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Football 101: Scouting the college free agents

The Texans rookies are finally in the building and their NFL careers begin this weekend with the annual rookie minicamp. We’ve discussed many of the seven drafted players but we haven't addressed the undrafted signees and tryout players.

Each year, without fail, an undrafted player or two, makes his way onto the 53 man roster. Now, not every undrafted player becomes Arian Foster, but the impact of undrafted players was certainly felt last year, in particular.

Who that will be in the Class of 2017, no one knows for sure, but he’ll begin his Texans career this weekend. Tight end Stephen Anderson was the guy I had circled last year from jump and center Greg Mancz the year before him, so my track record on undrafted prognostication is respectable. Here are my candidates this year and some guys you’ll want to keep an eye on this spring/summer.

UCF safety T.J. Mutcherson
He was the first guy that popped off the page when I saw his name. I remembered him from his days at Iowa State. He transferred closer to home (Tampa, Florida) and was the leader of a talented secondary at UCF (one draftee and three others signed free agent contracts). At 5-10, 197 lb., he’s fearless attacking the football and tackles well in space. Heck, he tackles anything that moves and flashed his athleticism and strength at his Pro Day. He ran 4.59 in the 40-yard dash, posted 20 reps of 225 (would’ve tied for the top mark at the Combine had he been invited) and registered a 34.5-inch vertical jump.

Iowa wide receiver Riley McCarron
Pro Day was certainly important for former Iowa walk-on receiver/returner Riley McCarron. The fifth-year senior led the Hawkeyes in receptions with 42 after only having eight in his CAREER to that point. He had more kickoff and punt returns than receptions, but a strong senior campaign and a 4.36 40-yard dash at his Pro Day made scouts take notice of the 5-9, 186 lb. speedster.

Illinois wide receiver Justin Hardee
Illinois receiver Justin Hardee had 25 catches, averaging nearly 13 yards per catch at Illinois, second on the squad. Those numbers weren’t going to get much attention from scouts, but a 4.37 40-yard dash will and did. He ran that at his Illinois Pro Day and aced his workout, which got him plenty of attention throughout the NFL.

TCU wide receiver Deante Gray
Gray was known for his blazing speed throughout his time playing in the Big 12. The 5-8, 185 lb. offensive weapon posted in the mid-to-high 4.3 range at his Pro Day. He was on the TCU track and field squad, competing in the sprints, obviously. He posted a 10.44 in the 100-meters at the Texas State track and field meet in high school.

Eastern Washington wide receiver Shaq Hill
Hill was injured in 2015 and overshadowed throughout his career by Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne, but the slot/return candidate posted a 4.41 at his Pro Day as well. Consider the fact that Hill’s 4.41 was the slowest of the receivers; that’s some impressive speed, to say the least.

East Carolina outside linebacker Dayon Pratt
He is a long, rangy physical player, who arrived in Greenville, NC as a 6-4, 195 lb. linebacker. He left ECU as a 237-lb passionate edge player with a ton of upside. He led the Pirates in sacks and tackles for a loss in 2016. He was a monster on special teams throughout his career and that's certainly going to be part of his overall repertoire here in Houston.

Temple inside linebacker Avery Williams
Williams will hit anything that moves. He is a compact 5-10, 224 lb., which isn’t classic size for a linebacker, but he’s tough as can be and will strike… hard.

Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole
One of the players that intrigued the most in the undrafted class was Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole. Near the end of the draft, I perused the linebackers that hadn’t been drafted and couldn’t believe that his name was still on the list. He was a consensus 1st-team FCS All-American after leading the nation in tackles per game (12.9) and solo tackles per game (7.7). He lit up his Pro Day. The 6-1, 240 lb. linebacker threw up 225-lb 32 times on the bench, posted a 39-inch vertical jump and ran a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash.

Stephen F. Austin tight end Zach Conque
After playing for his dad, Clint, at Stephen F. Austin, Conque will make the transition from quarterback to tight end. At 6-5, 232 lb. with 4.55 speed in the 40-yard dash, it’s not a far fetched idea. He’s highly athletic and skilled with the ball in his hands. He’ll have to adjust to running routes and getting separation, but if he can do that, he could be an unearthed gem.

Indiana tackle Dimitric Camiel
Camiel missed most of his 2016 season with an injury but started 20 games at tackle in the Big Ten. Without the injury, I’m fairly convinced that Camiel would’ve heard his name called. The 6-7, 310 lb. Houstonian (Westfield HS) returns home to compete for a spot on this roster. Now, there isn’t much we’ll be able to gauge about the linemen during this “passing camp” as Coach O’Brien calls it, but Camiel will get the opportunity to move around a bit on the field for the first time since early 2016.

Those are just a few players to keep tabs on throughout the remainder of the offseason and on into training camp.

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