With the National Basketball Association unveiling their plan to resume the 2020 season and Major League Baseball making (slow) progress towards their labor disputes, sports are seemingly inching towards providing a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos the coronavirus pandemic has caused. As of early June, the National Football League has maintained their stance that their season will proceed as scheduled, though there’s certainly a distinct possibility that the preseason (and to a lesser extent, the regular season) could be drastically reduced, altered, or even eliminated altogether.
Various proposals regarding the reduction of the preseason for the purpose of extending the NFL regular season have gained varying amounts of traction, but never gained sufficient support.
One of the biggest downsides of reducing preseason games is that it extinguishes much of the opportunity for those on the roster bubble or for players simply fighting to just make an impression. This holds especially true for undrafted free agents (UDFA’s), many of whom come from schools that hold minimal name value and possess little recognition, have faced or are still battling severe legal complications or injuries, or simply were just buried behind talent or never had a chance to prove themselves. Preseason games provide a stage for not just showcasing their abilities to their current NFL team, but to the 31 other teams in the league in the event they are cut.
In NFL history, the vast majority of famous and successful players have been drafted, the inherent result of talent evaluation.
However, every year has players that slip through the cracks – Warren Moon, Kurt Warner, Wes Welker, Marion Motley, Antonio Gates, James Harrison, and John Randle are examples of Hall of Fame talent that went undrafted.
For a team that has done a masterful job of acquiring talented players with their late round draft picks, it should come as little surprise that the Seattle Seahawks have had myriad substantial contributors that were signed as UDFAs. These success stories include Doug Baldwin, Thomas Rawls, Jermaine Kearse, Jordan Babineaux, Mack Strong, John Kitna, Jim Zorn, and Eugene Robinson, who have all been key contributors at various stages in franchise history.
This year, the Seahawks signed 17 undrafted free agents (positions are as listed on the Seahawks official roster; salary numbers courtesy of Spotrac):
Anthony Gordon, QB, Washington State
Chris Miller, S, Baylor
Eli Mencer, DE, Albany
Marcus Webb, DE, Troy
Josh Avery, DT, Southeast Missouri State
Cedrick Lattimore, DT, Iowa
Gavin Heslop, CB, Stony Brook
Kemah Siverand, CB, Oklahoma State
Debione Renfro, CB, Texas A & M
Josh Norwood, S, West Virginia
Aaron Fuller, WR, Washington
Seth Dawkins, WR, Louisville
Tyler Mabry, TE, Maryland
Dominick Wood-Anderson, TE, Tennessee
Anthony Jones, RB, Florida International
Patrick Carr, RB, Houston
Tommy Champion, T, Mississippi State
In recent seasons, various undrafted free agents have found their way onto Seattle’s final roster – from defensive tackle Bryan Mone out of Michigan in 2019 to starting defensive tackle (and my favorite Seahawks player) Poona Ford out of Texas in 2018 to guard Jordan Roos out of Purdue in 2017, plenty of UDFAs have been contributors. This season, it is nearly guaranteed that one or two will make their way onto Seattle’s final roster; with the gameday active roster increasing from 46 to 48 players (one of which must be an extra offensive lineman) and practice squads increasing from 10 to 12 this coming season and to 14 in in 2022, there is plenty of opportunity.
As we’ll see, Seattle also has various positions that are lacking depth, and some of these seventeen players will help to solve that issue. Let’s take an in-depth look at three undrafted free agents who have a legitimate chance at making an impact this season, along with some other intriguing names among Seattle’s crop of UDFAs.
1. Anthony Gordon
Out of all of Seattle’s undrafted free agent signings, Gordon hast he best shot at making the final roster.
A successful high school baseball player (as both a pitcher and an infielder), Gordon was actually drafted in the 36th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the New York Mets; but declined and ended up playing for one year at City College of San Francisco, after which he was signed by Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
Though 2019 was Gordon’s only season as a starter, he thrived in Leach’s Air Raid prolific Air Raid offense – throwing for 5,579 yards and 48 touchdowns (both Washington State single-season records). He was widely expected to be drafted – The Draft Network had him projected as a day three pick (5th-6th round), and various other talent evaluators shared that opinion.
The Seahawks did resign 2019 backup quarterback Geno Smith in late May, so the competition for backing up Seattle’s franchise savior (and possibly the most misused elite talent in the NFL in decades) Russell Wilson will come down to Smith and Gordon. It is exceedingly unlikely that Seattle carries three quarterbacks on the final roster, and Gordon would certainly be vulnerable to being poached off of Seattle’s practice squad.
In fact, Gordon received the largest signing bonus of any of Seattle’s 17 undrafted free agents ($12,500). It is important to note that the signing bonus for undrafted players is a combination of their market after the draft and can point to their chances of making the final roster (but not always). His leadership skills and intangibles are reportedly magnificent, and he demonstrated admirable accuracy at Washington State (he was fourth in the country in 2019 with a 71.8% completion percentage). Gordon’s arm isn’t particularly strong and his instincts & internal clock in the pocket certainly need more work, he has plenty of promise as a developmental quarterback who won’t hurt the team if pressed into meaningful action, and I foresee him beating out Smith for the second quarterback spot.
2. Chris Miller
Seattle’s defensive back room has more depth than many realize – at safety alone, Quandre Diggs and Bradley McDougald should start, though Marquise Blair will hopefully receive much more playing time than last season (meanwhile, Ugo Amadi projects to compete at nickel, while Lano Hill is remarkably incompetent as anything more than a special teamer, despite Pete Carroll’s inane insistence on starting him over Blair when Diggs was injured last season). Miller stands 5’11” and weights 190lbs.; if that strikes you as fairly small for a safety, you would be correct. However, his size didn’t preclude him from absolutely annihilating various players at Baylor but his aggression bled into recklessness at times (as demonstrated by his three targeting penalties).
Miller strikes me as a player who’s attitude and on-field demeanor will greatly appeal to Pete Carroll, and at the very least should be a dynamite special teams player.
Miller also received the third largest signing bonus of Seattle’s 17 UDFAs ($10,000). One of his biggest drawbacks is his lack of impact plays – during his 25 starts at Baylor, Miller recorded zero interceptions, with just two forced fumbles and six pass breakups. Personally, I’d like to see Miller beat out Lano Hill for a spot on the final roster, as his penchant for violence and his downhill aggression are features that Seattle’s defense had in its heyday but is lacking today. The most likely scenario is that Miller ends up on Seattle’s practice squad in order to refine his ball skills and put on strength to become a contributor for the 2021 NFL season.
3. Eli Mencer
It’s no secret that Seattle’s biggest free agent was Jadeveon Clowney, and as of June he is yet to resign with Seattle (or with any other team for that matter). In addition to the loss of Clowney (it appears unlikely that he comes back to Seattle), the Seahawks lost Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods to the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively.
Seeing as Rasheem Green led Seattle in sacks last year with just four, the Seahawks needed to improve their defensive end/edge rusher situation instead of seeing its most talented player leave. Even with the offseason signings of Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa (with Irvin’s $5,000,000 guaranteed being way too much for a 32-year-old situational pass rusher), they have plenty of work to do. As it appears it there isn’t a sudden influx of talent on the horizon, it’s going to have to come internally through the development of incumbent players.
Green, 2019 first rounder L.J. Collier, 2020 second rounder Darrell Taylor and 2020 fifth rounder Alton Robinson are the most popular candidates to elevate Seattle’s pass rush. Another name that should be added to the list is Eli Mencer. At 6’1” and 225 pounds, Mencer dominated during his senior season, posting 14 sacks, 24 tackles for loss (TFLs), and an FCS-leading five forced fumbles.
Obviously, Mencer posted these numbers at the FCS level, and against a level of competition much lower than Taylor faced in the SEC or what Robinson faced in the ACC. Nonetheless, Mencer’s job was to dominate his opponents and there’s no denying that Mencer’s production absolutely jumps off the page. More than his level of competition, his frame is what concerns me the most – for reference, the average weight of the other seven defensive ends currently on Seattle’s roster is 272 pounds, making Mencer the lightest defensive lineman Seattle has by far. While it’s true that he was able to succeed at the FCS level at this frame, Mencer’s weight will see him get dominated by NFL offensive lineman, and make him a liability in run support (which is a crucial piece of being a successful defensive end in Seattle’s 4-3 defensive scheme). The best comparison for him on the current roster is Shaquem Griffin, who is strictly a pass rushing outside linebacker and has a nearly identical frame to Mencer (Griffin stands at 6’0” and weighs 227 lbs.).
The biggest difference between Griffin and Mencer is that the former has a clear elite trait in his blazing speed, while Mencer lacks a dominant physical trait. Though there’s certainly a chance Mencer makes Seattle’s final roster, the most likely scenario is him taking a similar path to Miller – a year on Seattle’s practice squad to refine his technique and improve his strength.
Outside of Gordon, Miller, and Mencer, there are a variety of intriguing names from all over the country and from varying levels of competition. Continuing the emphasis on the defensive line, Seattle signed three defensive tackles: Marcus Webb out of Troy, Josh Avery out of Southeast Missouri State, and Cedrick Latimore out of Iowa. Of these three, Webb and Avery are the most intriguing. Webb had six sacks in his senior year at Troy, but at 6’3” and 279 lbs., he’s better suited to play the five-technique in Seattle’s scheme (think Rasheem Green or L.J. Collier whenever they kick inside). Avery, on the other hand, is listed at 6’3” and a beefy 322 lbs., projecting to compete with Bryan Mone and potentially even 2019 sixth-round pick Demarcus Christmas for a role inside.
In addition to Miller, Seattle signed four defensive backs – cornerback Gavin Heslop out of Stony Brook, and safeties Kemah Siverand out of Oklahoma State, Debione Renfro out of Texas A&M, and Josh Norwood out West Virginia. Heslop and Renfro are the most interesting players out of this group, as they possess the size Seattle looks for in their outside cornerbacks (Heslop is 6’0” while Renfro is 6’2”).
At Stony Brook (a Division I FCS school in the Colonial Athletic Association), Heslop absolutely stuffed the stat sheet his senior year with 52 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, two blocked kicks, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown (though he interestingly had no interceptions). Renfro had 14 pass deflections over three years at Texas A&M, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if at least one out of Heslop and Renfro made it onto Seattle practice squad as a developmental cornerback – my bet is on Heslop.
In addition to Gordon on offense, Seattle signed four offensive weapons: wide receivers Aaron Fuller out of Washington and Seth Dawkins out of Louisville, along with tight ends Tyler Mabry out of Maryland and Dominick Wood-Anderson out of Tennessee.
Seattle already has plenty of bodies at these positions, but both Fuller and Dawkins are intriguing. Dawkins is a big wide receiver at 6’3” and 218 pounds (and we know how much Pete Carroll loves his big wide receivers), and also returned kicks for the Cardinals. Fuller projects as a slot receiver in the NFL and was very productive over his Washington career with 159 catches, 2,051 yards, and 13 touchdowns (along with 48 total punt returns, including 22 returns for an average of 11.4 yards per return his last two years at Washington). There’s a chance that Dawkins or Fuller could find their way onto Seattle’s practice squad (buoyed by their respective special teams abilities), but a spot on the active roster looks to be hard to come by. At 6’4” and 248 lbs., Mabry is an intriguing prospect, but Seattle’s tight end room was packed even before they drafted Colby Parkinson out of Stanford in the fourth round – there may be a spot for Mabry on the practice squad if Seattle likes what it sees out of him.
Seattle also signed additional depth on offense in running backs Anthony Jones out of Florida International and Patrick Carr out of Houston, along with offensive lineman Tommy Champion out of Mississippi State. After signing Carlos Hyde, Seattle’s running back room doesn’t appear to have many spots – assuming Chris Carson is healthy to start the season, he projects to start with Carlos Hyde backing him up, and with Travis Homer and rookie Deejay Dallas providing depth and receiving ability on third down. Between Jones and Carr, Jones is certainly more talented, producing 990 total yards and 11 touchdowns with his one-cut running style in his senior year. He also has an inspirational backstory – in 2018, he almost lost his life to a bullet that put him on a feeding tube for multiple weeks.
Neither running back will make the active roster (barring injury), but it would seem that Jones has a shot at making the practice squad. Champion started at both guard and tackle at in 2019, and at 6’5” and 320 lbs. has a great chance to compete for a reserve offensive tackle spot. He may not make the final roster but has a good chance to end up on the practice squad.
Aside from Anthony Gordon, Seattle’s 17 player UDFA class doesn’t feature a plethora of players who were highly productive in college. However, there is certainly plenty of physical talent, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re talking about two or three of these players as key cogs of Seattle’s team in the years to come.
Top Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images