Undrafted but not unwanted, rookie free agents join ASN 251 on NFL rosters


Database: ASN’s NFL lineup

“I officially earned my STAR!” Lucky Whitehead tweeted on Saturday.

Whitehead is among that most unlikely group of players to land on an NFL roster — a rookie undrafted free agent. But Whitehead, a receiver out of Florida Atlantic, is one of 10 undrafted free agents among the 136 players from 76 ASN-affiliated football schools on 53-man rosters heading into Thursday night’s NFL regular-season kickoff.

Whitehead will start his first pro season Sunday with the Dallas Cowboys.

Another success story played out in Minnesota, where Taylor Heinicke was one of 10 undrafted free agents the Vikings brought into camp in the spring. A quarterback who played at Old Dominion, he was also the last man standing.

“It’s been a dream of mine to be a quarterback in the NFL and (Saturday) it came true,” Heinicke told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. “Now, the mission is to help the Vikings in any way I can to make this team better. And I’m very excited to be a Minnesota Viking.”

In New Orleans, defensive tackle Ashaad Mabry became the first Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) player to make an NFL roster.

“I’m just excited to be able to continue my career,” Mabry told the San Antonio Express-News. “It just shows my drive and how hard I work. Coming in (to training camp) literally nobody, the analysts and stuff, gave me a chance, saying I would be one of the first cuts. But I continued to get better, ignored all that stuff and focused on me getting better to make the team better.”

Tyler Varga, who hoped to become the highest player selected from Yale in decades, also made the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts.

Of the total 186 ASN players on NFL rosters — including those on injured reserve, practice squad, physically unable to perform or suspended lists — 40 are rookies. In addition, there were some firsts:

  • J.J. Nelson became the first UAB player ever to make the Arizona Cardinals roster. Nelson, a receiver, was selected in the fifth round, No. 159 overall.
  • Rakeem Nunez-Roches became the first Belizean player to be drafted into the NFL. A defensive lineman out of Southern Mississippi, he was selected in sixth round, No. 217, by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Of the rookies who will make their NFL debuts, Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt was the highest draft pick, selected No. 46 overall by the San Francisco 49ers. Florida Atlantic defensive back D’Joun Smith was taken No. 65 overall by the Indianapolis Colts shortly after graduating. Of the remaining seven drafted ASN rookies, two each were selected in the fifth and seventh rounds and three were taken in the sixth round.

William & Mary receiver Tre McBride, who compiled a three-part NFL draft diary for ASN, was cut by Tennessee but rejoined the Titans’ practice squad. Likewise, UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers, cut by Dallas, will keep his NFL dreams alive on the Cowboys’ practice squad.

Above: Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion made the Minnesota Vikings roster as an undrafted free agent after contributing to the team completing 73.2% of their passes in the preseason. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings via Twitter)

Jill R. Dorson

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.