NFC North: DeAndre McDaniel

Another in a series on what looms in the NFC North during the mad scramble to assemble teams when the lockout ends:

NFL front offices will balance an unprecedented number of tasks in the days and weeks after the lockout ends. Perhaps the most chaotic will be the pursuit of undrafted rookies who otherwise would have been signed immediately after the draft.

[+] EnlargeSam Shields
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesSam Shields intercepted a pair of passes in the Packers' win in the NFC Championship Game.
If the NFL expands training camp rosters beyond the traditional total of 80, some teams literally will need dozens of these players to give coaches enough bodies to run the kind of training camp they have planned. Their arrivals will coincide with other important tasks, from signing draft picks to acquiring veteran free agents.

As we noted in April, some of our teams got a head start on this process by trading back in the draft to collect late-round picks. The Minnesota Vikings grabbed six players during the final two rounds of the draft combined, while the Green Bay Packers drafted five. All teams keep a list of players who are on the fringe of the draft, and sometimes the guarantees due a seventh-round pick are cheaper than the results of bidding wars during the hectic free-agent period.

If you doubt the significance of this process, look no further than the Packers. Two rookies who signed last spring as undrafted free agents, linebacker Frank Zombo and nickelback Sam Shields, played prominent roles in the team's run to Super Bowl XLV.

Who will be the next Zombo or Shields? In May, Scouts Inc. ranked the top 40 players who weren't drafted Insider. You'll need an insider subscription to see the entire list, but I can give you a peek at the top 5:

  1. Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged
  2. North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney
  3. Southern Arkansas defensive tackle Cedric Thornton
  4. Auburn receiver Darvin Adams
  5. Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel

If you're wondering if the Vikings might have targeted someone to replace pending free agent Ryan Longwell, Scouts Inc. lists UCLA's Kai Forbath as the top place-kicker available.

DraftWatch: Safeties

January, 7, 2010
In Wednesday’s Team Wrap-ups, we mentioned the safety position as one of the top needs for both Minnesota and Chicago. Detroit could use some help there as well, so let’s examine the early rankings of safeties heading into the 2010 draft.

I moseyed on over to ESPN’s 2010 draft page and found a couple of interesting sources of information.

Scouts Inc. lists three safeties among its top 25 players, starting with Tennessee’s Eric Berry at No. 1 overall. Texas’ Earl Thomas is its 12th-best prospect and Southern California’s Taylor Mays is No. 18. Thomas, who will play Thursday night in the BCS Championship Game, is a junior who hasn’t yet declared for the draft.

(On his updated Big Board, ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranks Berry as his No. 3 prospect and Mays at No. 19.)

Would Detroit take Berry with the No. 2 overall pick? No one knows the answer to that question yet. But in general, safeties are more likely to be taken where the Lions got Louis Delmas last season -- at the top of the second round.

Unless they make a trade, the Bears, won’t pick until about 10 picks into the third round. So we’re going to take it deep in this edition of DraftWatch.

According to Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc., the safety position could be one of the strongest positions in the this draft. Weidl suggests that Thomas would join Berry as a top-15 pick, if he declares, but is dubious of Mays as a potential elite player.

On Mays, Weidl wrote: “…[D]on't be mesmerized by his measurables. We have seen multiple coverage breakdowns from Mays in every game we have studied, including mistakes against Ohio State, California and Boston College that led directly to red zone trips and/or touchdowns for the offense.”

As it stands now, the second tier of safeties includes LSU junior Chad Jones and Clemson junior DeAndre McDaniel, both of whom Scouts Inc. rates as second-round prospects. Want a sleeper? Weidl notes that South Florida senior Nate Allen “is perhaps the most fluid safety in the nation in pass coverage.” Allen might be good enough to try playing cornerback, but in general college safeties aren’t good cornerback prospects in the NFL.

How about that? A draft sleeper in the first full week of January. Every day is a draft day, baby!