Since the NFL Draft was shortened to 7 rounds, and the last player picked dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” the class of players signed in the feeding frenzy of undrafted talent directly after the draft ends is often completely overlooked.
However, a quick glance at a list of top undrafted players in NFL history brings us names like Wes Welker, Priest Holmes, Nate Newton, James Harrison, Kurt Warner and, of course, Arian Foster.
While there’s no guarantee this years crop of Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs) is going to provide Houston with a future Hall of Famer, there are a few who might not only make the roster but contribute in a very positive manner.
Signing undrafted rookies also lets a team quickly address areas of need that weren’t glaring enough to warrant early round draft picks, or in some cases any draft picks. For the Texans, those areas are the running back corps, wide receivers and interior defensive line. Thankfully, the Texans addressed all three spots with UDFAs.
Let’s face it, the Texans essentially did nothing to improve their running back corps, unless that is, you’re one of those people who think getting rid of Alfred Blue immediately upgraded the team. Cue Missouri back Damarea Crockett and Michigan Wolverine back Karan Higdon.
Running Back: Damarea Crockett
NFL Draft Network
PROS: Flashes of elusiveness in the open field that could make a few highlight reels. Has the ability to scoot through creases when they open up. While not a tackle-breaker, shows good fight to fall forward and will occasionally bounce off some bad form tackle attempts. Has agility to slip tacklers. Jump cut is nasty when he uses it. Bouncy feet lead him to creases up front. Steps up in pass protection, squaring up and locking down all comers through the first three game tapes I’ve studied.
CONS: Completely unproven as a receiver, just nine career catches. Major fumble concerns, currently has fumbled once every 40 touches in his Missouri. Spindly frame, more of a herky-jerky mover than an explosive one. Not a tackle-breaker, easily brought down by first contact. Disappointing number of lower arm tackles bring him down. Upright runner who exposes a lot of surface area for hits.
Internal clock behind the line of scrimmage needs to tick faster. Doesn’t run outside zone fast enough, could be a processing issue. Vision is inconsistent. Too indecisive as a runner, allows penetration to catch up with him in the backfield. Lacks breakaway speed, and takes a few strides to get to his top speed. Athleticism is going to be a major question mark, although he tested well out of high school.
Running Back: Karan Higdon
NFL Draft Tracker
Karan (pronounced ka-RON) Higdon played for former Florida and NFL safety Todd Johnson at Riverview High School in Sarasota. A move to the Midwest resulted in his playing in three games as a true freshman in 2015 (11 carries, 19 yards, 1.7 ypc). Higdon received more playing time as a reserve the following year, carrying the ball 72 times for 425 yards (5.9 ypc) and six scores in 12 games. He was a more consistent threat as a junior, starting seven of 13 games played and garnering third-team All-Big Ten honors with 994 yards and 11 touchdowns on 164 totes (6.1 ypc). Higdon stepped up his game as a senior, garnering first-team all-conference accolades as the Wolverines’ top rusher (224 carries, 1,178 yards, 5.3 ypc, 10 touchdowns in 11 starts). He sat out the team’s Orange Bowl loss to Florida to prepare for the draft.
Karan Higdon, RB, MichiganIn my book, Higdon is the chalk among this class of undrafted free agents to make the team. Combine the acute need at that position — right now, the entire depth chart is essentially Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman — with Higdon’s productivity and tools (ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at his pre-draft workouts, and gained over 1,000 yards last season at Michigan), and perhaps the Texans have found their next great undrafted running back. Of course, I may have said the same thing last year about UDFA RB Terry Swanson, and he didn’t even make the Texans’ practice squad. For what it’s worth, longtime NFL personnel guru had Higdon as the No. 1 undrafted RB, so there’s that.
Next up we have a pair of wide receivers who could find the field faster than they run the 40-yard dash. With DeAndre Hopkins a lock at WR1, but Will Fuller and Keke Coutee almost assured to miss time with injuries, there are a lot of question marks on the depth chart after D-Hop. While Vyncint Smith and DeAndre Carter should have a shot at the WR2 or WR3 slot depending on which combo of Fuller/Coutee is off the injury report on any given week, Oklahoma State’s Tyron Johnson and Ohio State’s Johnnie Dixon could both see the field early and often if they learn, adapt and excel quickly enough.
Cowboys Ride For Free
(Tyron) Johnson, a former five-star recruit, transferred to OSU from LSU in 2016. In his final season with the Cowboys, he made 53 receptions for 845 yards and seven touchdowns. The New Orleans product was named offensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl after racking up 141 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches in OSU’s victory over Missouri on New Year’s Eve.
Johnson made 80 catches for 1,288 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his career with the Cowboys.
Texans Sports Nation
(Johnnie) Dixon chose the Texans over several competing offers, including the Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. His contract includes $50,000 guaranteed with a $40,000 first-year base salary guarantee and a $10,000 signing bonus
”I had a pretty good market for free agency,” Dixon said. “I already had it all set up where I wanted to go. It all fell into a perfect place. I didn’t think I was going to be a free agent, but they said I was at the top of the list if I didn’t get drafted.”
A former blue-chip recruit from Dwyer High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., the 5-10, 201-pounder runs the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. He had a 37½-inch vertical leap and a 4.43 20-yard shuttle.
As a junior, Dixon caught eight touchdowns and averaged 23.4 yards per catch on 18 receptions for 422 yards.
While Houston has the edge set, for sure, with players like J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Duke Ejiofor, the interior defensive line could stand an upgrade or two. What does Houston tend to do when in need of a defensive lineman? Turn to the Clemson Tigers (or Houston Texans East, as they may as well be known these days...)
In addition, Sean Pendergast had this to say about him:
Huggins was part of a defensive line room that had three first round picks in it, so it’s hard to get yours with so many dogs out there eating. We know that the Texans love them some Clemson Tigers, especially on the defensive line, which already has D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins. The Texans showed last season that they’re willing to go heavy with numbers on the defensive line, if the talent warrants it. Also, like Dixon, Huggins got a sizable $40,000 guarantee for an undrafted free agent. Huggins benched 225 pounds 35 times at the NFL Combine, so I feel like if I don’t put him on this list, he could squash my skull with his bare hands.
What do you think? Any of these UDFAs get your blood flowing? Think one (or more) of them is going to crack the final 53 in a big way? Expect them all to bust? Convinced a player I didn’t mention is the cream of the UDFA crop? Give us your insights in the comments!