Usually, the players who are not selected in the NFL draft are grabbed up by teams a few days after the draft ends and as plans for first minicamps begin. Of course, this year's class of undrafted players have faced several roadblocks on their way to the pros. Because of the restrictive lockout rules, NFL teams could not contact them, and many UDFAs were left to work out at their college campuses, waiting in purgatory for a shot at the NFL. Now that the work stoppage is over, here are some of the best players on defense that could help NFL teams sooner than later — if they get the chance.
Ian Williams, DT, Notre Dame
One reason players drop to the realms of the undrafted is that they're "tweeners" — their size and measurables put them betwixt and between certain positions, and this may have been Williams' problem. At 6-foot-1 and 319 pounds, he projects well as a two-gap nose in a 3-4 defense, but some teams may want longer tackles in more hybrid fronts. Williams is a total fireplug, though, and should be a bargain for any team looking for a true nose tackle.
Martin Parker, DT, Richmond
The first of many defensive linemen of draftable quality who simply got lost in a numbers game in perhaps the deepest defensive line class of all time, Parker was lightly recruited coming out of high school, rose up through the ranks, and showed that he belonged with the best at the East-West Shrine Game. NFL teams may have wanted to see more pure dominance against lesser competition, but Parker could be a good rotational three-tech in a four-man front.
Cedric Thornton, DT, Southern Arkansas
One of the more underrated defenders in this class -- I had a fifth-round grade on Thornton, and I was very surprised to see him slip through the draft. He fits so many defenses; Thornton can work as a five-tech end or three-tech tackle, and he has the strength and athleticism to flash pass-rush ability that may put people in mind of the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson. He was 16th in the nation in tackles for loss in 2010, and he'll play that way for whoever's smart enough to take him in the NFL.
Ugo Chinasa, DE, Oklahoma State
At 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds, Chinasa is another one of those inter-position "tweeners," and it doesn't help that one of the dings on him is that he doesn't possess a high motor — generally speaking, you don't want that said about an end you're drafting. However, with a team that uses a lot of zone blitzes, his ability to transition into surprisingly good coverage might make him a good fit.
Brandon Bair, DE, Oregon
Bair got listed in the numbers game in a couple different ways — his age (26; he spent two years on a Mormon mission) and 6-foot-6, 276 pounds (his measurements, which lead some to believe that he doesn't have the speed to play five-tech end, but is too long to play three-tech. Given a serious weight program, he might be able to bulk up to 290 for a team willing to think outside the box.
Jeff Tarpinian, ILB, Iowa
It was a weak year for inside linebackers of any stripe, and the guys who did get drafted went very low (Greg Jones in the sixth round? Are you freakin' kidding me?), but I thought Tarpinian might get more of a look after the Colts had success with former Iowa alum Pat Angerer in their defense. Like Angerer, Tarpinian shows surprising strength for his size (6-foot-2, 235 pounds). Either Tarpinian's injuries got in the way, or "Tarpinian" just isn't as cool a football name as "Angerer" (which it isn't).
Adrian Moten, OLB, Maryland
Moten was productive in college, but when projecting to the NFL, it's hard to find a place for a 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker who runs a 4.6 40. There are a few WILL linebackers of that size in the league (Keith Ellison, Coy Wire, and rookie Marcus Smith out of USC who was drafted in the seventh round by Seattle), but teams are probably looking for someone more sudden in the open field.
Mark Herzlich, OLB, Boston College
Once projected as a first-round pick (or, at the very least, an early second-day guy), Herzlich saw his life and career sidetracked severely by the bone cancer that eventually forced doctors to insert a rod in his left leg. Herzlich underwent treatment, is cancer-free, came back to play in the 2010 season, and looked pretty agile at the Senior Bowl. Herzlich is as determined as any player I've ever seen — we're talking about rare courage here — and if he stays healthy, he could be a good rotation nickel guy and the primary reason that nobody — and I mean NOBODY -- would ever be able to complain about "boo-boos" in his locker room.
Ryan Jones, CB, Northwest Missouri State
The first of two corners on our list who probably project best in the shot, Jones didn't get to go up against a lot of elite competition, but he has the base speed — both in short areas and long coverage — to do certain things at the NFL level. Better in man than zone, he needs to be coached up and let loose.
Kendric Burney, CB, North Carolina
Perhaps the most surprising stud at the Senior Bowl, Burney locked down on everyone he saw in Mobile, picking off three passes during one South Team practice and giving himself 10 pushups for barely missing another. The game tape isn't quite as impressive, but if you're looking for a good slot defender who will get beaten once in a while but will generally annoy the heck out of the guys he covers, Burney's worth a look.
Deunta Williams, FS, North Carolina
It's hard to assess just why Williams fell out of the draft entirely — there were enough mid-round grades on him, and he started each of the 46 games he played for the Tar Heels. How much the four games he was suspended for his role in the UNC agent scandal factors in is unknown. The other problem was the broken leg he suffered in December — he missed the postseason games and workouts because of it, but he'll get a shot somewhere as a player who can play an interchangeable safety role.
DeAndre McDaniel, SS, Clemson
McDaniel overcame a very rough childhood to establish himself as one of the faces of a great Clemson defense. A Thorpe Award finalist in 2009 after an eight-interception season, he followed that up with a senior campaign in which he led the team in tackles. Has grown into a team leader and film junkie, and could project very well into a defense with very distinct free and strong safety designations — he was probably devalued because he's not elite in space and doesn't cover a lot of ground.