Last year, many in the Texans fanbase was surprised by the defensive prowess of undrafted free agent (UFDA) linebacker Dylan Cole from little known Missouri State.
Undrafted Free Agents are rookies who weren’t selected in the NFL Draft, are then signed by a team as a free agent, and make the roster usually by usurping the spot of an underperforming veteran.
Teams love them because they are cheap, easily replaceable, push veterans or overconfident rookies for there jobs, and round out the roster with youth. A team doesn't have to take any, but usually one or two sneak onto each NFL roster every year.
Life as an UDFA can be harsh because the lack of investment the team has put into them makes them extraordinarily expendable. Most drafted rookies are signed to four-year contracts, but UDFAs usually sign one-year contracts with most of the money coming if they make the roster.
After a flurry of cuts and several surprising releases, the Texans have recently finalized a 53-man roster that contains five UDFAs. This is the most we have kept in a long time.
What may be most surprising is the manner of which they chose these UDFAs. Vyncint Smith dazzled in the preseason and upset Braxton Miller to be the sixth wide receiver on the team. Punter Trevor Daniel wrestled the job away from potential Hall of Famer Shane Lechler in the most underappreciated position battle in all of training camp. Then, over the weekend, when waiver claims began for players recently cut, A.J. Moore, Natrell Jamerson, and Buddy Howell were added to the active roster as the Texans had a fortunate waiver wire position (fourth, based off the 2017 season).
A.J. Moore, a safety/nickel corner out of Ole Miss, was released by the New England Patriots and swiftly added onto Houston’s active roster. Pats Pulpit wrote a quick bio on him and his talents, which you can view here. Moore only had six tackles in the preseason, so I’m curious what the Texans see in Moore for them to choose him over Kurtis Drummond. According to Pats Pulpit, Moore did not do anything special or deserving of a roster spot while in New England:
Releasing Moore is no surprise from the Patriots’ perspective: even though New England moved on from safety Jordan Richards yesterday and is thin behind the top trio at the position, the undrafted rookie never did enough to earn a roster spot, especially with Jason McCourty getting additional playing time at the safety position as of late.
Maybe it’s a scheme fit, but the conspiracy theorist in me believes the Texans added him to get an inside scoop on the Patriots’ secondary play for the Week 1 game coming up. If so, Moore is an expendable player who may provide special teams help.
Vyncint Smith was an UDFA who signed with the Texans immediately after the NFL Draft. The highlight from Smith’s preseason experience came when he caught a 41 yard touchdown pass from QB Joe Webb III against the 49ers. He also made an impressive catch downfield against the Rams.
At 6’3” and 195 lbs., Smith is by far the tallest receiver on the Texans. He can run more routes than Braxton Miller could and also provides a skill set that the Texans don’t have in abundance. From the limited film that I can find of him (since he played his football at D-II Limestone College), Smith plays best on the outside against soft Cover Two schemes. He is good at tracking the ball in the air, but needs to work on not having his hands out too early for defensive backs to swipe at. A very raw prospect, the coaches must see enough in him to keep him on the roster.
The move I least agree with was cutting RB Troymaine Pope and adding RB Buddy Howell, who was cut by the Miami Dolphins. It’s not like the Dolphins are flourishing at the running back position, so for Howell to be cut by them does not bode for a fruitful NFL career. Howell played at Florida Atlantic and was signed by the Dolphins right after the NFL Draft. He scored twice in Week 4 of the preseason against the Falcons, first on a one yard touchdown run where he bowled into a scrum of players late in the first quarter.
Howell has a great combination of talents: quick hands, hard hitting, and a willing blocker. Admittedly, the native Floridian balled out in preseason, making plays like this, where he catches a pass in the flat before using excellent vision and balance to make a fool out defenders trying to make an open field tackle.
With D’Onta Foreman on the PUP to begin the the season, depth and dependability at running back will be of vital importance.
The roster cuts were ruthless for the Saints this year as Natrell Jamerson, the team’s fifth round pick (and two other drafted players) were cut from the team. The Texans did not allow him to clear waivers as they picked him up and added him to the roster; it’s like Houston basically, by proxy, snagged another selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Although it is said that Jamerson had a “slow start in training camp”, he will be used as a special teams gunner and dime safety here. You cannot have this conversation without comparing him to Corey Moore, an UDFA who had started and played significant time with the Texans but was released on September 1st.
Jamerson will be a project already on his second team before he even takes a snap in the NFL. Moore, on the other hand, was a talented young safety who knows the system and could step in at any moment and play well for this team. It’s hard to believe that the Texans chose to go with Jamerson over Moore, taking a big chance on a player they know significantly less about, though I suppose the Texans can take a chance on a prospect that falls into their lap. Here is a college highlight video of Jamerson.
Lastly, the punter position this year featured one of the best to ever kick a football in the NFL in Shane Lechler against an UDFA college phenom in Trevor Daniel. Daniel is far from a household name, but if the young kicker could inspire enough confidence that the coaching staff had no choice but to release a guy who’ll likely have his bust in Canton one day, the young punter must have put on a show in training camp.
Lechler, in his 19th season in the NFL, probably is playing either his last or close to last season of football. Trevor Daniel shined from the moment he stepped onto the Texans practice field. According to The Chronicle’s John McClain: “Shane Lechler did’t lose the job, Trevor Daniel won it.” This speaks volumes about the prowess of the rookie. I do remember late in the third quarter against the Cowboys in the preseason finale Trevor Daniel shanking a punt for only 30 yards and the ball not leaving our side of the field, so the kid is no flawless prodigy. The Texans have chosen to endure a few bumps in the road as they now put an UDFA in a starting role, but they could be investing in their future punter for years to come.
Were you surprised by any of the UDFAs the Texans chose to keep on the roster?