The annual official draft of the NFL is a yearly test of the quality and capacity of an organization to evaluate talent and build a team and franchise. Those players picked in the seven rounds will be evaluated (and hence the organization evaluated) for years to come. A first-round bust is a major black eye, whereas a sixth-round perennial pro bowl player is a crown bespeaking the wisdom and insight of a team.
But the place where a franchise can really set themselves apart is with an ability to find raw talents and hidden gems among those collegiate players who were not drafted. And the Ravens have excelled in this regard. Names such as Jameel McClain out of Syracuse in 2008 and Priest Holmes in 1997 out of Texas come to mind. Others are Mike Flynn (1997), Will Demps (2002), Bart Scott (2002), Dannell Ellerbe (2009), Albert McClellan (2010), Justin Tucker (2012), and of course Marlon Brown in 2013 – who made 49 catches for 524 yards and seven touchdowns.
Could this unusually deep 2014 NFL Draft class actually produce even more such players, given the Ravens’ abilities in this department? Of course, only time will tell. If these players were of the “can’t miss” variety, they would have been drafted. But the Ravens have some holes to yet fill, so we might look to see even three or four of these players make the team for the coming season.
The whole process is an absolute madhouse before the actual draft itself even ends. “We are able to talk to players during the draft, and agents as well,” Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said.
DeCosta, whom I think is one of the brightest and most articulate guys in football, describes the entire scene very well when he says, “If anybody has ever seen the Wall Street floor during heavy volume trading, that is kind of what it’s like. You have scouts and coaches on the phones, guys on the white board writing names down, talking signing bonuses, negotiating, talking to agents, talking to players, trying to get deals done. The contracts are flying … it’s a hectic environment.”
So who might be the three or four most likely undrafted free agents to make it onto the Ravens 2014 opening roster?
Sammy Seamster – The first name on virtually every list is Middle Tennessee State cornerback Sammy Seamster. And the interest in him also stems from the fact that at this moment the Ravens are thin at this position. Newsome did not draft anyone, and with the departure of Corey Graham to the Bills in free agency, there are openings for corners.
With good size at 6-0 and 198 pounds, 4.44 speed in the 40, a 35-inch vertical jump, and impressive strength in lifting statistics, Seamster is a great physical specimen.
His style is as a strong press-and-bail corner, though the rap is that he was only a regular starter and outstanding player this past senior season. He recorded 33 tackles, a couple of forced fumbles and recoveries, but only one interception. Some scouts question his hands and somewhat cautious approach to the game. But if he is teachable, perhaps this could be a steal for the Ravens.
James Hurst – This offensive tackle from North Carolina stands 6-5 at 300 pounds. He had a tremendous collegiate career and was early on projected for the top half of the draft. However, while playing in the first quarter of the Belk Bowl on December 28th where the Heels beat Cincinnati 39-17, Hurst broke his leg … and down went his draft status.
But there is every reason to believe Hurst will make a full recovery from this and is indeed well down that road already. He is known for his aggressive play and ability to push and block downfield.
With the needs that the Ravens have at offensive tackle, this fellow could also make the team in the fall and be another great steal. You gotta love the size, so, let’s talk about another of the same …
Brett Van Sloten – Also at 6-5, 300 pounds is Iowa offensive tackle Brett Van Sloten. Everyone around the Baltimore Ravens has been enjoying the talk about the brains of John Urschel of Penn State, and here is another scholarly type. Van Sloten was a four-time Academic All-Big 10 award winner.
He played in a total of 48 games at Iowa, including a start at every game over the past two years. He has pro-style strength, size, quickness, and acumen. He could make it.
Xavius Boyd – A linebacker from Western Kentucky, Boyd is a 6-1, 240 pounder who started four years at outside linebacker. He was awarded the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year honor. With all the physical statistics in 4.80 speed, 32-inch vertical, etc., he was a one-man wrecking crew while compiling 103 tackles that included 15 for a loss, along with 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Boyd is clearly the sort of linebacker specimen who has become famous for the Baltimore Ravens. And even with good quality at this position, Boyd could present a strong case for being retained on the 53-man roster. This could be a good fellow on special teams as well.
So these are four names, and there are 13 other UFAs – a number of whom are honestly much better than long-shots.