0 of 3
Jim Dedmon/Associated Press
While the 2021 NFL draft ended on Saturday, the annual selection process wasn’t over with the final pick. Teams scrambled after the draft to sign undrafted free agents, treating many of them like additional draft selections with a price tag.
It has become an increasingly frequent practice to pay top undrafted free agents like late draft picks in order to bring them into the fold. Why? Because undrafted players can have immense value.
Take running back James Robinson for example. He produced more than 1,400 scrimmage yards in 2021 after not hearing his name called on draft day.
Several talented undrafted free agents have already signed, including Duke running back Deon Jackson, who was reportedly paid handsomely to join the Indianapolis Colts.
1 of 3
Jim Dedmon/Associated Press
If fans were wondering how much emphasis the Colts will put on the run this season, the signing of Jackson could provide the answer. Indianapolis already had Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins on the roster. According to NFL reporter Aaron Wilson, the Colts are giving Jackson the highest signing bonus of any undrafted free agent.
“Duke running back Deon Jackson got a $45,000 signing bonus from the Indianapolis Colts as a priority free agent, highest signing bonus for an undrafted rookie this year, per a league source,” Wilson tweeted.
Jackson, who rushed for 682 yards last season, was clearly valued by the Colts, perhaps for his special teams potential. Jackson returned kicks 23 kicks in 2018.
However, it’s unlikely that Jackson will carve out a significant offensive role as a rookie, given the Colts’ depth at the running back position.
Year 1 Prediction: 174 rushing yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions, 25 receiving yards, 15 kickoff returns
2 of 3
Matthew Hinton/Associated Press
Jackson isn’t the only undrafted free agent who has signed a substantial deal. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Cleveland Browns signed former Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson to a deal that includes a $30,000 signing bonus and $162,000 in guarantees.
Wilson, who was a dominant defender in 2018 and 2019, likely slid out of the draft because of an underwhelming 2020 campaign in which he battled weight issues. However, he has the physical potential to be a fine NFL contributor.
“Former 5-star recruit who flashed good power, talent and motor in 2019 to back that rating up. However, Wilson wore excess weight in 2020, which slowed him and made him much less effective,” NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein wrote.
Wilson should have an early opportunity to produce in Cleveland, which parted with defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson in the offseason.
Year 1 Prediction: 34 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks
3 of 3
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
Former TCU safety Ar’Darius Washington is also reportedly getting some guaranteed money as an undrafted free agent. According to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Washington will receive a $15,000 signing bonus and $100,000 in guarantees.
Washington, who was considered worthy of a sixth- or seventh-round pick by Zierlein, should get into the defensive rotation as a third safety or nickel corner. He’s a bit undersized (5’8″, 176 lbs) but has the physicality and instincts needed to fit in Baltimore.
“Washington falls well below the desired measurables for a safety, but he plays with outstanding instincts and aggression in everything he does,” Zierlein wrote. “He has good foot quickness and really reads play development and quarterback intentions with clear eyes.”
Washington’s aggressive style of play and tackling ability—he had 37 tackles in 10 games last season—should make him a natural fit on special teams.
Year 1 Prediction: 38 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception