WVU Football NFL Free Agent Roundup
If predicting rounds and slots and the likelihood of making teams for those selected in the NFL Draft is difficult, then prognostications for the chances of those who signed undrafted free agent deals has to be even more difficult, right?
Perhaps, but there are sometimes indicators that provide hints as to whether a player is being brought in with an idea that he could make the team, or just as practice fodder. That last is often true for quarterbacks, as teams have to have enough arms to throw to the increased numbers of receivers and backs that populate preseason rosters.
That doesn’t affect WVU this year, but there are other factors that can come into play, starting with draftees and the competition at the position, history with the program and more.
So far, four Mountaineers have signed free agent contracts, and their prospects appear to be varied.
The first is David Sills, who to the surprise of many was not drafted. The Buffalo Bills immediately snapped him up with an undrafted free agent contract. Although the Bills did not draft another wide receiver, they do have 12 receivers current on the roster, including four who are newcomers. Since the end of last year, the Bills have brought aboard veteran free agents Cole Beasley and Andre Roberts, as well as two-year CFL veteran Duke Williams, who is a bigger receiver with a similar build to Sills. John Brown, with four years of experience, has also joined the team.
None of the eight returning receivers on the Bills roster have more than two years of experience in the league, but it’s also unlikely that any of the four players signed in the off-season will be jettisoned, so Sills will have a fight for one of the couple remaining spots that are typically allocated to wideouts, or for a spot on the practice squad.
Dravon Askew-Henry signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who due to their proximity and interaction with WVU’s program, have often dipped into the ranks of Mountaineer alums for undrafted free-agent signings. That doesn’t mean, of course, that a roster spot is guaranteed, and Askew-Henry will have to show that he can perform at a more standard safety position than the hybrid spur and bandit spots he ably manned for West Virginia.
In Pittsburgh, Askew-Henry will encounter four (or perhaps five) other safeties on the roster, all of whom are young, including Sean Davis (three years of experience), Jordan Dangerfield (two) and Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen (one each). Davis and Edmunds are the returning starters from 2018, while Dangerfield also appeared in every game. Allen saw only two games of action.
Safeties are also obvious candidates for special teams duty, and Askew-Henry could make his mark there, but displacing anyone (Allen is the obvious candidate) will be a tough task. If he is the only newcomer at the position on the current roster, he shouldn’t be in danger of getting lost in a shuffle of bodies. He’ll have to show that combination of good coverage and tackling skills necessary for NFL safeties to earn the coveted roster spot.
That “if” is an important one, because while the Steelers didn’t draft a safety they year, they also signed Kameron Kelly of the defunct AAF earlier this month. Kelly played both cornerback and safety in college at San Diego State, but began his AAF stint at wide receiver before flipping back over to defense. He’s listed as a “DB” on the Steelers roster, but given his size (6-2, 205) and lack of speed (4.68) , it won’t be a surprise to see him working as a safety.
Kenny Bigelow was one of 15 rookie free agents reportedly signed by the New Orleans Saints, a number that includes four defensive linemen. Two of those, though, are defensive ends, leaving Shy Tuttle of Tennessee as Bigelow’s direct competition among that group. With only five draft picks, which included no defensive linemen, the Saints were expected to be active in the free agent market.
New Orleans returns four defensive tackles from its roster of a year ago and added Malcolm Brown, a four-year veteran of the New England Patriots, as a free agent signee in the offseason. The good news for Bigelow is that the Saints run a 4-3, which means they will keep more linemen than a team which runs a base 3-4, but the offset is that backups in a 4-3 system that are versatile, who can play both tackle and end. Bigelow would seen an unlikely candidate to like up at d-end. That said, it would be unwise to count him out in this competition, and even if it doesn’t work out here, he could well make an impression that attracts other teams down the road.
Finally, safety Toyous Avery will join a fellow Mountaineer, wide receiver draftee Gary Jennings, with the Seattle Seahawks. Avery will have to battle a pair of drafted safety picks for attention in camp and a spot on the roster. Seattle selected Marquise Blair in the second round and Ugo Amadi in the fourth, so barring some unexpected result, that duo of DBs will be playing for Pete Carroll in 2019.
Including that pair, the Seahawks currently list three free safeties and five strong safeties on their roster. Given Avery’s collegiate position close to the line of scrimmage, he’ll likely be working against the quintet at the latter position, and there’s strong competition to be found.
In addition to Blair, Seattle has nine-year veteran Kam Chancellor and a trio of players – Marwin Evans, Delano Hill and Shalom Luani – all of whom are entering their third years in the league. Evans was signed after two years with the Green Bay Packers, while Hill came to Seattle last year after a 2017 season with the Oakland Raiders.
As with Askew-Henry, Avery’s ability to stand out on special teams, and show versatility as a strong safety and a nickel back, will be the keys for him to stick with Jennings on the Seattle roster.