Making an NFL squad as a draftee can be difficult, so imagine the challenges an undrafted free agent (UDFA) faces. Those are precisely the obstacles that confront the quartet of Noel Devine, Sidney Glover, Anthony Leonard and Jock Sanders as they make hurried trips to NFL camps to mount their roster assault.
While it's often true that UDFAs often are in a marginally better place than late round draftees because they have a chance to negotiate with multiple teams and find the best fit for their talents, the compressed nature of the NFL's preseason schedule due to the lockout has resulted in a rush of signings, which removed the bit of leverage normally held by a UDFA. They'll also have less time to impress, as training camps are likewise going to be a bit shorter.
With that in mind, we take a look at the current announced rosters and signings of the teams which signed the former Mountaineers and their "fit" with their new squads.
Devine goes to a team that is already stocked with young ballcarriers. Second-year runner LeSean McCoy leads a cast that includes fellow sophomore Eldra Buckley, five-year veteran Jerome Harrison and seventh-round 2011 draft pick Stanley Havili. The Eagles also picked up Miami's Graig Cooper in the same free agent signing flurry that began on Tuesday, so he's not only going to have competition from the existing roster, but also from fellow newcomers.
WVU alum Owen Schmitt, at fullback, fills a different role for the Eagles, so it's not likely that Devine will be vying with a fellow Mountaineer for a roster spot.
For Devine to make the squad, he's going to have to show versatility in camp. He'll need to catch the ball out of the backfield (something he improved on while at WVU) and also show ability to return kicks. Durability, of course, will also be a question which the Eagles will consider during an abbreviated training camp.
Slotting running backs into a roster and viewing competition is more simple than evaluating positions such as safety, where players, especially backups fighting for roster spots, must often learn and fill multiple roles. That's the case for Glover, who can make himself much more valuable to the Patriots by demonstrating the ability to play both strong and free safety positions.
On the Bills' active roster, veterans Bryan Scott (nine years) and George Wilson (six) are joined by fourth-year performer Jairus Byrd and fifth-year Jon Corto to form a solid array of experience. The Bills also picked up safety Dominic Cook of the hometown University of Buffalo -- a fact that probably shouldn't be overlooked. Certainly, it's all about performance in the NFL, but if two players are very close in the evaluation process, it stands to reason that the one with hometown interest might get an edge, so Glover will need to perform well early to separate himself. The Bills also have unrestricted free agent Donte Whitner, a six-year veteran who started all 16 games last year, as a possible competitor. If the Bills don't re-sign Whitner, it would open up a hole in the secondary which would need to be filled.
One big plus for Leonard -- he's going to one of the best-run franchises in the league. The Patriots value production, and don't get tied up in projections or conventional thinking. They go after players they believe fit their system, and if Leonard shows his ability to fit the program, his chances of latching on are solid.
On the down side, the Patriots have a number of young inside backers, the position where Leonard would be expected to get his first look. Sixth-round draft pick Markell Carter joins the group of Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes (entering their third NFL seasons), as well as Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo(fifth years), so Leonard will likely have to crack that group and elbow at least one, and possibly two, of those players out of the way in order to secure a roster spot. He'll also face a challenge from fellow UFA Jeff Tarpinian of Iowa.
Leonard's ability against the run is well-documented, but he will have to demonstrate the ability to drop into pass coverage and stay with backs out of the backfield in order to grab a roster spot.
Arrelious Benn, injured at the end of last year, will certainly hold on to a roster spot, although his status as he rehabs from an ACL tear is still to be determined. Just-developing outside receiver Dezmon Briscoe also looks secure. Second-year player Mike Williams is the most productive returning wideout on the roster, and is also sure to be on the Bucs' active list. Also on the roster are Ed Gant (entering his second year in the league), rookie Preston Parker and two-year veteran Sammie Stroughter.
Further crowding the picture are a pair of free agents. Restricted free agent Michael Spurlock and unrestricted Maurice Stovall, if re-signed, would make for a very narrow window of opportunity. Sanders is also part of a group of three Tampa Bay UFA signees, which included Raymond Webber and Detron Lewis.
Clearly, Sanders is going to have to reinvent himself somewhat in order to find a niche with the Bucs. Kick returns are obviously one avenue, where free agent Spurlock was the starter a year ago, but he might also carve a spot as a third-down receiver out of the backfield.