The best teams in the NFL treat the hours following the draft with the same urgency as the early rounds. These are opportunities to bring in players with huge question marks at the next level, but who have some obvious traits a team loves. Oftentimes this comes in the form of level of competition- small school players who you really like, but who are so far off the map it's hard to justify spending a pick on. We're not talking guys like Brian Quick, or Amini Silatolu- players who dominated their level of competition, we're talking about solid contributors, with questions at the next level.
Today we're taking a look at the Carolina Panthers UDFA signings. Who are they, and what can they bring to the table? At first glance you see a lot of small school players, but when you dig a little deep there's a lot to get excited about.
Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU
Reynolds is the obvious highlight in the list of signings, because most independent scouts were shocked he wasn't drafted, after projecting him as a 4th or 5th round pick. He has issues with foot-speed, and he's not a natural athlete- however he's a smart football player who could excel in a zone blocking scheme. He likely went undrafted due to lack of upside, and age- like most BYU players he entered the draft late and will be 26 years old before the season starts. However, given there's a lack of depth at the OT spot I believe he'll challenge Byron Bell for the backup RT spot.
Ryan Van Bergen, DE, Michigan
With a relentless motor and decent production it seems Van Bergen was stuck with a 'tweener' label that pushed him out of the draft. Falling somewhere between a large 4-3 DE, and 5-technique defensive end he reminds me a lot of Thomas Keiser, with a larger frame. Totaling 5.5 sacks last season for the Wolverines I think there's a good shot he makes the 53 for some pass rushing depth. We'll see what this means for incumbent Eric Norwood.
Tauren Poole, RB, Tennesee
Rounding out the three headline players is the Volunteer's running back. It's extremely interesting to see him pick Carolina in free agency, as it was reported he also had an offer on the table from Seattle. Perhaps the Georgia native wanted to stay in the South, but it's hard to imagine he'll get more playing time here. I think Poole is an immensenly talented running back who was just a year removed from a 1,000 yard season. In 2011 however he was let down by a mediocre offensive line.
After the jump we'll look at the rest of the players who are signing as UDFA's
Jared Green, WR, Southern University
Son of cornerback Darrell Green it seems he's picked up some of his pop's speed after running a 4.33 in the forty in his pro day on 3/20. Out of all the picks it's Green who gives me goosebumps watching him on film. It's absolutely astounding to me that a player like this, small school or not, doesn't get drafted. There are serious shades of Stephen Hill to his game in terms of how he gets off the line, and while he doesn't have Hill's size (he's 6'1") his route running is better than some of the WRs we currently have on the roster. Watch out for him in camp, because if he works hard I really think he could be something special.
Rico Wallace, WR, Shenandoah University
Looking for a deep cut? Here's one for you. Full credit to our own Derek Leazer who while covering small-school players noted that the Panthers were heavily scouting Wallace at Shenandoah's pro day. That turned out to be the case as the Panthers signed him quickly. An interesting player, it's always hard to evaluate DIII players, but he seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and some ability.
Nate Chandler, DT, UCLA
This is an extremely rare case of a large TE becoming a defensive tackle. So rare, in fact, that I've never heard of it happening. Chandler is a pure athlete who is very raw, and lacks a lot of skills. I'm betting the Panthers are looking to just add guys with upside and see if anything can be coaxed out of them in camp.
Will Blackwell, OG, LSU
Blackwell had an inauspicious end to his college career as he played fairly poorly against Alabama in the National Championship game, however he was a 1st team all-SEC offensive lineman, who is depth where the Panthers need it most.
Wes Kemp, WR, Missouri
Kemp is a large (6'3", 223lb) WR who's not afraid to block down field. He paired quite well with Blaine Gabbert in 2010, so we'll see if he can bring anything at the next level.
Derek Dennis, OG, Temple
Dennis was projected as a 6th round pick. At 6'5", 320lbs he has the ideal size you want at the position, and we'll see if he can earn a spot on the roster as depth. Awareness is the biggest hurtle he'll have to make at the next level.
Brenton Bersin, WR, Wofford
Here's another deep cut for you- the former terrier WR was born in Charlotte, and has outstanding size at 6'4", 200lbs. A relative unknown, he wowed scouts at the Shrine Bowl where he was the offensive MVP. Obviously being from JR's alma-mater probably helped him get noticed, but he's an extremely intriguing player to keep an eye on.
Lyndon Rowells, RB, Humboldt State
This has to be a fake college, right? Well, wikipedia tells Humboldt State is a rural university in Northern California with an enrollment of just 7,700 students. Rowells' stats can't be ignored though, as he ran for over 1,400 yards his senior season. He's a shifty back, and very good at making people miss.
Princeton McCarty, RB, Idaho
Finally we have the small, elusive Princeton McCarty of Idaho. At just 5'8", 195lbs it's easy to see how he was overlooked, but as I watch him on film he has a Darren Sproles/Dexter McCluster edge to him where he's devestating in draw and screen situations. While he may not be as complete a RB as Poole or Rowells, he has so much value in a couple of areas that I wouldn't be surprised if he sneaks his way onto the roster as the 4th RB.