The San Diego Second Chancers: Part 1
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
By Ed Wilkins
Before we begin in earnest, a disclaimer. The NFL draft is a lottery. Every year the draft class features numerous players who outperform their draft status as a result of things like underwhelming combine statistics, a lack of production at the college level or character concerns. Conversely, players benefit from advantageous schemes, name recognition and being big fish in small ponds at the college level too, leading to overinflated draft status and overhyped talents underperforming when they take the field (here’s looking at you, JaMarcus Russell).
In other words, the NFL draft is 254 consecutive educated guesses, and I’ll fight anyone who says different. You should give them as much attention as you would any snake-oil salesman selling their brand from his/her street corners. This is not to say that draftniks aren’t in a position to make the best guesses available, just that the draft process is less a science and more an art, no matter what Mel Kiper Jr. tells you.
There are brave warriors for whom the above doesn’t apply, however – the NFL’s army of Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs). In a league in which 1,696 players suit up every week, it is inevitable that rosters are made of a variety of draft darlings and late round punts, but occasionally you can find those rare sunflowers who didn’t receive a sniff of recognition coming out of college but excel at the professional level. With that in mind, you are welcomed, friends, to a brand-new dawn. Sound the trumpets. Raise the banners. You are about to witness the birth of the NFL’s 33rd franchise, the glorious San Diego Second Chancers; a team constructed and populated entirely of players who did not get drafted, but instead found the league in other ways. Rejoice, San Diego. You have a team again.
Quarterback – Nick Mullens, SF
Backup QB – Case Keenum, CLE
This one comes a little out of left field. Frankly, there aren’t that many to choose from given that this may be the most marquee position in all of sports. Very occasionally an undrafted QB bursts onto the scene and goes all Romo over everyone else, but these guys are few and far between. More often these players work up the depth charts and take advantage of injuries to the starters, and Nick Mullens fits this bill entirely. An UDFA out of Southern Miss, he broke the program’s passing and touchdown records, which had stood since a certain Brett Favre (!) left for greener pastures.
Mullens found his way into the 3rd String position for the 49ers and ended up seeing a run of a few games in the 2018 season. With Garoppolo side-lined for at least the next week or two, its fair to wonder whether Mullens will take over the starting job outright, given his production versus the Giants this week and Garoppolo’s faltering start to the season.
To back up Mullens, we have Josh McCown 2.0, otherwise known Case Keenum, who has been a benchwarmer/slightly below average starter for the Texans, Rams, Broncos, Football Team and now the Browns, and a dark horse MVP candidate with Minnesota. That’s 6 teams in 8 seasons!
It’s also worth remembering that during Keenum’s 2008 season with the University of Houston he amassed the second highest passing yards of any college QB but his name wasn’t called during the 2012 draft, one known for the level of QB talent taken (perennial starters Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins were all selected).
Wide Receiver – Adam Thielen, MIN; Adam Humphries, TEN
Backup WR – Cole Beasley, BUF; Robby Anderson, CAR; Taylor Gabriel, CHI
Now we reach the first member of UDFA royalty. Sorry Adam Humphries, you’re white and named Adam so you tick two of three boxes, but the undisputed prince of undrafted wide receivers is hometown hero Adam Thielen. A quick side note here: if you go rooting through my wardrobe (not that you would, weirdo) you’d find an Adam Thielen Jersey.
Yes, the man who briefly had a career in dental sales after he left college has since become an integral cog in the Vikings machine and holds the record for most consecutive 100-yard games receiving in the NFL. After receiving a scholarship of just $500.00, Thielen played for DII program Minnesota State.
Due to the lack of stature of the University, not a single pro scout came to watch him throughout his tenure. Somehow, Thielen made his way onto the Vikings practice squad and then the roster as a special teamer – impressing with his desire, perseverance, and cultured route-running savvy. Chip, meet shoulder. Once he got his start, he never looked back, becoming the favourite target of the Vikings QB carousel. Talk about a local lad done good.
Next, we have the aforementioned other white Adam, Adam Humphries. Humphries played his college football at notable talent churner-outerer Clemson but failed to make much of an impact at the wide receiver position with just 127 receptions, 1,097 yards and 3 touchdowns throughout his four-year tenure. He excelled as a special teamer however and was wrapped up by the Buccaneers shortly after the 2015 draft had concluded.
Humphries has an uncanny ability to get open from the slot, and is an excellent chain mover, becoming a frequent target on third down – this is supported by his career receiving average of 10.6 YPC. Not too shabby.
There might be a pattern forming here as next up we have Cole Beasley, a player famous for being a chain mover on 3rd down due to his tenacity and route running. Beasley nearly didn’t make it, after considering retirement when he went undrafted out of SMU in 2012. He later signed with the Dallas Cowboys and formed a strong rapport with fellow UDFA Tony Romo. He now plies his trade in Buffalo. Fun fact: he released his debut single, 80 Stings in 2017. It’s just okay. 6/10.
Rounding out the receiving corps we have Robby Anderson, with his game-breaking speed posing Carolina’s biggest deep threat, and Taylor Gabriel, the latest in a suddenly endless stream of solid Chicago pass catchers.
Running Back – Austin Ekeler, LAC; Phillip Lindsay, DEN; James Robinson, JAX
Although the Second Chancers have some classy playmakers in the receiving game, the bulk of the yardage is going to come on the ground, and in Ekeler, Lindsay and Robinson, they have a three headed beast of prodigious proportions.
After Austin Ekeler left Western Colorado as their all-time leading rusher, he went undrafted due to his lack of size – he is a hair over 5-9”. Since then, he has lit it up in San Diego and Los Angeles; quick AND shifty, and with that most important quality of receiving backs; soft hands, Ekeler has all the tools to run past D-linemen and receive the ball out of the backfield versus a linebacker. One thing that is often overlooked in his game though – his strength running between the tackles.
If you have drafted Ekeler in fantasy football over the past few years, congratulations. Since the news of his 4-year, $24,500,000.00 deal broke, I think the secret is out. The Ekeler hype train is pulling into the station. Choo choo.
Not to be outdone, we have the most decorated undrafted rookie in NFL history, the bouncy haired runner out of Colorado State – Phillip Lindsay. Again dismissed by college scouts because of his diminutive stature, Lindsay exploded onto the scene in 2018 with over 1,000 yards and nine Tuddies on just 192 carries. He became the first undrafted rookie ever to make the Pro Bowl and put the league on notice. Turns out the shorter guys can run too. Who knew?
He wasn’t even invited to the scouting combine in 2018, which is especially egregious considering that he rushed for more than 5,000 yards and 39 scores in college.
The third back in this rushing Cerberus is James Robinson, who has played, as at the time of writing this article, four games total. But if we dig into that a little further, we realise that the Jags felt comfortable to release 2017 fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette. Indeed, four weeks into his professional career, Robinson is making that look like a very astute move.
This guy’s total guaranteed money for the next three seasons is $25,000.00. How the mighty have fallen, Leonard. However, Robinson has proven that he is more than just a cheaper alternative, with 275 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs over the first four games, becoming the first undrafted rookie running back to start week one since Bruce Perkins and Derek Loville in 1990. Early signs suggest that the returns will be good.
Tight End – Jack Doyle, IND; Trey Burton, IND
In a curious quirk, the two best UDFA Tight Ends have ended up on the same team, with Indy reaping the benefit, despite being neither of these guys’ first teams. Jack Doyle went undrafted out of Western Kentucky in 2013 and joined the Titans. They waived him before the start of the season, intending to bring him to the practise squad, but he was scooped up by the Colts, where he has become a regular pass catcher and above average run-blocker. Nothing to set the world alight, but solid nonetheless.
The other big man on the Second Chancers is the man who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in Superbowl LII. He’s spent time on the Bears and then in Indy more recently – it’s Lawrence Godfrey Burton III. You might know him as Trey, which is infinitely less cool than sounding like the real name of a Batman villain. He has threatened to break out many times since he entered the league in 2014, but it’s never quite come together for him. That said, he has thrown one Superbowl Tuddy more than anyone else in this list, and merits inclusion for that.
I did consider also including the Cardinals’ Ricky Seals-Jones, but I’m waiting to see more from him before pulling the trigger on a trade. Therefore, with only Doyle really making the grade and getting snaps on a consistent basis for the Colts, (and Joey Magnifico, my pre-draft darling out of Memphis failing to latch onto a team), the Second Chancer Tight Ends will surrender lots of snaps in the backfield to the fullbacks (see below).
FB – C.J. Ham, MIN; Patrick Ricard, BAL
OK. So, long story short, one of the reasons for the existence of this article was James Develin, the unheralded hero of the Patriots running game since the days of yore. Alas, I recently discovered that he has retired, citing a chronic neck injury. Yes, the man who received his first professional contract from the Arena Football League’s Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz (no, I am not making that up) has called it a career. Ride off into the sunset, you human block of beef jerky. You’ve earned it.
It turns out NFL scouts do not rate the position of Fullback highly. Fools. Fullbacks are the Dungeon Masters of the NFL offense, and as anyone who, like me, had an adolescence spent mostly indoors will tell you, your campaign is only as good as your Dungeon Master. The only way to cultivate a consistently good rushing offense is to claim one of these saints, but usually you have to dig through the lower leagues to get them.
Enter C.J. Ham, from Augustana University in South Dakota. How have you never heard of it?! Other notable Alums include David Soul, known for his blistering portrayal of Hutch in TV’s Starsky and Hutch, noted accordionist Myron Floren and, er… get back to me on that. Ham set the record for the school’s athletics program’s hammer throw, rushed for 2,662 yards and 29 TD’s over four years as an Augustana Viking before joining the Minnesota Vikings in 2016. He has since become a key piece of Minnesota’s running game, creating lanes and setting the edge for Dalvin Cook and co. and has been named to the Pro Bowl.
Some Fullbacks are so underappreciated, they have to resort to playing multiple positions. The second purple-wearin’ Fullback on this list, Patrick Ricard, splits his time for the Ravens between FB and Defensive Tackle. He embodies the spirit of the Second Chancers more than any other player – want a fullback? Sure. Need someone to fill in at D-Tackle? No problem. Heck, he’d probably work one of the many softshell crab stands at M&T Bank Stadium, if they let him. Last year for Baltimore he created holes for the league’s strongest running game, caught a TD pass from Lamar Jackson, got a Strip-Sack against the Bengals which was returned for a touchdown and blocked a field goal. Pull your weight son.
OL – Alejandro Villanueva, PIT; Matt Skura, BAL; David Andrews, NE; Quinton Spain, BUF; La’el Collins, DAL
If the O linemen had a role in the D&D universe, they would be the enormous trolls that you have to contend with. Behemoths et al, Offensive linemen are nonetheless some of the more cerebral players, requiring quick thinking and good communication as well as brute force in order to fend off the pass rush.
Steelers Left Tackle Alejandro Villanueva served as a captain in the US army and has served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. Enough said about his character and his grit, but he is also a standout technician at the position. He entered the league as a tight end but transitioned first to right tackle (where the requirement is more similar to a TE’s run blocking responsibility) and eventually ended up as Big Ben’s blindside protector. Age is not on Villanueva’s side (he is 32), but he is a stalwart pass protector and should keep Mullens or Keenum upright.
On the other side of the line we have La’el Collins, a man whose NFL draft tale is one worth repeating. He entered the 2015 draft, with most analysts agreeing he had first round pedigree. Shortly before the draft commenced however, he was implicated in a double homicide in his hometown of Baton Rouge, where one of the victims was a former girlfriend.
Although Collins was almost immediately exonerated, the tragedy catapulted him out of the draft entirely. He was driven to Jerrahworld the next day, wined and dined with expensive steak and gaudy quotes about ‘respecting the star’ and signed with the Cowboys soon after. He is one of the best RTs in the league, although he does come with injury concerns. Still, he and Villanueva would make brilliant bookends for San Diego.
Heading to the interior, we have three of the NFL’s premier interior run-blockers – David Andrews has two Superbowl rings blocking for the GOAT and company; Matt Skura was the lynchpin of Baltimore’s rushing attack last year and Quinton Spain fans will be pleased to know that they can head on over to Peterburg Pennsylvania on the 1st of July every year to experience “Quinton Spain Day”. Fun!
If you enjoyed the first half of the San Diego Second Chancers article, make sure to catch the second instalment, where I’ll be picking a defensive rear-guard gaggle of undrafted freaks and/or geeks.