Every year, players slip through the cracks in the NFL Draft and must prove their worth as undrafted free agents. It is not impossible, as great players like Chris Harris Jr., London Fletcher, Arian Foster, Cameron Wake, Wes Welker, Jason Peters, Tony Romo, Jeff Saturday, Antonio Gates, and Kurt Warner were all undrafted players that went on to have greatness in the league. The Steelers are no strangers to finding solid undrafted talent, as they have had their fair share of UDFA’s make an impact in recent years. James Harrison, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, Willie Parker, Eli Rogers, and Isaac Redman all were able to make impacts by finding their way into the starting lineup for the Black & Gold. You can make the argument that James Harrison is one of the top UDFA’s of all time in the NFL.
While the odds are stacked against most UDFA’s in the league every year, there is always the possibility that one can find his way into stardom. With a talented, young roster, which Steelers’ UDFA’s will have the best chances of making the 53-man roster this year?
TE Phazahn Odom
There is no denying that Phazahn Odom passes the eyeball test. At 6’8″, 250 lbs., Odom is a huge target that has shown the ability to display athleticism all over the field with ridiculous length and strides that feel like they’re miles in length. If would-be tacklers try to go low to tackle him, he easily does his best Le’Veon Bell impression and simply steps over them. If they try to go too high on him, it proves to be too little to bring him down. So why did a player with this raw ability and size go undrafted? Odom is an extremely raw blocker that often avoids big contact with defensive players in the run game. While Fordham, Odom was rarely used as an inline blocker and will need to improve greatly in this area to make the final roster. The thing is, Odom reminds me a lot of 2014 UDFA tight end Xavier Grimble; an athletic tight end in the pass game and a near-abysmal blocker. With Odom, the Steelers might be enticed with his potential in the pass game as a pass target which is a large reason why they brought him on board in the first place. With the current question marks at tight end, Odom could prove to be too valuable to stash away on the practice squad out of fear of being snatched away from another team.
TE Scott Orndoff
While Odom is an extremely lengthy tight end, Scott Orndoff is almost the definition of a prototypical NFL tight end. At 6’5″, 253 lbs., Orndoff was asked to do it all while at Pitt. Orndoff showed promise as a freshman in college, but was derailed by injuries that prevented him from making a big impact until his junior year, where he had 5 touchdowns with 18.8 yards per catch. During his senior season, Orndoff added an additional 35 receptions for 579 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and another 5 touchdowns. While his yards per catch numbers are a tad bloated, he still has shown the ability to make difficult catches when needed and was a reliable route runner. Steelers tight ends are needed to also block, and Orndoff has been able to do that effectively. Orndoff was a fringe draft player but after a below average combine performance, he never heard his name called. What stands out to me about Orndoff is his slight resemblance to Steelers’ great Heath Miller in one important aspect: Orndoff never shies away from the blow downfield. Whenever he has the ball in his hands, he is not afraid to lower his shoulder and whenever he is evident that he is going to get laid out immediately following the reception, Orndoff hangs in there tough and makes the reception, sacrificing his body for the sake of the offense. That has “Steeler” written all over it. Orndoff could potentially find his way onto the Steelers roster and develop into a nice piece for the offense.
G Ethan Cooper
Being a Division II player is not always easy whenever you have dreams of making it into the NFL. Ethan Cooper proved himself to be one of the best players in the country in D-II and in a below average offensive line class, it was surprising to see him not hear his name called on Day 3 of the draft. With a stocky, girthy frame, Cooper looks like an old school guard that is built for the NFL. He possesses great strength and under-appreciated agility for a 322 lb. that allows him to be surprisingly effective at pulling, which is important for Steelers’ offensive linemen. Cooper doesn’t always clear out holes as a blocker, but that isn’t due to a lack of effort since he always is moving his feet and running through contact; instead, it’s mainly due to technique that could use serious work. Luckily for Cooper, he has the chance to work with the best offensive line coach in the league in the form of Mike Munchak. The Steelers haven’t shied away from bringing in UDFA offensive lineman to fill out their roster (see Foster, Villanueva, Doug Legursky, Chris Hubbard, and B.J. Finney to name a few) and Cooper could be next in line of developmental depth UDFA’s to make it onto the Steelers roster. If the Steelers see enough potential in him to be a long-term possibility, Cooper could turn himself into a camp standout.
DE Francis Kallon
I know what you’re all thinking, and I agree: there is no room for Francis Kallon on the roster right now, especially after signing Tyson Alualu this offseason. But hear me out. Kallon’s story is one of those stories that you hear every now and then of a player who did not begin playing organized football until his senior year of high school. Even then, he didn’t make his first collegiate start until his senior year at Georgia Tech. Although this would make him a virtually undraftable player, the Steelers still used one of their official pre-draft visits on the inexperienced player. At 6’5″, 295 lbs., Kallon has the size and strength to play as a 5-technique in the Steelers’ defense. However, this is not why Kallon could have a shot to make the team. Kallon could be another defensive end that the Steelers could consider attempting to convert to offensive tackle, NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt pointed out. After moving Alejandro Villanueva and Brian Mihalik from defensive end to offensive tackle, Kallon could follow suit. If not, Kallon will still intrigue the Steelers as a defensive prospect with the potential to turn some heads during the preseason.
LB Keith Kelsey
Three-year starter. 311 career tackles. 24.5 career tackles for a loss. 10.5 career sacks. Undrafted free agent. Many scouts knocked Keith Kelsey for his lack of functional speed and project that he can only be a two-down linebacker in the NFL. However, Kelsey reminds me a lot of two current Steelers: Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich. Both players lack “elite” speed on testing but appear to play faster on the field due to giving 120% effort on every single play and are more than willing, consistent tacklers. Kelsey brings that type of ability, passion, and fire to the Steelers. Kelsey has the stats to backup his Steelers-esqe playing style: a downhill player that is always looking to make a huge impact at the line of scrimmage to stop the play… just like Williams and Matakevich. Kelsey won’t stop pursuing the football until he hears the whistle blow… just like Williams and Matakevich. As previously mentioned, Kelsey did not test well on speed events (he ran a 4.92s 40) but still plays with deceptive quickness on the field to always find his way to the ball. With the Steelers depth at linebacker potentially needing some new talent, Kelsey could be just the guy that they need to provide a boost, especially if he can find a way to contribute on special teams.
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