Huskers Have Had Success as Undrafted Free Agents
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Huskers Have Had Success as Undrafted Free Agents

May 01, 2019

At this point, it’s probably safe to assume everyone knows Nebraska didn’t have a single player taken in the NFL Draft last weekend. However, as disappointing as it might have been, the draft hopefuls’ chance at playing at the next level didn’t end on Saturday.

As soon as the draft ended — and potentially before then for some of the now former Huskers — phones started ringing as teams reached out to sign players to undrafted free agent deals or invite them to camp, giving their dreams new life.

Wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Running back Devine Ozigbo signed with the New Orleans Saints. Linebacker Luke Gifford signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Linebacker Dedrick Young signed with the Cleveland Browns. Safety Aaron Williams signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Three of Nebraska’s offensive linemen received invitations to team minicamps: Jerald Foster (New York Giants), Tanner Farmer (Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans) and Cole Conrad (Minnesota Vikings).

The former Huskers have a lot of work to do before earning a roster spot, and it might not even happen right away. But history shows that many of those who stick with it eventually find their way to the league.

Of the 28 Huskers currently in the NFL, 10 of them went undrafted.

2018

Last year, quarterback Tanner Lee was the only Husker drafted. A handful of others signed undrafted free agent deals or got invited to camp and three of them made a roster in one way or another. 

Offensive lineman Nick Gates left Nebraska a year early and went undrafted but signed with the Giants. However, he was placed on injured reserve in September. 

Defensive back Joshua Kalu signed with the Tennessee Titans, got cut in August, re-signed with the team eight days later and ultimately landed on the practice squad. The Titans called him up to the active roster in December and he appeared in five games, recording four tackles. 

Cornerback Chris Jones signed with the Detroit Lions after the draft but was cut at the end of camp. Two days later he signed to the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad. He played in one game, got cut and re-signed to the practice roster then promoted to the active roster again to close out the season.

2017

Safety-turned-linebacker Nathan Gerry was the only Husker drafted in 2017. 

Wide Receiver Brandon Reilly signed with the Buffalo Bills, was placed on the practice squad after camp and got the call-up to the active roster in December. He never appeared in a game and the Bills cut him at the end of camp prior to the 2018 season. Reilly had stints with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys practice squads last season and he signed a reserve/futures contract with the Lions, giving them his rights heading into the 2019 preseason. 

Tight end Cethan Carter signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and made the roster, though he never appeared in a game, Carter was making a push for a spot on the depth chart last season before a shoulder injury sent him to IR.

2016

In 2016, Nebraska had three players drafted — defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine and fullback Andy Janovich. 

Of the undrafted free agents from that class, offensive lineman Zach Sterup is the only one still hanging around the league. He spent time on the practice squads of the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Browns during his first season. The Miami Dolphins signed him off the Browns’ practice squad in 2017 and he’s played in 12 games with two starts for the Dolphins over the last couple of seasons.

2015

Running Back Ameer Abdullah and edge rusher Randy Gregory were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, but there aren’t any free agents from that class left in the league.

2014

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, offensive lineman Spencer Long and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa were taken in the 2014 Draft, and a pair of undrafted offensive linemen from that class have also carved out solid careers for themselves. 

Brent Qvale tried out for the Jets and earned a contract, but a concussion limited him during camp and he didn’t make the roster, though he did join the practice squad. The following year, Qvale did make the 53-man roster and has been on the team ever since, appearing in 60 games with 14 starts. 

Friend of Hail Varsity Radio Jeremiah Sirles started on the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad, got promoted to the active roster, made his debut then made his first start. The following year, the Chargers traded him to the Vikings. He spent two seasons in Minnesota then signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2018. The Panthers placed him on injured reserve before releasing him in September, however, and he signed with the Bills later that month and has been with them since. He’s played in 42 NFL games with 20 starts.

2013

Rex Burkhead and Damion Stafford were Nebraska’s draft picks in 2013, though Stafford is no longer in football. 

Linebacker Will Compton is probably the most successful defensive undrafted free agent in recent Husker history as he’s carved out a solid six-year playing career for himself so far. Compton signed with the Washington Redskins after the draft but ended up on the practice squad. He got promoted to the active roster in December and worked his way up the depth chart into a starting role during his time in Washington. He spent five seasons there before joining the Tennessee Titans last season. He’s appeared in 69 games with 35 starts, recording 298 tackles, 12 passes defended and three interceptions. He’s currently a free agent, though injuries have limited him the past two seasons. 

Kicker Brett Maher’s story is a little different. He earned a contract with the  Jets thanks to a rookie tryout but they cut him in July after signing veteran Billy Cundiff. In August, the Cowboys signed him to fill in for an injured Dan Bailey during the preseason, but that only lasted two weeks. After that, he headed North to play in the CFL for a couple of years. The Browns kicked the tires on him in 2017 but he failed to beat out Cleveland’s rookie Zane Gonzalez and returned to the CFL for that season. Last year, the Cowboys brought him back and this time they cut Bailey, making Maher their starting kicker. He went 29-of-36 (80.6 percent) on field goals and 32-of-33 on extra points last season. Maher kicked two game-winning field goals. He was 6-of-7 from beyond 50 yards including one kick of 55 yards and another of 62, setting a new franchise record and tying for the third-longest field goal in NFL history.

Getting drafted isn’t the only way to make it in the NFL. A lot of former Huskers have carved out solid careers for themselves as undrafted free agents, and this year’s crop will get the opportunity to do the same. Like Chris Jones said, it’s time to prove to the NFL decision-makers that they made a mistake.

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