2016 AFC East Undrafted Free Agents – the remaining “Long Shots”

I got the idea of this post thinking about Giants cornerback Donte Deayon. Deayon was an undrafted free agent the Giants signed following the 2016 draft. When the Giants recently picked CB Sam Beal in the supplemental draft, I thought of Deayon and what that might mean to him. I like Deayon. He has a great attitude, was a ball hawk in college,  and has a great work ethic. His rookie contract is up after 2018 and he would be an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA). It gave me the idea to take a look at the 2016 undrafted free agent class. Many of their contracts should be expiring after 2018. Who of these “longshots” are left? Who are they and what is their story? How are they doing? What are their chances to continue pursuing their dream? Today we look at the 2016 AFC East Undrafted Free Agents.

According to the NFL Players Association the average length of an NFL career is 3.3 years.  The average goes up to six years for players that make the team’s opening day roster in their rookie season. It goes up to 7.1 years for players with at least three pension-credited seasons. A credited season is one in which the player spends at least three games on an active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve.

The 2016 draft class is entering their third year in the 2018 season. Following the 2016 NFL draft, approximately 476 undrafted free agents signed with an NFL team. Of those there are 105 UDFAs remaining on NFL rosters for 78% attrition. Based on player average career data, the 2018 season is a critical one for the 2016 draft class. Also it typically is the last year of their 3 year rookie contract. These are the guys the newest wave of rookies could be pushing out. Starting with the AFC East here are one 2016 UDFA from each team.

The Buffalo Bills

Reid Ferguson is a long snapper for the Buffalo Bills.  He is the sole UDFA signing from the 2016 class remaining on the Bills. Ferguson started snapping in eighth grade when his father encouraged him to fill in for his team’s injured snapper. In high school Ferguson started all four years as long snapper and guard. Reid studied under long snapping guru Chris Rubio. Rubio’s evaluation of Ferguson in high school included – “…Terrific work ethic”.  Coming out of high school he was rated as the number two  long snapper in the country. Reid went to LSU on a scholarship. That was considered a rarity at the time for a player that was strictly a long snapper. At LSU Ferguson was a four year starter at long snapper. In his four year LSU career he made 497 snaps and had only one errant snap and that was as a freshman. Ferguson made Phil Steele’s 2015 Postseason All-American First Team. Still Ferguson went undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft though one long snapper was drafted. Ferguson was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in May 2016. Ferguson is the only long snapper listed on the Bill’s roster going into the 2018 season. He was not on the 2016 opening day roster but did make the 53 man roster in 2017. Ferguson will be an ERFA in 2019. Here you can see Ferguson showing his long snapper skills in some trick snaps.

The New England Patriots

Jonathan Jones is a cornerback on the Patriots. He is the sole UDFA remaining on the team from the 2016 draft class. In college Jones earned AP All SEC second team during his junior year coming in fourth in the nation in passes defended and ninth in interceptions. At the combine Jones came in first among cornerbacks in the forty and second in the bench press. His 10 yard split time of 1.47 seconds was in the 96 percentile. Jones battled through some injuries and a foot surgery in college.  But he worked hard and given a chance he produced. Yet Jones went undrafted with possible concerns about his history of injuries and his size (5’9″ and 186 lbs). Jones was signed as an UDFA and in 2016 carved out a role on the team using his amazing speed on special teams. He impressed Belichick with his coachability, toughness, competitiveness and speed. Jones also covers well. He gradually worked his way into the defense as a nickel corner and performed well. Jones has played 32 games the past two seasons and started in five. In 2017 he had 9 passes defended and one interception. In a 2017 game against the Dolphins Jones shadowed Dolphin’s receiver Jarvis Landry for the majority of the game. Landry is a receiver that Belichick has high regard for. Jones was in on 41% of the defensive snaps in 2017. Here is a graph of Jones combine results.

The Patriots drafted two cornerbacks – Duke Dawson in the 2nd round and Keion Crossen in the 7th round. They also signed UDFA JC Jackson. All are shorter corners and may compete with Jones for a slot cornerback position.

The Miami Dolphins

Jake Brendel is a center for the Dolphins. As a senior on the offensive line in high school Brendel recorded 71 knockdowns, 31 finishes and allowed no sacks. He was ranked the as the 15th best center coming out of high school by rivals.com. In college, after redshirting his freshman year, he started every game all 4 years for a total 52 games. He became UCS’s all-time leader in games started. Brendel played in 92% of UCLA’s offensive snaps over the four year span. He was a three year co-captain, First-team Academic All-Conference, and last two years a second-team All-PAC-12 selection.  Brendel, a four year starter, stepped up to being a de facto player/coach his senior year when the offensive line coach was temporarily suspended. It is reported that Brendel had an excellent game at the Shrine Bowl. Yet he went undrafted. The Cowboys signed him as an UDFA but after getting hurt three weeks into the regular season the Cowboys released him. Brendel was signed by Miami in October of 2016. In 2017 Brendel played in all 16 games and participated in 7% of Miami’s offensive snaps and 20% of the special teams snaps. He filled in for Mike Pouncey when Mike suffered a concussion in the Atlanta game. Jake played well and had a key role in Jay Ajayi’s two 18-yard runs on Miami’s final drive. The Dolphins did not take a center in the draft.

The New York Jets

Lawrence Thomas is a fullback on the Jets. Thomas was ranked as the #5 inside linebacker in the nation coming out of high school y rivals.com. Thomas went to Michigan State. He finished his Michigan career with 27 consecutive starts on the defensive line playing defensive end, nose tackle and defensive tackle. He also had three starts his redshirt freshman season as fullback. His senior year he made honorable mention All-Big Ten(coaches) and was invited to the Senior Bowl. Thomas went undrafted and was signed by the Jets following the draft. During the 2017 season Thomas made an in-season switch from defensive lineman to fullback.  He played in 14 games and recorded 6 receptions for 43 yards. He has impressed the staff as a consistent blocker. Thomas was in on 15% of the offensive snaps, 31% special teams and 2% on defense.  The Jets signed fullback Dimitri Flowers as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 draft giving Thomas competition. Thomas was awarded the Ed Block Courage award in 2017. This years recipients were 32 NFL players elected by their teammates and peers who overcame adversity in order return to the field. Thomas it seems was for the in-season switch from defense to fullback.

Well I hope you enjoyed the post. Drop me a comment to let me know either way. If there is a 2016 UDFA that you would like covered let me know.