While building through the draft is seen as the wisest path to success in the NFL, a team must exploit other avenues of talent allocation to achieve success in such a competitive league. Enter the undrafted free agent: Players that come in off the street and can make a huge impact. Matthew Brown takes an in-depth look at the Seattle Seahawks class of 2016 UDFAs in Part 1 of this 3 part examination. (Learn more in Part 2 & Part 3.)
Undrafted free agents (UDFA) are an often overlooked part of the NFL, yet they are crucial to roster construction. This is especially true for the Seattle Seahawks, who, at one point last season, had 32 UDFAs on their 53 man roster. In the 2016 NFL Draft, they selected eight offensive players and just two on the other side of the ball. The Seahawks mainly used UDFA to bolster their defensive depth, adding talent who they viewed with draftable grades. As a result, you can expect some ferocious battles in training camp. In this three part series, we will look at UDFAs on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive line and linebacker group, and the secondary. Part 1, here, covers the Seattle Seahawks 2016 Offensive UDFAs.
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin’s height, at just 5’ 11″, is considered to be an issue by some evaluators. However, he appears to have the ability to create throwing lanes – like short quarterback success stories Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. This is highlighted by last season’s figures of just two passes being batted down out of 400 attempts. Pro Football Focus wrote that this tied for fourth-best in the nation.
Comparisons to Wilson are natural; Boykin certainly has similar traits to the Seahawks’ starting quarterback as a passer and a runner. He had success on deep passing plays, with a 53.7% deep passing accuracy rate and 15 touchdowns on passes over 20 yards, whilst he was also impressive under pressure with a 67.3% accuracy rate. Boykin can fit the ball into tight, NFL windows and is aggressive as a passer – throwing with anticipation and decisiveness.
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Furthermore, he is is one of only eight players in major college football history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for 2,000. When scrambling out of the pocket, Boykin keeps his eyes downfield, scanning for open receivers and extending plays. It could be said, though, that Boykin is overly reliant on his legs, and that tactic will not be as effective at the NFL level – especially when his 4.77 second forty yard dash is taken into account. John Schneider, when asked whether Boykin had the chance to be the backup quarterback, replied: “You know he really does, based on his style…running the read-option and based on pure arm talent”.
Boykin certainly needs to gain more awareness in reading coverages, and tone down his aggression a few notches. However, as Mark Schofield points out in his piece on Boykin, this is less of an issue than making a timid quarterback more aggressive. More difficult to rectify is the problem of Boykin’s accuracy: In Gary Patterson’s-quarterback friendly offense, his best completion percentage in a season was only 64.8%. He has particular difficulty with intermediate routes, and his talented wide receiving corps – particularly Josh Doctson and the wide catching radius he provides – bailed him out of would-be incompletions and interceptions. Part of his accuracy issues can be rectified by correcting his, at times, sloppy footwork – most notable in one and three step drops.
The Seahawks like to run a lot of zone-read and read-option, and, even though TCU’s offense featured this frequently, Boykin did not always execute it well. He struggled with fumbles and near-fumbles at the mesh point. Boykin must improve his ball security. His off the field issues – where he was arrested for striking an officer – should not be too worrying, considering the due diligence that Seattle’s front office always seems to carry out effectively in regards to draft picks.
Boykin is seen as the ideal backup to Wilson, due to his mobility and tendency of looking to pass first, run second. Nonetheless, the Seahawks may wish to carry a more experienced QB2 on their final 53, and if left off the final roster Boykin is likely to be poached off of the practice squad. His preseason performances will be crucial, as they could persuade Seattle to have Boykin as their backup, or maybe even carry three quarterbacks.
Lene Maiava, T / G, Arizona
Maiava played right tackle in his last season at the University of Arizona, and the tape from this stint – with
various pass protection issues on display – suggests that he will be better suited as a NFL guard, where he played well at in 2014. This is despite the Seahawks’ website listing him as a tackle.
While the transition from tackle to guard is not as simple as some would believe, Maiava’s experience at guard, as well as his traits, indicates he can make the switch back to guard full time. He shows a willingness to drive in the run game, getting good movement and widening rushing lanes as he pushes his man forward. He demonstrates a clear understanding of leverage, using it brilliantly while staying square and squat. Crucially, he flashes a trait that the Seahawks love by accelerating into blocks and firing off of the ball.
In pass protection he has the ability to reset his hands, adjusting to his opponents well. In spite of this, his ability in pass protection is the area of his game that needs the most improvement. When at right tackle, speed edge rushers caused him huge issues, with Maivia leaning and lunging at them. He also struggled with powerful interior bull rushers. When beaten, he showed very little in the way of recovery skills.
The scheme in which Maiava played in for the Wildcats is very different than the zone blocking system of the Seahawks. Although Maiava did pull as a guard, he played in a far more basic blocking system in a no-huddle spread offense. It may take him a while to adapt to the Seahawks’ system, but his aggressiveness in run blocking should help him.
To be an NFL guard, he probably needs to add weight considering he is 301 pounds. Despite his skill in the run game, he lacked the bulk to really move men in college. What cannot be improved are his short legs, which are another aspect that restricts him to the guard spot. Health-wise, the Seahawks hope that he has left his injury history in college: He has torn an ACL and also suffered a knee injury in 2016 which prevented him from working out at the combine.
Maivia came to the USA for the 2011 Polynesian All-American Bowl, speaking no English. Since then, he has become fluent in the language and become an integral part of the Wildcats’ offensive line. For the Seahawks, he will add to the much-needed competition on the offensive line as well as providing great versatility. Seattle tends to defy conventional thinking, particularly when it comes to the offensive line, and it would not be a surprise if they try him first as a run-blocking right tackle – something which they look for at the position. If, like Justin Britt, his inability to deal with speed edge rushers renders him ineffective at the position, he will then be moved inside to guard.
George Fant, LT / TE, Western Kentucky
Fant largely played basketball for WKU, with his football career amounting to just one year at tight end, where he caught one pass for seven yards in 12 games. However, an outstanding pro-day alerted NFL teams to the sheer athleticism that he possesses. Measuring in at 6’6’, 296 pounds, Fant ran a 4.8 forty-yard dash and jumped a 37” vertical. He has the ideal frame and size for a left tackle.
Fant is a player whose career path may follow that of Garry Gilliam, the player currently projected as the Seahawks’ starting left tackle. Like Gilliam, Fant is a raw athlete who, with time on the practice squad, may become a starting left tackle in the NFL – once Tom Cable has taught him the required technique and he has gained experience, at jumbo tight end and right tackle.
Brandin Bryant DT/FB Florida International
Predominantly a 3 tech in college, Bryant’s highlight reels full of penetrating plays where he beats his man off of the line. Albeit against lesser competition, Bryant was more productive than, and tested better than, Arizona Cardinals’ first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. According to Rob Staton’s excellent Trench Explosion Theory, Bryant would have scored a 3.3 (over three is considered explosive).
However, John Schneider stated that “[Bryant will] play fullback for us too” and it now looks as though Bryant will compete for that spot on the Seahawks’ roster. With a 4.85 second forty yard dash, an athletic, 289-pound fullback is a tantalising prospect for Seattle’s power running game.
The best-case scenario for Seattle is that he takes up the role that Will Tukuafu had on their roster, starting as a large fullback in addition to contributing to the defensive tackle depth. His ability as a defensive tackle in the NFL is limited due to his short arms, at 31 1/4 inches.
Taniela Tupou, DT / FB, Washington
Similarly to Bryant, Tupou was a defensive tackle in college who will compete at fullback. Like Bryant, his arm length (31 5/8) may limit his ability as a defensive tackle in the NFL. He ran a 5.2 second forty yard dash at 6’1” and 284 pounds.
He has played fullback before and has battled through adversity, after being asked to transfer schools in his sophomore year. Instead of transferring, he earned his place on the team and became team captain in his final year.
Tre Madden, RB / FB, USC
Madden lacks the lateral speed and burst through the hole to be an NFL running back. Even in college, he struggled to create any real openings, with good blocking being a large factor in the majority of his touchdowns. Without a clear hole to hit, Madden was usually stuffed for a loss or no gain. His poor athleticism was surely affected by his torrid injury history, where Madden played just 20 games at running back in five years at USC.
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In fairness to Madden, he does run with good vision and patience. Additionally, he runs with aggression, lowering his head and shoulder into contact and falling forward. Somewhat worryingly, ankle tackles have brought Madden down in the past.
The Seahawks, particularly when Derrick Coleman was at fullback, liked to use the position as an option in the passing game – using fullback screens and dump-offs. Madden ran a variety of routes out of the backfield, displaying good hands.
In pass protection, Madden showed good fight and ability. He reads blitzes well, showing good knowledge of schemes and picking up linebackers well – perhaps helped by his stint at the position in his freshman year. In limited opportunities in run-blocking, he shows good drive and latches on to his opponent, finishing his blocks downfield when given the opportunity.
The Seahawks did a terrific job in convincing Madden to sign, considering there is very little chance of him to making it as a RB in Seattle. Other teams may have offered him a better opportunity to make the final roster. Despite being listed as a running back on the Seahawks’ website, Madden appears to be the third player in the rookie-fullback competition. He is the only one to have spent the majority of his snaps in the backfield in college. What may cost Madden, other than his smaller size – 6’ 0” 223 pounds – is his lack of versatility. Both Bryant and Tapou can add to the defensive line, plus second-year fullback / H-back / tight end Brandon Cottom can play a variety of roles.