We’ve, unfortunately, reached the relatively quiet time of year between the conclusion of the NFL draft and the beginning of training camp. News and topics of interest are few and far between throughout these dark times. Luckily for us, there are a few diversions scattered here and there. One of those is rookie minicamp.
For those who aren’t aware, rookie minicamp is the first opportunity for rookies (and UDFAs, along with tryout players) to work with their new team’s coaching staff. It’s not incredibly meaningful in the grand scheme of things, but occasionally there are interesting tidbits of information that come out of the practices.
Namely, you’d like to see your drafted rookies impress early. They’re going up against practice squad-caliber competition (or worse) for the most part, so they should be looking pretty good. However, there are always UDFA “diamonds-in-the-rough” that emerge each offseason, and rookie minicamp is their chance to stand-out from the rest of the crop before going up against seasoned NFL players.
Here are a few of the UDFA players that I’ve found interesting. Keep an eye out for their names among the reports coming out this weekend.
G/T Robert Leff - Auburn
Leff was a late bloomer at Auburn that didn’t make a name for himself until his senior year, where he started all 13 games at right tackle. At 6’6, 299, he’s big enough to play on the outside, but his best fit in the NFL is likely at guard. PFF listed him as their #3 overall UDFA, and have lauded his run-blocking abilities as among the best in the class.
He struggles in pass protection at times, particularly with length and power, but those weaknesses will be mitigated if he moves inside to guard. Leff may be the most polished UDFA offensive lineman the Falcons have, and with few veteran options available, he could sneak onto the roster as a back-up with G/T flexibility.
OT Andreas Knappe - UConn
If Leff is a polished prospect with limited physical upside, Knappe is the opposite. At 6’8, 311, Knappe is a monster of a man. He played three seasons at right tackle for UConn, starting every game in the final two. Knappe has all the traits you look for in an offensive tackle, but he’s extremely raw at this point. He’s also apparently the first Danish player to join the NFL since Morten Andersen.
His physical gifts make him an intriguing fit for this offense. The Falcons have shown they’re patient enough to develop massive offensive linemen into capable starters (Ryan Schraeder, anyone?) and Knappe fits that profile perfectly. He’s a long-shot to make the 53-man roster, but Knappe should be a favorite for a practice squad spot.
FB Tyler Renew - Citadel
With the Falcons moving on from Patrick DiMarco this offseason, the team has been bringing in players to compete for the FB vacancy. Renew is an intriguing player that mostly played a halfback or “up-back” position in Citadel’s triple-option offense. At 5’11, 231, he’s certainly large enough to make the transition to a blocking role. He also ran a 4.57-forty, which is pretty impressive for such a large back.
He had some impressive stats his senior year, including 1086 yards and 4 TDs. While he didn’t catch the ball often, he did make the most of his opportunities: his 5 receptions in 2016 went for 120 yards and 2 TDs—a whopping 24.0 yards per catch. Renew actually reminds me quite a bit of DiMarco, and I think he’s got a legitimate chance to wind up as the Falcons’ FB in 2017.
QB Alek Torgerson - Penn
It seems like the Falcons add a developmental QB from an Ivy League school almost every offseason. This year is no different, with the physically impressive Alek Torgerson from Penn. Torgerson (6’3, 230) has the ideal build for an NFL QB, with very impressive arm strength and a productive college career. He’s also athletic enough to make plays on the run, and is by all accounts a very hard worker in the film room.
That’s good, because he’ll need to work very hard this offseason to have a shot at sticking around. Penn ran a simplified system with very little put on the QB’s shoulders—which means a serious adjustment for Torgerson to a pro-style system. Still, he’s got genuine arm talent, and his physical traits make him an ideal guy to stash and develop on the practice squad.
LB Jermaine Grace - Miami
Grace is an interesting story: he led the Hurricanes in tackles during the 2015 season, and was then dismissed for NCAA rules violations in 2016. Instead of trying to play again in 2017, Grace declared for the NFL draft. That’s an interesting strategy, but it appears the Falcons found his skillset intriguing enough to give him a shot as an UDFA.
That aforementioned skillset is pretty impressive. He’s very good in coverage, and was an impressive athlete for Miami in 2015. The primary knock on him is size: Grace is listed at 5’11, 209. However, the Falcons have shown that they aren’t afraid to play “undersized” LBs. If Grace can bulk up into the 220s, he has a legitimate shot to earn a back-up spot at LB. He’s also shown himself to be capable on special teams, which helps his chances of sticking around.
DE/LB Darius English - South Carolina
English is a player that I expected to be drafted late on Day 3, but wound up falling out entirely. I’m surprised, as English has real potential as a pass rushing specialist with pretty good length (6’6, 245). However, he’s atrocious against the run and unrefined in his technique. His weight has also been a consistent problem throughout his career, and he’ll likely need to bulk up to survive in the NFL.
Despite all that, English has a potential future in the NFL in a LEO-type role. He’s got the athleticism to succeed in space, and has shown flashes of coverage ability during his career. With some development and time in the weight room, English could become a rotational pass rusher in the NFL. He’s got a legitimate chance at the practice squad if he proves he’s willing to work hard.
WR Garrett Scantling - Georgia
Perhaps the biggest wild-card in the entire UDFA crop, Garrett Scantling hasn’t even played football since high school. He was a member of the Georgia track and field team from 2012-2016, and came extremely close to qualifying for the Rio Olympics. Scantling is a pure athlete at this point in his career, but Quinn has clearly seen something in him that piqued his interest.
Scantling is coming into camp as a WR (the position he played—to some success—in high school), but it is expected that he will be a major player in the competition for punt and/or kick returner. It’s pretty unlikely Scantling goes directly from track and field to an NFL roster, but he has a real chance at sticking on the practice squad if he shows potential during training camp.
What do you think about these particular UDFAs? Do you have any players that you’re keeping an eye on during rookie minicamp? Who do you think has the best shot of making the roster this offseason?