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Can Ohio State’s UDFAs make it happen in the NFL?

Going undrafted is tough, but it isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a professional career

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft has come and gone, and although we have already gone through 255 picks over seven rounds (shoutout to Georgia LB Tae Crowder, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant), this is still a big time for those who were not selected.

The marathon continues for the draft hopefuls that did not hear their names called, as these players can still be signed by NFL franchises as undrafted free agents. Not being chosen in the draft is by no means a death sentence for a player’s professional career, as there have been some true stars overlooked in the selection process over the years.

NFL legends, including guys like quarterback Kurt Warner, tight end Antonio Gates, linebacker James Harrison, and even former Ohio State kicker and nine-time Pro Bowler Lou Groza are just a few a guys to go undrafted and still make huge names for themselves in the league. Whether you were simply underutilized in college or needed to play in a different system to excel, sometimes all you require is a chance to prove you belong, and the rest becomes history.

Almost as soon as the 2020 NFL Draft came to an end, undrafted free agents were being signed left and right. A handful of former Buckeyes found themselves with offers on the table right away, and now they will look to compete to make the roster in training camp — whenever that may be. While all of these guys are clearly talented athletes, as they showcased at Ohio State, which of them are the most primed to make the rest of the league regret passing them by in the draft?

Binjimen Victor/Austin Mack (New York Giants)

I’ll group these guys together, as they were both signed by the same franchise and also play the same position. As two wide receivers, it is unlikely that both of them will wind up making the final roster, but it is not entirely out of the question. As things stand, I think there are very good odds that at least one of them makes the team, with a legitimate chance to see decent playing time in the near future.

Victor is a tall, slender receiver, standing at 6-foot-4, 199 pounds. Third on Ohio State in receiving in 2019 behind Chris Olave and K.J. Hill, he caught 35 passes for 573 yards and six touchdowns this past season. While Victor put together a solid career with the Buckeyes, it always seemed like he was being used the wrong way, and could have been even better if utilized more efficiently.

With his height, Victor could have been an awesome deep-ball threat. Towering over most collegiate corners, his stature would have made him adept at winning 50/50 balls in the air. Instead, Victor was used mostly on short routes and screen passes. While he does possess good speed, this was likely not the best way to maximize his skillset. As the current tallest player among Giants wide receivers, not including any other potential UDFAs they may sign, he may finally get a chance to put his size to good use.

Mack is a bit more of a question mark. Battling injuries throughout his time at Ohio State, he finished this past season catching 27 total passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. When healthy, Mack was one of the best possession receivers on the team, catching almost anything thrown his way. He’s shown an innate ability to go up and get it, both fighting away opposing corners on high throws and keeping the ball off the ground on low ones. He showed flashes of having incredibly reliable hands, but just didn’t see the field enough to get a true gauge of his NFL potential.

Both of the former Buckeye wideouts will get an equal chance to make the Giants roster, with Victor likely having the slight edge with his size. They wouldn’t be the first to make a splash with New York as an UDFA, as not too long ago WR Victor Cruz became a Super Bowl Champion with the G-Men after going undrafted in 2010. Regardless of who makes the team, it would not surprise me at all to see both on NFL rosters somewhere by the time the season rolls around.

Branden Bowen (Carolina Panthers)

The Panthers offensive line has not exactly shined in recent years, and with new head coach Matt Rhule going heavy on the defensive side of the ball, the team did not exactly address these concerns through the draft. With Bowen joining the team in Carolina, he will get a chance to earn a spot on the depth chart at either tackle spot.

Bowen’s biggest concern is his health. The offensive lineman actually began the 2017 season as Ohio State’s starting right guard. However, in the team’s sixth game of the year against Maryland, Bowen suffered a broken leg — one that would require multiple surgeries and keep him out for the better part of over a year and a half, missing the remainder of 2017 and all of 2018. He was able to return in 2019, and put together an impressive season as the Buckeyes’ starting right tackle, being named a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches.

At 6-foot-7, 320 pounds, Bowen possesses all the size and athleticism you could ask for from an NFL offensive tackle. The Panthers did add some reinforcements on the line this offseason, trading for veteran LT Russell Okung. However, both he and second-year man Greg Little have struggled with injuries themselves. Carolina’s offensive line is still in the early stages of a rebuild, and if Bowen can prove he is fully healthy and ready to go, there is no reason why he can’t at least crack the team’s two-deep this season.

Rashod Berry (New England Patriots)

Coming from a place that doesn’t exactly showcase the tight end position in its offense, the super athletic Berry just needed to wind up in a system that will allow him to shine. What better system could a TE ask for than to play under Bill Belichick with the Patriots?

Berry played an incredibly limited role for the Buckeyes throughout his collegiate career, catching a total of 17 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns in his time in Columbus. Despite being one of the more freakish athletes on the roster at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Berry’s style of play just didn’t really fit into Ohio State’s scheme, and as a result he found himself third on the depth chart at TE this past season. However, where Berry really shines is in the blocking game, an area he thoroughly enjoys and prides himself on being good at.

New England has had their fair share of great tight end play over the years, but with the “retired” Rob Gronkowski officially being shipped off to Tampa Bay, the door is open. The Patriots did select a pair of TEs in this year’s draft, David Asiasi from UCLA and Dalton Keene from Virginia Tech, but both of them appear to be more pass-catching focused. If Berry can prove his worth in the blocking game, he could certainly make the roster, especially with the ability of Belichick to finds ways to get the most out of overlooked athletes.