The year 2010 has been the year of the undrafted rookie in the NFL. Every week it seems like another player who was overlooked by every NFL team during the draft makes an impact and Week 9 was no different, with four undrafted players producing headlines with their play on Sunday. Chris Tripodi has the latest on this week’s unheralded rookie stars.
Javarris James (RB-Ind)
James might be better known for being the cousin of former NFL running back Edgerrin James than anything else, but his two touchdowns on Sunday helped the Colts stay in the game against the Eagles. Undrafted out of Miami, James received the goal-line work in for the Colts with Joseph Addai and Mike Hart out and Donald Brown still not 100 percent.
After a freshman season that saw him amass over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, many thought James would be the next big running back prospect out of Miami but injuries slowed him during his final two college seasons and dropped his draft stock significantly. While James may never be the star his cousin was, he has the skill set to be a solid backup in the NFL and step in when injuries hit, much like he did this weekend.
Seyi Ajirotutu (WR-SD)
With San Diego losing Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis to injury, the undrafted former Fresno State star stepped in to lead the Chargers receivers against the porous Texans secondary. Ajirotutu finished with 4 catches for 111 yards and his first 2 career touchdowns, burning Houston’s first-round pick, cornerback Kareem Jackson, for scores of 55 and 28 yards.
Ajirotutu is a smooth 6-3 receiver with the ability to stretch a defense vertically despite average speed. He went undrafted due to his inconsistent hands and focus but if he continues to polish his game, Ajirotutu has the size, speed and skill set to develop into a second receiver in the NFL. His performance against Houston solidified his spot on the San Diego roster for the rest of the season, even once they get healthy and Vincent Jackson returns from suspension.
Jacoby Ford (WR-Oak)
A second-round pick out of Clemson, Ford became just the second NFL player to have 140 receiving yards and 150 return yards in the same game. Ford returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown to get the Raiders on the board and caught 6 passes for 148 yards, including two long late-game catches that set up the game-tying and game-winning field goals.
Ford got an opportunity thanks to the Louis Murphy’s injury problems and the disappearing act pulled by last year’s first-round draft pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey, who didn’t catch one ball just a week after going over 100 yards. At just 5-9, 186 pounds but equipped with 4.25 speed, Ford is a playmaker in both the receiving game and the return game.
One of the major knocks on him out of college was an inability to win out in battles, but Ford stole an interception from Brandon Flowers that would’ve ended the game and sealed a Chiefs victory. Then in overtime, Ford laid out for a 47-yard reception down the field to essentially seal a Raiders victory. It will be interesting to see how Ford is used after Oakland’s Week 10 bye and how he might adjust to Bruce Gradkowski’s impending return.
Andre Roberts (WR-Ari)
An All-America-caliber junior season (95 catches, 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns) put Roberts on the map and despite an underwhelming senior season at The Citadel, Roberts stood out enough at the Senior Bowl and the combine to warrant a third-round pick in April’s draft. He caught his first career touchdown on Sunday against Minnesota but remains behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet on the depth chart.
Roberts is a sharp route-runner who knows how to use his 5-11, 195-pound frame to his advantage. He quickly reaches his 4.4 speed and while he’s a one-speed receiver, he has the ability to consistently create separation from defensive backs. Roberts is very polished for a rookie and can be effective as a third receiver, he just needs an opportunity to prove himself on the field coming out of a small school.
Michael Palmer (TE-Atl)
A longshot to make the team out of training camp, the undrafted rookie from Clemson scored his first career touchdown Sunday and doubled his career reception total with two catches. While he’s stuck behind Tony Gonzalez on the depth chart, Palmer proved once again that undrafted players can produce when given an opportunity.
Palmer is a limited athlete but shows good ability as a pass catcher, showing strong yet soft hands and a good release into his routes. His 4.94 speed prevents him from stretching the field and he doesn’t get much push in the run game, but he can be a serviceable backup tight end in the NFL with his receiving skills.
Koa Misi (LB-Mia)
Miami’s second-round pick out of Utah, Misi stepped into the starting role in Week 1 and hasn’t looked back. He had a season-high 6 tackles (4 solo) against the Ravens on Sunday and also ranks second on the team with 3.5 sacks.
Misi was a defensive end with the Utes but his skills have translated well to the 3-4 outside linebacker position. He consistently improved throughout his final three seasons in college and has done the same in the NFL. Misi struggled setting the edge on running plays during the preseason but has made major strides in that area, as well as working to perfect his pass-rush moves.
He doesn’t have the first-step quickness of a superstar rush linebacker and needs to polish his moves off the edge, but the Dolphins like Misi’s non-stop motor and his diligence off the field, watching tapes of Jason Taylor and soon Elvis Dumervil to look for things to add to his repertoire. Misi has the upside to be a solid NFL starter, both against the run and rushing the passer.
Sam Shields (CB-GB)
With the release of veteran Al Harris this week, the Packers are committing to the undrafted Shields as their nickel back for the rest of the season. Shields was a wide receiver until his senior season at Miami and Green Bay’s coaching staff believes he has the potential to develop into a top cornerback in the NFL once he gains a better feel for the position.
Shields is an excellent athlete who recorded his first career interception this week against Dallas. He works hard to get up the field to defend the run and breaks to the ball with receiver-like skills when the ball is in the air. Shields has displayed the same level of improvement so far this season as he did as a senior with the Hurricanes and with good size (5-10, 180) and speed (4.45) he has the potential to be a very good player in the NFL once he polishes his footwork and improves his instincts as a corner.
Kam Chancellor (S-Sea)
Drafted in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech, Chancellor saw extensive playing time in the second half of the Seahawks’ blowout loss to the Giants at home. The former Hokie finished with 7 tackles (5 solo) and a pass defensed in garbage time.
With the aging Lawyer Milloy starting alongside first-round draft pick Earl Thomas, the Seahawks view Chancellor as a potential option for next year and beyond at strong safety. At 6-3, 230 pounds, Chancellor is a hard-hitter best playing downhill against the run while his ball skills and awareness in coverage leave much to be desired. But with Thomas playing more of the prototypical center fielder at free safety, Chancellor can provide a Milloy-like complement at strong safety. Seattle would be wise to give Chancellor more playing time if they fall out of contention in the NFC West, which might be difficult to do this season no matter how hard they try.