Front offices across the league don’t stop adding talent at the conclusion of the NFL Draft each year, and end up signing more rookies as undrafted free agents than they actually spend picks on.
According to NFL Draft Diamonds, there were 393 rookie and former undrafted free agents that made final rosters ahead of last season which made up for 23 percent of the league’s employed players.
The Baltimore Ravens have a rich history of unearthing and developing unheralded prospects that didn’t get their names called during the three-day event but have the talent to make it in the NFL.
They have reportedly signed or at least agreed to terms with 16 free agents and invited another to their rookie minicamp as a tryout. The most exciting prospect to sign of the bunch by far is former East Carolina University running back Keaton Mitchell who was one of the most explosive playmakers in all of college football this past season.
According to Pro Football Focus College, his 54 carries of 10 or more yards in 2022 were the most by any running back in college football.
Mitchell led the Pirates with a career-high 201 carries for 1,452 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground per Sports Reference and ranked first in the AAC (American Athletic Conference) in yards per carry with 7.2. He also recorded career-highs with 27 receptions for 252 receiving yards and a score.
Many evaluators believed that he was going to be drafted and hear his name called sometime on Day 3. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projected that he’d come off the board in the sixth round and likes his ability to generate big plays whenever he touches the ball.
“He’s electric with the ball in his hands,” he wrote. “His big-play potential could be hard to pass up for teams needing more juice.”
Another NFL Legacy With an Opportunity to Carve Out a Role
He joins fifth-round selection Kyu Blu Kelly as the son of a former NFL defensive back. However, his father Anthony Mitchell didn’t just play in the league, he began and spent the first three years of his career with the Ravens from 2000-2002.
Older fans will remember the key play he made during the team’s first Super Bowl run in franchise history when the elder Mitchell returned a block field goal 90 yards for a touchdown in the divisional round of the playoffs against the heavily favored Tennessee Titans.
While the Ravens are well stocked at running back for the 2023 season, both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards will be playing in the final year of their respective contracts. Neither is a lock to return in 2024 depending on if they play or price themselves out of town by the time next offseason rolls around.
Just as was the catastrophic case in 2021, Mitchell could suddenly find himself going from the bottom to the top of the depth chart of the position, God forbid, gets decimated by injuries again at the top.
After standing out in the preseason and by default of being the last one left standing, Ty’Son Williams who was a 2020 undrafted free agent, opened the regular season as the Ravens starting running back before falling out of favor with the coaching staff.
That is unlikely as the Ravens will likely have both Dobbins and Edwards in bubble wrap with no exhibition action this year. Nevertheless, if Mitchell can make the most of what will likely be extensive opportunities to see the field on offense in the preseason and shows that he can contribute on special teams as a returner and kick coverage or blocking units, he’d give himself the best chance of not only making the team but factoring into their 2024 plans as well.
Other Intriguing Undrafted Rookies to Monitor
While Mitchell is the most exciting headliner of the group, he isn’t the only one to keep an eye on that could contend and push for a roster spot. The Ravens have had an undrafted free agent make the roster in 18 of the last 19 years.
With that in mind, here are some other first-year pros that might have a decent shot at making the team or at least position themselves to get signed to the practice squad if they aren’t claimed by another team.
DT Kaieem Caeser, Ohio
After Mitchell, the former Bobcat might have the next best chance to make the team given the team’s need for quality depth on the defensive line with multiple players at the position only under contract through 2023. Ceasar had the best season of his collegiate career last year where he showed dramatic improvement as an interior pass-rusher with a career-high 5.5 sacks after having just three sacks the previous three seasons combined. He was also stout against the run and recorded career-highs with 28 tackles including seven for loss per Sports Reference.
The former Commodores is the bigger of the two corners that the Ravens signed as undrafted free agents at 6-foot-2. After transferring from Connecticut where he recorded his only two career interceptions, he posted a career-high 47 tackles and five pass deflections in 2022 but didn’t force any turnovers.
G Tashawn Manning, Kentucky
The former Wildcat spent his entire collegiate career playing the SEC with his first stop being at Auburn where he made 14 starts before transferring for his final season. He’s a big mauler in the run game that went up against some of the fiercest competition playing in the nation’s top conference that churns out numerous NFL players every year. According to Aaron Wilson of KPRC2, he signed for $40,000 guaranteed, which is a considerable amount and like means that he was one of their priority targets after the draft.
The former Roadrunner doesn’t have all the desired measurables but still has solid size at 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds to hold up on the outside and is the more impressive of the two undrafted corners they signed. He is coming off his best season in which he recorded career-highs across the board with 63 total tackles including six for a loss, three interceptions, three sacks, and 13 pass breakups.
The Ravens covet big athletic offensive linemen with positional flexibility as was evident with their selection of former Oregon standout Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu in the sixth round with their second to last pick in the draft. At 6-foot-5 and 365-pound, the former Golden Eagle is even bigger and is very agile for his size and also has experience playing both tackle and guard.
The former Mustang is another candidate who will be in contention to not only make the team but contend for a starting job if he impresses the coaches enough. He was a four-year starter in college and as a fifth-year senior, he didn’t allow a sack in 12 games last season. At 6-foot-5 and 311-pounder, Thomas has good size, and even though he played multiple positions in college, he best projects as a guard in the pros.
The former Jaguar stands a decent chance of pushing for the roster spot since the Ravens are still light at defensive end following the release of six-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell and despite the drafting of an ascending outside linebacker hybrid Tavius Robinson in the fourth round this year.
At 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, Peterson has the size and strength to play the five-technique spot but could stand to add a little more weight to hold up even better at the pro level. He is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2022. Peterson is already a good run-stopper who can penetrate into the backfield and has some upside as an interior pass rusher as well.