Cleveland Browns: 12 best UDFAs since 1999

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Your Cleveland Browns have found several starters among undrafted free agents (UDFAs), and have even sent a few to the Pro Bowl and Josh Cribbs made All-Pro. 

Undrafted free agents are extremely important as a source of players for all NFL teams, including your Cleveland Browns, who have had their share of stars over the years.

Looking at the roster from the standpoint of an amateur general manager, value is defined as production divided by the cost of the player’s services. “Production” is a difficult term to define precisely, but intuitively it’s about how much a player helps the team win football games.

How much is each player helping the team to win versus how much is the team paying him to do it? In the case of UDFAs on their rookie contracts, the paycheck is almost always the NFL minimum or close to it, so if the team can get contributors and pay very little for them, that is the definition of high value.

The Browns have had some good ones. There might be some others that slipped through our net, but at least three UDFAs went to a Pro Bowl; one became an All-Pro; two went to the Super Bowl — and one was on the winning side.

Why is it that UDFAs are usually bigger contributors than the team’s sixth and seventh-round draft picks? It’s not that teams are terrible at drafting (except for your Browns who seemed to have never produced a decent seventh-round draft choice). However, remember that they bring in 10 to 15 UDFAs in summer camp, and even more as injury replacements, so there are many chances to find a good player with UDFAs.

For that reason, there are usually two or three UDFAs on the team every year, but usually only one seventh-round pick and one sixth-round pick.

A team that can find major contributors among UDFAs is going to have a healthy roster and can survive the stretch run in December. Conversely, it’s not possible to sign top-dollar free agents at every position on the field, and teams that have no depth are exposed in the last month of the season.

For the purposes of this article, a UDFA does not have to be a true rookie who was signed by the Browns for his first contract. A UDFA who signed somewhere else, got cut, and then picked up by the Browns is still a UDFA to this author’s thinking.

However, if the player was on an NFL roster for a while and got as a second-year player, then he was not really a UDFA, especially if he signed for more than the league minimum (KhaDarel Hodge or Brian Hoyer were never drafted, but they came to the Browns as established veterans, so that’s why they were not considered). Players are listed who had at least one good year with the Browns, even if their best years came with another team.

Rather than rank each player in terms of ability, which is just too hard, Charley Hughlett is listed first because he is still on the active roster, and because this article also serves as an editorial to encourage the Dawg Pound to vote him into the Pro Bowl.

He’s the best long snapper in the AFC and deserves to be recognized. After Hughlett, the players are listed in reverse chronological order starting with D’Ernest Johnson and concluding with all-time Browns great Phil Dawson of the Class of 1999. In between, there have been some very good players. The Browns can actually scout talent (except for the quarterback position).

One player who should be on the list based on his accomplishments on the field is Isaiah Crowell, but after his obscene gesture on national TV when he returned to the Dawg Pound as a New York Jet, we just could not find the bandwidth on the website to mention him. Tsk, tsk.

The players are listed in order, except that Charley Hughlett is leading off so that everyone who reads this article would at least see the teaser and be made aware that long snappers are now part of the Pro Bowl, and our guy needs to be there.

Cleveland Browns UDFA No. 12: Charley Hughlett should be in the Pro Bowl!

Cleveland Browns

Nov 29, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Cleveland Browns long snapper Charley Hughlett (47) walks on the field during warmups before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

What? Charley Hughlett in the Pro Bowl, you ask? How could this be?

We never hear anything about him! That’s exactly why Hughlett deserves to be in the Pro Bowl. You never want to hear anything about the long snapper, because, in order to be famous, he has to hike the ball over the punter’s head. However, Hughlett is absolutely reliable. In preparation for this article, I googled “Charley Hughlett bad snap” and came up empty. Nothing. Nada.

Since 2019 the position of long snapper has been selected for the Pro Bowl, and if anyone in football deserves to go, Charley Hughlett of the Browns absolutely deserves it. The Browns made him the highest-paid long snapper in football back in 2017 with a six-year contract, because the Browns knew what they had. It was a brilliant signing.

Hughlett has been the anonymous Brown since 2015, which is exactly what we want for the long snapper. No surprises, just hike the ball, get clobbered by a rhinoceros wearing a football uniform, for that’s who plays opposite the long snapper on special teams, and then see if you can make yourself useful by hustling down the field. That’s exactly what Hughlett does, and he is among the best in the business.

Hughlett has 18 tackles in 113 career games to his credit, including a forced fumble, which is actually not half bad for a long snapper. That’s an average of 2.5 per season. You could interpret that in one of two ways. One is that Hughlett hustles down the field in punt coverage very well. The other interpretation is that the Browns gunners are not containing the punt returner as well as they should.

Hughlett wasn’t drafted, but he bounced around with different organizations before catching on with the Browns. He was initially signed by the Dallas Cowboys who cut him. He is a three-time New England Patriot, plus he was a Jacksonville Jaguar and a Kansas City Chief.

But he has only worn a Browns uniform on the field in an NFL game. He was in camp with the Browns in 2014 but did not make the 53-player roster on the first try.

He had to get cut six times before making and ultimately becoming the highest-paid at his position in the NFL. Granted, it is the lowest-paid position in the NFL, but he is still vital to the success of the team and he truly fought his way to the top. Nobody gave him anything. He’s a true member of the Dawg Pound. He is one of us, and it is our duty as fans to help get him to the Pro Bowl.

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