- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Even though the draft is over, the search for college prospects is not. Teams started striking deals with undrafted players immediately after the 253rd and final player was drafted Saturday.
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have a knack for finding these hidden gems. The Ravens pride themselves on their success with undrafted players, from Priest Holmes to Mike Flynn to Bart Scott to Jameel McClain. The Steelers have a solid track record as well, starting four former undrafted players in the playoffs last season (linebacker James Harrison, guards Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky and running back Isaac Redman).
The reason these teams do so well is their ability to identify the players who might not be drafted and establish a relationship early. Signing undrafted players is all about recruiting them. You have to sell prospects on opportunity. You have to convince a player that he has a better shot with your team than anywhere else.
Where the Ravens and Steelers have an advantage is their track record. They can prove to players that they will be given a shot. All they have to do is tell them they could be the next Willie Parker or Bart Scott.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns have had mild success with undrafted players. Bengals fullback Chris Pressley signed as an undrafted rookie in 2009, and center Kyle Cook went undrafted in 2007 (although he originally signed with the Minnesota Vikings). Browns pass-rusher Marcus Benard had 7.5 sacks in 2010, a year after he went undrafted.
Here are the undrafted players to keep your eye on:
BENGALS: ILB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State. Maturity issues and a terrible NFL scouting combine caused him to free fall from a highly rated prospect to an undrafted one. He's still an explosive hitter who plays with emotion. There's a chance he could be backing up middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Other to watch: RB Rodney Stewart (Colorado) is a small (5-foot-6) scatback who could catch on as a returner.
BROWNS: WR Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State. He already has a rapport with the starting quarterback after being Brandon Weeden's second-leading receiver last season. Cooper is a savvy route runner who lacks explosion. Still, he could catch on to a weak wide receiver group. Others to watch: CB Antwuan Reed (Pittsburgh) is an undersized but hard-working defender; C Garth Gerhart (Arizona State) is a smart three-year starter who has limited upside.
RAVENS: CB-PR Charles Brown, North Carolina. He's a tough three-year starer who plays aggressively despite being only 5-foot-9. Brown, who was projected to go in the fifth or sixth round, also has experience as a returner. Others to watch: FB Chad Diehl (Clemson) is a physical lead blocker who can become an impact special-teams player; NT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (Baylor) is a stout space-eater with questionable endurance; G Antoine McClain (Clemson) is a physical mauler who was projected to go in the fifth or sixth round; TE Nick Provo (Syracuse) can stretch the field down the seam but is a below-average blocker; S Cyhl Quarles (Wake Forest) has good size but has been inconsistent as a playmaker.
STEELERS: P Drew Butler, Georgia. He has a very good chance at being the punter this year after the Steelers declined to re-sign Daniel Sepulveda. The only other punter on the roster is Jeremy Kapinos. Butler, who was projected to go as high as the fifth round, is a strong-legged and polished punter. He has good bloodlines as well. His father, Kevin, was the longtime kicker for the Chicago Bears (1985-95). The Steelers might have found their punter this year without wasting a third-round pick like the Jacksonville Jaguars. Others to watch: WR-RS Marquis Maze (Alabama) is a slippery slot receiver and returner who has to prove he can stay healthy; OLB Brandon Lindsey (Pittsburgh) is a speed rusher who fell down draft boards after a disappointing combine.