Pursuing a professional football dream is a big challenge, and the road gets even tougher for those players who find themselves on the outside of the league looking in after the NFL Draft every year.
Life as an undrafted free agent has no guarantees. You could never get signed by a team. You could blow out a knee and be cut immediately. You could outperform a draftee in camp, but still get let go because the team has money invested in the other guy. The success stories for undrafted players are few and far between.
Still, every year someone emerges from the rough to become an undrafted diamond – a player the league should have noticed but didn’t until it’s too late. This is the final market inefficiency frontier for fantasy players – specifically dynasty managers.
That’s one of the reasons I’m here with Fantrax: to help you identify those players before they break out. Here are 10 undrafted pass-catchers from the 2018 class who could hit big in the next few years. Metrics come from my personal prospect database, statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.
Related: 10 Undrafted Running Backs to Watch
Allen Lazard, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s a bit surprising that Lazard, a productive four-year player for Iowa State, makes it on this list after NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projected him in the fifth or sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The massive 6-foot-5, 227-pound possession receiver hauled in 13.94 yards per reception and a 10.79 percent touchdown rate while averaging 5.02 catches per game in his career, playing in the Big 12 against future pro cornerbacks.
On the Jaguars, Lazard could replicate Allen Hurns’ “all he does is catch touchdowns” role in the red zone, where his strength and high-pointing ability can truly thrive. He struggles to separate from man coverage, is stiff in his routes, and his play speed hampers him at points. That can be alleviated by using him as a glorified move tight end with short routes and red zone looks.
His raw testing numbers confirm his tape, but his weight-adjusted athletic profile describes a player who moves very well for his size. Lazard’s Speed Score (weight-adjusted forty-yard dash) ranks in the 82nd percentile of 809 draft-eligible receivers since 1999, his Agility Score (weight-adjusted three-cone and short shuttle) is in the 83rd percentile, and his Force Score (weight-adjusted vertical and broad jumps) is in the 96th percentile.
Athletic Comp: A lighter Kelvin Benjamin
Jalen Tolliver, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Small-school prospects never quite get a fair shake, and that’s exactly how Division II product Jalen Tolliver’s draft day experience panned out. The former University Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevil (seriously, that’s their nickname) was sadly not drafted, primarily due to concerns about his level of competition in college. Despite playing in a lower level, he did what we expect a good player to do: beat up on lesser talent. Over his final two seasons, Tolliver averaged 16.05 yards per reception and a 21.90 percent touchdown rate on 6.23 catches per game.
For the Cardinals, the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Tolliver fills a very important role: being a warm body on their roster. Behind Larry Fitzgerald, there are no proven players in the wide receiver corps. Tolliver is unlikely to unseat second-rounder and fellow rookie Christian Kirk, but 2017 third-rounder Chad Williams hasn’t done anything of note yet, Brice Butler is a multiple team washout, and J.J. Nelson has been inconsistent, to say the least.
Tolliver’s athletic profile shows up in the 55th percentile of Speed Score, 73rd percentile for Agility Score, and 84th percentile for Force Score. He plays inconsistent in speed on tape, but he has the traits to contribute in the NFL.
Athletic Comp: A slower, more immediate Andre Caldwell
Just Need a Role
Keith Kirkwood, WR, New Orleans Saints
Keith Kirkwood joins a fairly deep New Orleans depth chart, where he will be no higher than the fifth option in his rookie season. However, with Ted Ginn getting up there in years and both Austin Carr and Cameron Meredith question marks on this team, there’s an outside chance that the Temple product could snare a spot as the team’s future third receiver.
Kirkwood didn’t produce in droves in college, with just 87 catches over his final two years, albeit for 15.16 yards per reception and at a 12.64 percent touchdown rate. In a low-octane passing attack, though, he flashed traits that speak to higher upside. Kirkwood is 6-foot-2, weighing 221 pounds, and ran a strong 4.45 forty-yard dash at his pro day. His Speed Score ranks in the 95th percentile, and his Force Score is in the 92nd percentile.
Athletic Comp: A faster Miles Austin
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Oakland Raiders
Saeed Blacknall produced little in college at Penn State and has rough tape that shows an impeccable physical profile that needs plenty of refinement. He picked up just 50 catches across his four-year college career, but those did go for an average 19.58 yards per reception and a 14.00 percent touchdown rate.
The Raiders did make some additions to the wide receiver group on draft weekend, trading for Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer, but Blacknall’s 6-foot-2, 208-pound size with 4.37 forty-yard dash quicks could earn him a spot on the practice squad. With only Bryant as a true deep threat, Blacknall could find himself with an easy “go route” role early on, and he has the quickness to develop a short-area game as well. Blacknell’s Speed Score is in the 95th percentile, while his Agility Score is in the 83rd percentile.
Athletic Comp: The next Robert Meachem
Simmie Cobbs, WR, Washington
One of the more polished UDFA options available, Simmie Cobbs enters the NFL after three years at Indiana. In his last two, he snared 132 catches for a 14.21 yards per reception mark with a 9.09 percent touchdown rate, proving to be a fairly reliable asset in the receiving game despite not a ton of scoring. For Washington, he could provide yet another big receiver to throw 50-50 balls to, but due to his lack of separation on tape, he’ll need to win at the catch point to be valuable.
Cobbs’ defining trait is his 94th percentile Agility Score, while his Force Score and Speed Score are either exactly average or below. He can make quick breaks on his routes, but he doesn’t have the explosiveness one truly desires from a jump-ball target. Still, he has an intriguing landing spot and some NFL tools.
Athletic Comp: A lither Mohamed Sanu
Jordan Veasy, WR, Tennessee Titans
Former California product Jordan Veasy has quite a few things going for him, including his 6-foot-3, 221-pound frame. He also finds himself on a Tennessee Titans roster with only Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor as surefire long-term receiving options on the depth chart. In fact, only Davis stands over 6-foot-2, making Veasy’s bigger body a fairly unique quality on his team. He has athleticism to go along with an 80th percentile Speed Score and 89th percentile Force Score.
Veasy will need time to develop, however, coming to football just in his senior year of high school and catching only 63 balls in his two years at Cal. His raw talent is noticeable, but so is his lack of polish.
Athletic Comp: A more explosive DeVier Posey
Andrew Vollert, TE, Arizona Cardinals
The only tight end in this article is Weber State’s Andrew Vollert, who was snapped up by the Cardinals in the aftermath of the draft. Vollert stands a solid 6-foot-5, weighing 245 pounds, which is about exactly what one would want for a move tight end who can block. That’s exactly what Vollert was at Weber State, earning 13.11 yards per reception and a 9.76 percent touchdown rate on 123 catches over his final two years of college.
On the Cardinals, Vollert presents a true option as a versatile in-line/move tight end over receive-only Ricky Seals-Jones and washout veteran Jermaine Gresham. Vollert’s 88th percentile Speed Score and 90th percentile Agility Score highlight his potential as a big-bodied possession receiver for Arizona.
Athletic Comp: A more agile Julius Thomas
A Change of Scenery
Jester Weah, WR, Houston Texans
There are a lot of names on the Houston wide receiver depth chart, but fortunately for Jester Weah, he has a pretty memorable one. Weah comes out of Pittsburgh, where he turned in an average yards per reception of 20.77 with an 18.18 percent touchdown rate, albeit on just 77 catches over three years. With good size and secure hands, he could work as a possession receiver in the pros, but the Texans already have DeAndre Hopkins – one of the best in the league at that role. Weah’s biggest tools are his 90th percentile Speed Score and 92nd percentile Force Score.
Athletic Comp: A faster Mohamed Massaquoi
J.J. Jones, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Tiny receivers don’t often pan out, especially undrafted ones. Tiny undrafted receivers from small schools like West Georgia are especially tough sells, but sometimes they can be rich finds. J.J. Jones will not show up well in our metrics due to standing just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he is a flat-out burner, running a 4.35 forty-yard dash, with a 6.83 three-cone and 4.26 short shuttle. Only problem: the Chargers already have Travis Benjamin.
Athletic Comp: Small-school John Brown
Derrick Willies, WR, Cleveland Browns
The Browns are not a team to turn their collective nose up at talent, even when that talent transferred twice and was benched for freshmen due to a midseason case of “dropsies” in his senior year. Texas Tech’s Derrick Willies is yet another of these classic size-speed prospects with a flaw. The other thing working against him is the thickness of the Browns’ receiver depth chart these days. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound Willies’ top traits are an 89th percentile Agility Score and 96th percentile Force Score.
Athletic Comp: A more explosive Dwayne Bowe