HOUSTON — Undrafted free agents are not just scraps teams gather at the end of the draft; according to the Houston Texans front office, they help round out the roster and provide contributors.
“We’ve had some success in that part of the process in terms of signing players that have come in and contributed to our football team,” said Texans General Manager Rick Smith Monday at the club’s 15th annual charity golf tournament.
“It’s how you round your roster out, so it’s a very important part of the process. So, yeah, it is and we’ve had some success.”
In 2016, the Texans had at least seven undrafted free agents contributing to their roster that had been with the club since 2012 and played in at least 12 games for the team. The most notable example was defensive end Joel Heath out of Michigan State. The undrafted, 6-6, 300-pound former Spartan played in 12 games for the Texans and started in six of them. He recorded two sacks and made eight tackles on the season.
“We’re just looking for guys that come in here and really understand what we’re trying to do,” said head coach Bill O’Brien. “They can contribute in their own way. They understand their roles early on and they figure, ‘Hey, I’m going to try and embrace this role and do the best I can with the role that I have.'”
The situation is ripe for a talent such as Atlanta High School’s Rickey Hatley, Jr. to come in and demonstrate to the Texans staff why he deserves consideration as a member of their 53-man roster.
“You’re looking for a multitude of things,” Smith explained on what the Texans are looking for in rookie mini-camp. “I think you look for, athletically first of all, are they what you thought they were athletically?”
Hatley, an explosive interior lineman for Missouri who recorded 28 tackles, one for loss, and a sack in his 10 games as a senior for the Tigers, will have the athleticism to showcase for the coaches at the outset. But there is more he must display than raw athleticism and blowing offensive linemen off the ball.
Said Smith: “Then you’re evaluating how they are taking in all the information and how they’re working and how they react to the situations and the stresses of all the things that are demanded of them. So you’re looking at all those things, you’re trying to see how they process information, how good of shape they’re in – all those things that give you an idea of what the young man might be when he’s a veteran.”
Hatley will have to beat out UCLA defensive tackle Eli Ankou, Houston defensive tackle B.J. Singleton, and Northeast Mississippi State defensive lineman Daniel Ross to emerge as the best undrafted defensive lineman. That is not to mention draft pick Carlos Watkins (fourth round) out of Clemson.
“I think at the end of the day, we try to evaluate on everybody, whether they’re veterans here right now or rookies coming in,” said O’Brien.