Cleveland Browns: 4 UDFAs to keep an eye on
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns signed 11 undrafted free agents this week. Here are four of them to keep an eye on.
The Cleveland Browns followed up what was a mostly productive 2016 NFL Draft this week by signing a group of undrafted free agents that are receiving praise.
According to Chad Reuter at NFL.com, the Browns had the second-best haul of undrafted players:
"After the draft, the Browns found two very different but quite talented nose tackles in Nile Lawrence-Stample and Kyle Rose. Despite having 14 picks, the team hadn’t addressed that spot … probably because they knew they could get backup candidates in free agency. Cornerback Kenya Dennis is an athletic player with potential. On offense, tight end J.P. Holtz is a solid pass-catcher. Paul James from Rutgers would have been a mid-round pick without the injury issues, so don’t be surprised if he shocks some NFL folks with his explosiveness in the preseason. Patrick Skov is a special-teamer and contributor at fullback who could stick."
That’s nice as the Browns can use all the help they can get. It also continues a tradition of the Browns doing well (and in some cases better) in finding undrafted players than they do in actually drafting them, especially in the first round. Over the past few years the Browns roster has included Tashaun Gipson, K’Waun Williams, Isaiah Crowell, Craig Robertson, Jamie Meder, Johnson Bademosi and Taylor Gabriel, who have all joined the team as undrafted free agents.
With 14 draft picks looking for roster spots this year, it may be difficult for any of the 11 undrafted free agents to earn a spot, but here are four of them who have the best chance of being one of the 53 comes this fall.
Kicker Brad Craddock, Maryland
Brad Craddock was the Lou Groza Award winner in 2014 as the nation’s best kicker, a season that also saw him earner First Team All-Big Ten and All-American honors. He made 57 field goals in 70 career attempts for the Terrapins, and was 126-of-130 on extra points. The biggest negative against Craddock is that he only attempted four kicks of more than 50 yards the past two season, converting on two of them.
While incumbent kicker Travis Coons was perfect on field goals inside the 40 last season, his lack of leg strength was evident as his longest field goal was from 47 yards. In addition, his four blocked kicks all came on long attempts.
If Craddock can show that he has a stronger leg, then it is not a big leap to see him taking over the kicking duties from Coons.
Center Mike Matthews, Texas A&M
Now that Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is in Atlanta, the Browns are turning over the center position to second-year player Cameron Erving who, while talented, only played center at Florida State for a handful of games. Erving deserves the first shot at the starter’s role, but the Browns would be wise to have a solid plan in place if Erving struggles.
Mike Matthews played center for the Aggies for three years, during which the team averaged 424.7 yards of offense in 2015 and led the SEC in passing in 2014. He was also the top-rated draft prospect at his position in the SEC – above Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, a first-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts, according to Pro Football Focus:
"Jake Matthews’ brother is an excellent interior offensive line prospect. He finished as our 12th overall center, recording solid grades in both pass protection and as a run blocker. Matthews allowed just a single knockdown in 2015, to go with a further seven hurries, culminating in a +7.5 grade. He was only a solid run blocker but was good enough to suggest he can forge a career in the pros."
Matthews is not regarded as starting material, especially right out of the gate, but having him on the roster as a back-up to Erving may be in the best interests of the guys in the backfield.
Tight end J.P. Holtz, Pittsburgh
The Browns have Gary Barnidge and added Shane Devalve in the draft, but can still use help at the tight end position.
Holtz started 48 games for the Panthers, finishing with 81 career receptions for 931 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even though his numbers are not over-whelming, they may not reflect his true abilities, according to si.com:
"It would have been fun to see Holtz in a more wide-open offense, because the receiving abilities always have been there. In fact, he averaged 14.6 yards per catch this season, on 20 receptions. Holtz (6’4″, 245) did fill a crucial role in Pittsburgh’s run-heavy offense and his blocking talent will help come draft time."
With Barnidge and Devalve handling the pass-catching portion of the position, Holtz has an opportunity to take over the blocking role formally held by Jim Dray.
Defensive lineman Nile Lawrence-Stample, Florida State
The Browns addressed part of the problems along the defensive line in the draft with Emmanuel Ogban and Carl Nassib, but the interior of the line could still use some help.
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Danny Shelton is the unquestioned starter at nose tackle, with Meder as his backup, which could give Nile Lawrence-Stample an opportunity. The 6-foot-1, 320-pounder started 12 games for the Seminoles in 2015, earning All-ACC First Team honors. According to his draft profile at NFL.com, Lawrence-Stample possesses a skill that the Browns desperately need:
"Lawrence-Stample is a run-stuffer, pure and simple. The nose tackle eats double teams for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If single-blocked, however, Lawrence-Stample can find the ball and has the short-area quickness to make the play, so NFL teams looking for a pure nose tackle could be interested. A healthy 2015 season, where he played in all 13 games and earned first-team All-ACC honors (36 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks), gave NFL scouts something to consider when reviewing interior defenders."
If he can outwork Meder in training camp, Lawrence-Stample may find his way onto the roster as a very capable backup to Shelton.