Undrafted free agents, they're unappreciated, yet can be some of the most key contributors. Kurt Warner, Antonio Gates, 'Night Train' Lane are just some of the UDFAs who have made their mark on the league. Even last year's Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler, was an UDFA.
While the Ravens might not have the next 'Night Train' on their hands, they may have just found two valuable diamonds in the rough. The Ravens have a little history of hitting on good UFDAs, with names like James Hurst, Justin Tucker, and Marlon Brown certainly outperforming their expecations.
Nick Perry may be the next to join that list.
"He’s going to be one of those free-agent guys that are going to have a future in this league,"
- Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound safety out of Alabama has been making some waves around the Ravens facility. Plays like his pick off Matt Schaub at the open practice in Baltimore, and another one against Bryn Renner have put him on the map. His strong play on the practice field has also translated to the real deal, as he was Pro Football Focus' third-best player in pass defense in last week's game.
Impressive stuff indeed.
"it’s all about making plays, getting turnovers and flying to the ball. I’m just trying to show the team and the coaches that I can be that type of playmaker."
Perry has indeed been making those plays thus far, and with a solid showing in future preseason games, he could really bolster his case for a roster spot.
Another free agent acquisition has been turning heads too, but he's come to be a Raven in a little different way
Tom Nelson, the defensive back-turned-wide receiver has caught the attention of Coach John Harbaugh.
"He’s a very good route runner for a guy that has never played wide receiver," Harbaugh said. "He has a good feel for getting in zones, getting open, very good hands. He has done a nice job. He has put himself in the conversation."
Nelson came to be a Raven by way of four different team who had cut him. Nelson, an undrafted free agent like Perry, came into the league with the Cincinnatti Bengals as a defensive back. His fight to make the final roster was chronicled on HBO's Hard Knocks. Nelson did indeed make the roster, but was cut two years later. Since then, he's never suited up for a NFL team. After a season-long stint with the Eagles, Nelson was among the final cuts for both the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers in the 2013 and 2014 preseasons.
Then the calls stopped coming.
After consulting with his agent, Nelson made the difficult decision to make a position switch. A rarity in the NFL.
"Once you get to this level, a position switch is very rare," Nelson said. "I always knew in the back of my mind that I could play offense. I was an offensive player all my life. For a team to give you that opportunity is much rarer."
Tapes of Nelson working out as a wide receiver were sent out to teams, and the Ravens bit. The team brought him in for a tryout a couple of days before the team's first training camp practice. Despite being crowded at the wide receiver position, the team obviously liked what they saw, and signed him on the spot.
Since then, Nelson has elevated his standing from a camp body to someone who could be a dark horse roster candidate. Per ESPN's Jamison Hensley, "Nelson has received increased reps with the first-team offense and he even caught a touchdown from Joe Flacco in a red zone drill."
It's been a long road for Nelson, but when all is said and done, he just wants to play football.
"At the end of the day, I'm a football player," Nelson said. "I think I can do a lot things on the football field. Wherever they see me as a fit, I'm more than willing to do it."
These two players haven't taken the most high-profile routes to the NFL, but both are in just as good of a position as any one to make a difference. My money is on at least one of them making the roster.