give the Chiefs more athleticism to defend the pass.
New Orleans Saints: Lil’Jordan Humphrey, WR, Texas
The Saints need wide receiver talent to pair with Michael Thomas, but with only five picks in the 2019 draft, they weren’t able to address that position. Instead, they dipped their toes into the undrafted free agent market by signing Lil’Jordan Humphrey from the University of Texas.
Humphrey has more than a cool first name — he was a really productive receiver during his final season at Texas. Last year, Humphrey recorded 1,176 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns, including the game-winner against Texas Tech.There isn’t exactly a ton of competition for Humphrey in New Orleans, outside of Thomas, No one should be surprised if he ends up seeing snaps as a rookie.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss
With DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries moving on to new teams this offseason, the Buccaneers needed to bring more competition to their wide receiver group. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should be one of the top receiving duos in the league, but a talented third receiver could really help Bruce Arians’ offense take off.
DaMarkus Lodge was one of the three of Ole Miss receivers who entered the draft this year. He didn’t have the explosive measurements that his teammate D.K. Metcalf did, but he did put up better numbers than Metcalf during their college careers.
Lodge is a refined route runner who should be able to feast on the cornerback talent he’ll see with Evans and Godwin commanding so much attention from defenses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Nate Trewyn, C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Trewyn was a Division III All-American and the 2018 Rimington Award winner as the division’s top center. He also has NFL size at 6’4 and 315 pounds, but mostly I’m here to stan for the Warhawks, who routinely turn undersized and overlooked talent from Wisconsin and Illinois into a Division III dynasty.
Trewyn was the linchpin of that dynasty in 2018, clearing the space for an offense that averaged nearly 250 rushing yards per game en route to the national semifinal. An angry blocker who never took plays off — including when I saw him live in a 67-14 playoff win over Eureka College this November (Whitewater averaged 13.9 yards per carry that day. I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s pretty good).
He’s a project, sure, but the Buccaneers have time to let him develop and continued needs across their offensive line. Ryan Jensen is signed through 2021, but if his level of play slips after 2019 he can be released without any dead money on Tampa’s cap sheet. If Terwyn can find a way to stick around, he could be the next man up in the middle for the Bucs — even if he’s got a lot to prove to get there after ragdolling 220-pound pass rushers in southern Wisconsin.