Last week, we discussed Monti Ossenfort’s first draft class as Cardinals GM. This week, we’ll discuss his first group of undrafted free agents. Can any of them make an impact for the Cardinals this season?
Before we dive in, note that it’s fairly rare for an undrafted free agent (UDFA) to even make the Week 1 roster, let alone make an impact during the season. There are over 200 players drafted, and there’s usually a good reason the kind of players we’re talking about weren’t one of them.
Just looking at last year, none of the UDFAs the Cardinals signed made the Week 1 roster. The only one who even really saw the field was DT Manny Jones, who played in 4 games, logging just 59 snaps on defense (6 combined tackles). No real impact there, but he should be part of the D-line rotation this season, so Jones still somewhat qualifies as a success story.
This season, we have a new regime that is focused on rebuilding a roster with a ton of holes. So the chances of an UDFA making an impact are probably higher than normal. So who are the candidates? Let’s find out, starting with some guys who probably won’t be making much of an impact for the Cardinals this season.
Likely Little to No Impact
These guys are all looking up at relatively crowded depth charts and face competition from recent actual draftees. It’ll be an uphill battle to even make the roster, especially for Arias. We just drafted a similar receiver in Michael Wilson in the 3rd round, and the likes of Greg Dortch and Zach Pascal are much more proven NFL commodities. Perhaps he can beat out JAGs like Andre Baccellia, Auden Tate, and Javon Wims, but it’s relatively unlikely.
But maybe one of the TEs can make a splash in training camp and stick around. Whiteheart is more of an all-around TE while Honigford is a blocker only. I don’t know anything about the two names behind Zach Ertz and Trey McBride on the depth chart (Noah Togiai and Chris Pierce Jr.), so there’s room for one of these guys to make a move up the depth chart and/or contribute on special teams. But it’s still a longshot—will we even carry more than three TEs?
Small Chance of Making an Impact
Let’s start with the RB out of TCU. It’s hardly unheard of for UDFA running backs to make an impact. In recent years, guys like Deon Jackson, Salvon Ahmed, and, especially, James Robinson have all been productive NFL players when given the opportunity. I’m not saying Demercado is next, but the depth chart after the injury-prone James Conner looks like this: Keaontay Ingram (didn’t exactly distinguish himself as a rookie last year), Corey Clement (journeyman, more of a pass catcher), and Ty’Son Williams (Ravens castoff, barely used last year). Note as well that Clement and Williams were both UDFAs as well. It’ll be interesting to keep tabs on Demercado as the offseason progresses.
Linebacker may actually be the deepest position on the Cardinals, so I wouldn’t expect Pierre or Soelle (Go Devils!) to really see the field on defense this season if they make the team, but they could absolutely make an impact on special teams. Especially given that the Cardinals parted ways with several longtime special teamers this offseason. (That said, I wouldn’t argue if you wanted to slot these two in the previous tier.)
The Opportunity Is There to Make an Impact
The one guy who might actually have the best chance of making the team is Hembrough. The Cardinals parted ways with longtime longsnapper Aaron Brewer (say that five times fast) this offseason, and Hembrough was a good one in college (he was a finalist for the best longsnapper award, which I didn’t even know was a thing). If he has a clean camp/preseason, he could be the Cardinals new longsnapper.
The Cardinals are in desperate need of size on the interior D-line even after drafting Dante Stills in the 6th round. Enter Slade, a productive college player who measures 6’3”, 293 lbs. There’s really no one of note at DT on the depth chart—the unimposing Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu, the aforementioned Jones and Stills, former Titan Kevin Strong—so Slade has a real chance to stick around and be part of the DT rotation.
That leaves us with the two DBs—another big area of need for the Cardinals, especially CB. White is perhaps the buzziest name of the Cardinals UDFAs and is looking up at a barren depth chart behind Marco Wilson (Antonio Hamilton, Rashad Fenton, 2023 draft picks Garrett Williams and Kei’Trel Clark, a bunch of JAGs). He has a real chance at making the Week 1 roster.
There’s also a bunch of JAGs behind Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson—and there’s a non-zero chance Baker is traded before the season. It’s also worth noting that Brooks was given the biggest guarantee of all Cardinals UDFAs. That’s no, ahem, guarantee that he’ll make the roster, but he has as good of a chance as any of these guys.
Of course, the unfortunately most likely scenario is exactly what happened last season: none of these guys make the regular season roster, and maybe 1-2 play a handful of snaps late in the season after hanging out on the practice squad all year.
Then again, tell that to former Cardinal Kurt Warner, who famously went from UDFA to HOF in recent years. So did John Randle. Antonio Gates will be joining them sooner rather than later. So, too, might Jason Peters and some linebacker who played in Pittsburgh. (Plus a ton of notable old-timers, but the draft/league were much different in those days.)
You just never know in the NFL. Let’s just hope even one of these guys turns out to be a diamond in the rough.