Part 1 focused on the guys who went in the top half of the draft, while Part 2 focused on those who went in the bottom half. Part 3, the final installment, focuses on the undrafted free agents. While we reviewed the draftees by draft order, we'll review the UFA's alphabetically. I'll leave the tongue-in-cheek "Jersey Buy Ratings" out of this one as a somber nod to the uphill battle that these guys face in making a roster - it seems less humorous for them.
George Atkinson III, Raiders
The pre-draft scouting reports on Atkinson contained the same comments that any casual Notre Dame fan might've made over the last three years about GA3: "Runs too upright." "Lacks vision." "Lacks acceleration." "Goes down too easily." All the same, 217 pound guys who can run a 4.4 40 don't come along all that often, and he has certainly shown the kind of home run ability that pricks up the ears of NFL GM's. Consider that only five players in Notre Dame history have higher per-carry career rushing averages than Atkinson's 6.2 mark: Reggie Brooks and four guys who played for Rockne (George Gipp, Don Miller and Jim Crowley of Four Horsemen fame, and Christie Flanagan). Given the League's predilection for speed, I was shocked that nobody took a flyer on Atkinson in the sixth or seventh rounds; in that sense, the Raiders got a bargain. Early word is, not surprisingly, that the Raiders plan to use Atkinson as a specialist and reserve running back. With his speed and size he'll get at least this chance and maybe one more to prove himself.
The Raiders are adamant that this is not a favor to GAJR - this is GA3's time to shine.
Carlo Calabrese, Browns
Calabrese is generally seen by NFL scouts as a little slow to recognize plays and stiff in moving from sideline to sideline, which limits him to being a two-down player. His toughness and power, though, are universally acknowledged. This is an interesting pickup for the Browns, as head coach Mike Pettine spent 11 seasons apprenticing with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and New York before striking out on his own as Bufflalo's defensive coordinator in 2013, and Carlo doesn't fit the typical profile of a Ryan or Pettine middle linebacker. Think Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, David Harris, Brandon Spikes, Kiko Alonso - versatile guys who can move and are solid in all facets. At best, Carlo may fit into the defensive rotation in a very limited role, either against power teams or in low-leverage situations. He again will have to make his mark on special teams.
UPDATE: I'm trying to track down solid confirmation, but it appears Calabrese did not make the team out of mini-camp. The official Browns website has no record of a signing for him, even though it was reported after the draft that the Browns had signed him; it looks like Carlo was invited to mini-camp as a tryout. Again, still searching for confirmation and if anyone knows one way or the other, please chime in with a comment below.
Carlo shared this with the caption "Last day of mini camp."
Dan Fox, Giants
Fox may have the strongest chance of any of the Irish UFA's to make a notable impact for his new team. He comes into a somewhat crowded depth chart - the Giants mostly play a 4-3 defense with Jon Beason firmly entrenched as the starter at middle linebacker and experienced backups Mark Herzlich (yes, that Herzlich) and Allen Bradford vying for backup status behind him. What could boost Fox's chances, though, is that he might actually be better than most NFL teams thought. He was snubbed for the combine, but he surprised a lot of scouts at Notre Dame's pro day where he ran a 4.59 40, a 4.31 shuttle (better than Atkinson and 0.04 behind TJ Jones), and weighed in at 233 pounds - a serviceable NFL weight that indicates he didn't just cut weight to get faster. Those who are ardent followers of recruiting might remember that Fox was a part-time safety in high school and ran a 4.5 back then, and may be less surprised by this recent display of athleticism. Fox made a good impression on the first day of OTA's, intercepting a pass to the delight of his teammates.
The Giants aren't running a rookie mini-camp this year because of the late draft date, so no pics that I was able to find of Fox in Giants gear. The ladies should enjoy this one, though.
Tommy Rees, Redskins
The don't-call-me-an-accidental-quarterback 6'2" ball of moxie and brains that is Tommy Rees got his shot at the NFL in our nation's capitol. Unfortunately, between when I started this series and when this Part 3 article was set to be published, the Redskins cut Tommy after a less-than-impressive showing in rookie mini-camp. One reporter described his throwing as "sporadic," another as too inaccurate to allow any evaluation of the receivers. For a team that already has Robert Griffin, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy, that's not a good way to make it through the first round of cuts. While Rees said he had interest from several teams before signing with the Redskins, it's hard to predict where he'll go from here; he seems hell-bent to learn if he has a place in the NFL, though, so I'd imagine he'll try to catch on somewhere. He may ultimately last a season or two as a third-string quarterback; realistically, the best case is that he'll add to his knowledge base and, as John Walters tweeted when Washington announced the cut, get "a head start on becoming ND's future head coach."
NFL Tommy, we hardly knew thee. Time to join the staff in South Bend.
Kona Schwenke, Chiefs
If not for a skipped class by Stephon Tuitt in 2011 that forced him into action during a planned redshirt year, Kona Schwenke would probably have returned to Notre Dame for the 2014 season. Alas, it was not to be. Kona took tremendous strides from being a 215-pound tweener defensive end recruit to being a legitimate force at nose guard, and holds significant intrigue as a developmental signing. The Chiefs are infusing new blood into the defensive line, having cut four linemen and signed five since the season ended; how much patience they'll have with that new blood remains to be seen, but I think they got a steal in Schwenke. He might have become a third round pick with an extra year to develop and showcase his talents in the 4-3 defense. If he gets a real chance to show himself, I think he'll stick in the league. Chiefs beat writer Nick Jacobs had some kind words for Schwenke in the early sessions of OTAs.
DE Kona Schwenke caught my eye a couple of times today. Couple of good deflections at the LOS.— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) May 25, 2014
He learned well from Big Lou.
Also, the Chiefs' official twitter profile chose a photo of Schwenke for their OTA Day 3 recap (although he's not mentioned in the summary):
And there you have it...
Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL's 2014 Irish rookies. The eight draftees are Notre Dame's most in a single draft since 1994; the same goes for the three straight years with a first-round selection. That first round thing may be in jeopardy next year, but still, the arrow for the program is definitely trending up. Here's to the 2014 rookies making the most of their opportunities, in the NFL and in life, and to the 2015 draft class improving their stock with stellar 2014 performances for the Irish!