When the curtain falls on the NFL draft, the disappointed players who didn’t hear their names called have another opportunity to get their day in the sun. With a talent pool as deep as the 2014 draft class offered, there will be starters and solid contributors to be found among those players overlooked during the three day draft. The Giants have signed ten undrafted free agents so far and will surely sign more before the end of the month. Some will be surprise members of the 53 man roster and others will be on the practice squad when September rolls around.
The Giants were interested in signing Michael Sam as a free agent before he was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by a NFL team, has sparked a lot of discussion about the effect he might have in the locker room. A polarizing figure, Sam’s jersey sales are second only to Johnny Manziel for incoming rookies. Sam might have been better off not being drafted as the Rams are already stacked at defensive end. Given his trailblazer status, every decision involving him will be heavily scrutinized, especially if he does not make the final 53 man roster.
Along with the new arrivals, the Giants let go of five players. Quarterback Rusty Smith was signed April 28th to provide another arm for the offseason program with Eli Manning and Curtis Painter both having surgical procedures. With Manning recovering quickly and able to take a few snaps last week, Smith’s services were no longer needed. Also let go were safety Chaz Powell, linebacker Allen Bradford, who was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, punter Jordan Gay, and Cornerback Junior Mertile.
The undrafted free agents joining the team are profiled below.
Justin Anderson, Linebacker, Louisiana-Lafayette, plays both inside and outside linebacker after starting his career as a defensive end. Anderson lead the Ragin’ Cajuns in tackle for both his junior and senior years and was named first team All Sun Belt after his senior campaign. The 6’2”, 235 pound defender runs a respectable 4.68 forty yard dash and started 28 games in his Louisiana-Lafayette career.
CJ Barnett, Strong Safety, Ohio State, is an intelligent, instinctual player who started 37 games for the Buckeyes and was a team captain. Barnett is strong in run support and matches up well with tight ends. Barnett lacks the top end speed to match up with slot receivers, having timed 4.63 seconds in the forty yard dash, but makes up for it by trusting what he sees and making plays with his instincts. His rough and tumble style of plays raises concerns about his durability and he missed games in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. For the Giants, we will compete with rookie, fifth round pick Nat Berhe for Will Hill’s roster spot. Barnett’s experience on special teams gives him an edge coming into the NFL, if he is able to stay healthy.
Emmanuel Dieke, Defensive End, Georgia Tech, is 6’6”, weighs 270 pounds, and runs a 4.81 second 40 yard dash. Dieke missed the all star games in January and was not invited to the scouting combined because he was recovering from a hamstring injury. Despite having good speed for a defensive end, Dieke does not have a quick first step off the snap. He is a raw prospect who plays a smart game, is tough, but failed to develop fully as a player in college. A 25 game starter for the Yellowjackets, Dieke moves well laterally, and changes direction well. If he impresses the coaches during the offseason program and training camp will likely be a candidate for the practice squad.
Dan Fox, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame, wrote down three goals as a third grader in Rocky River, Ohio. The first was to play high school football for St. Ignatius High, the second was to play college football for Notre Dame, and the third was to play quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Fox made good on his first two goals, but will have to settle for trying to make the Giants as a linebacker, a position of opportunity on the team.
Injured for most of his final campaign, Fox was unable to run full speed but still made it out on to the field. His performance suffered as a results and Fox was not invited to the Indianapolis Scouting Combined this past February. He uses the snub as motivation. Fully healed, the 6’2”, 233 pound linebacker ran a 4.59 forty yard dash at Notre Dame’s pro day, which would have placed third among his position at the combine and caught the Giants attention. Fox started 22 games during his Notre Dame career.
Thomas Gordon, Strong Safety, Michigan, is a former high school quarterback who converted to safety as a high school senior and spent much of his college career learning the position. Not invited to the February Scouting Combined, Gordon caught many attention when he ran a 4.49 forty yard dash at Michigan’s pro day. His play is often not instinctual due to his relative lack of experience at the position, but his solid build and reputation as a tough, powerful striker makes him a candidate to compete for a spot on the practice squad.
Xavier Grimble, Tight End, USC, is one of the junior players who declared for the NFL draft early and failed to be selected, a growing issue with college players. Grimble is 6’4”, 257 pounds, runs a 4.94 forty yard dash, and shows promise as a receiver. His blocking skills need to be further refined and he does not play with the aggression that NFL coaches like to see in a tight end. Grimble’s durability is a concern as he started only 15 games for the Trojans. He is a prime example of the type of player who received bad advice about coming out of college early and would have benefited from another year at USC. Given the Giants overwhelming need at the position, he has an opportunity to exploit if he shows anything to the coaches over the summer.
Eathyn Manumaleuna, Defensive Tackle, BYU, is a 25 year old rookie who took two years off from college football to complete his Mormon mission. He started 45 games during his Cougar career and is a stout run defender who hold his ground and clogs up the middle of the field. Manumaleuna does not have a well defined repertoire of pass rush moves and would likely be a rotational run defender at the NFL level.
Kelsey Quarles, Defensive Tackle, South Carolina, benefited from the extra attention first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Jadeveon Clowney received and tallied 9.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position. Possessing a quick initial burst and excellent upper body strength, Quarles has flashed ability at times. He has also disappeared when facing double teams and there are questions about his character after an incident when he punched a LSU player. Quarles is a boom or bust free agent signing for the Giants, if he shows that his production was only as a result of playing on the same defensive line as Clowney, he will not be around in September.
Jordan Stanton, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, James Madison, is an athletic defender who shows good bend and movement skills. At 6’4”, 280 pounds, he lacks the desired bulk and is prone to getting blocked out of plays. A 16 game starter for James Madison, Stanton runs the 40 in 4.94 seconds and uses his hands well to protect himself when firing through the line.
Kerry Wynn, Defensive Tackle/Defensive End, Richmond, at 6’5”, 266 pounds, has the size to succeed in the NFL if he learns to stay low coming off the ball. Wynn is a strong player who has shown excellent hand technique, but is also prone to being blocked out of plays, and if he doesn’t lower his pad level consistently, he will not succeed in the NFL.
Still unsigned is troubled former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla, who quit the Ducks after being suspended for a rules violation. He was arrested, and subsequently pleaded guilty for cocaine possession. Lyerla is a physically gifted and talented athlete who lacked structure growing up after his parents divorced and has pledged to prove is doubters wrong if give the chance at the NFL level. He would be immediately controversial in New York as he posted a YouTube video claiming that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were a hoax and followed it up with a tweet stating “The parents of the kids that supposedly died in the Sandy Hook situation are liars.”Lyerla later apologized for making those statements.
The 6’5”, 246 pound tight end caught 11 touchdowns and ran for 2 more in his tumultuous 2 ½ year career at Oregon. He’s fast, running the forty yard dash is 4.61 seconds and can block well for a receiving tight end. Lyerla will need time in an NFL weight room to fill out his frame and maximize his potential as a blocker, but will contribute on the field while doing so.
Given his drug history and controversial background, bringing in Lyerla would be a risky move, but one that could pay off greatly given the Giants lack of a receiving threat at tight end. He would need a team mentor, a strong position coach, a dedicated publicist, and would be best advised to give up social media for the time being, but all that might be worth it to revive his NFL dream. With talent that would warrant first or second round consideration, someone will eventually give Lyerla a shot, the Giants have the leadership and history to turn troubled players around. They should take the chance.