Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Still Plenty of NFL Talent Left

The NFL draft concluded Sunday with the defending Super Bowl champions, New England, selecting William Penn tight end as Mr. Irrelevant. However, since Sunday night NFL execs have remained extremely busy evaluating and signing undrafted free agents. Here is a list of some of the top undrafted free agents, in no particular order, according to NFL.com.

Kay Jay Harris, Running Back, West Virginia - Harris is a physical running back with great vision. He is a big, fast runner who has worked to become a more durable ball carrier and shows plenty of big-play potential, evident by his performance vs. East Carolina in 2004.

Reggie Harrell, Wide Receiver, Texas Christian University - Harrell was a two-sport standout for the Horned Frogs. He excelled on both the football and track fields. He spent his first two seasons on the sidelines as a redshirt and with a knee injury before getting his chance to play for TCU.

The first 1,000-yard receiver in school history, he finished his career with 103 receptions for 1,812 yards and six touchdowns. His 103 catches ranks No. 9 on the school's all-time record list, while his 1,812 receiving yards ranks No. 6. He played in 34 games and made 24 career starts.

Jason White, Quarterback, Oklahoma - The sixth-year collegian made a remarkable comeback from reconstructive surgery on both knees in successive years earlier in his career to become one of the most decorated athletes in the history of Sooners football … His mantelpiece is adorned with the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, in addition to receiving All-American, All-Big 12 Conference and Academic All-Big 12 honors … He was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Courage Award and earned College Player of the Year accolades from The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press … In his final two years at the helm at Oklahoma, he threw 75 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions … The two-time Daily Oklahoman, Coaches/McDonalds and Tulsa World All-State selection was also honored as District 3A-1 Player of the Year as a senior at Tuttle (Okla.) High School, where he completed 146 of 231 (63 Percent) for 2,156 yards and 26 touchdowns (fourth highest in state) during his final season and also was a standout safety and kick returner … Saw limited action in two games as a true freshman in 1999 at Oklahoma before ankle and back injuries would force him to take a redshirt season … Saw brief action in another two games in 2000 and appeared in seven contests, starting two, in 2001 before tearing his left knee anterior cruciate ligament vs. Nebraska and was lost for the season … Finished with 681 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 73 of 113 passes (64.6 percent) that year … ACL problems would again force him to the sidelines in 2002, as he injured his right knee in the Alabama clash, finishing the year completing 20 of 34 attempts (58.8 percent) for 181 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions … An intense rehabilitation would see White return to action in 2003, but he lost most of his speed and developed into a pocket passer … Went on to gain 3,846 yards on 278 of 451 passes (61.6 percent) with 40 touchdowns to shatter school season records … Also had only 10 interceptions while earning consensus All-American honors and winning the Heisman Trophy that year … Was granted a sixth year of eligibility and decided to return to the Sooners in 2004 rather than test his wares in the NFL … Captured the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards and was a finalist for the Heisman … Hit on 255 of 390 passes (65.4 percent) for 3,205 yards, 32 touchdowns and only nine interceptions as a senior … His 7,922 yards and 81 touchdown passes set school career records, topping the previous marks of 7,456 yards and 53 touchdown passes by Josh Heupel (1999-2000) … Completed 622 of 990 passes (62.8 percent) during his Oklahoma career, marks that were surpassed only by Heupel (654 of 1,025) in school annals … .His 7,961 yards in total offense surpassed Heupel's previous school all-time record of 7,522 … A model of consistency and a renowned scoring machine, White threw at least four touchdowns in 10 of 40 games he played in for the Sooners … Joined Heupel (63.8 percent) as the only quarterbacks in school annals to complete more than 60 percent of their passes in a career (62.8 percent).

Jon Beutjer, Quarterback, Illinois - Hard-luck, but talented player who has battled a rash of injuries throughout his career. Began his college life at the University of Iowa, transferring to Illinois in 2001. Was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in order to compete in 2004. Has not produced at the level you would expect from a player of his athletic skills, but has drawn comparisons to Tennessee's Drew Bennett, a former collegiate quarterback who made a successful move to wide receiver at the pro level. His quickness and leaping ability could see Beutjer follow Bennett's path to the National Football League.

In 26 games with the Illini over the last three seasons, Beutjer completed 462 of 772 passes (59.8 percent) for 5,190 yards, 39 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. He scored twice on 82 carries for minus-32 yards. Third on the Illinois career touchdown passes list with 39 and ranks No. 6 all-time at Illinois with 5,190 career passing yards, 5,158 career total offense yardage and 462 career completions. Beutjer had four career games with four touchdown passes.

Decori Birmingham, Running Back, Arkansas - One of the top all-around performers in the Southeastern Conference, Birmingham was once again one of the Hogs' primary offensive weapons in 2004. With injuries sidelining the Razorbacks' top two tailbacks, he made the switch to tailback midway through the 2003 season. As a senior, he performed in the backfield and as a wide receiver. Birmingham also spent significant time as a punt returner and as Arkansas' kickoff return man in his career.

Birmingham was an all-conference, All-Northeast Texas and all-state selection as a junior at Atlanta (Texas) High School. He was ranked the No. 16 player overall in the nation by David Garvin's Longhorn Link. Birmingham helped his team to the district crown while rushing for 2,000 yards as a junior. He rushed for 1,063 yards and 13 touchdowns on 125 carries in only five games as a senior, but was named second-team all-district despite missing four games with an injury.

Birmingham had strong family ties to Arkansas when it came time to decide which university to attend. He is the cousin of former Arkansas defensive end Randy Garner and tight end Jason Peters. Birmingham performed in every game as a flanker and tailback as a true freshman in 2001. He rushed 24 times for 87 yards (3.6 avg.) and a touchdown, adding 47 yards on six catches (7.8 avg.). Birmingham also gained 263 yards on 12 kickoff returns (21.9 avg.).

Birmingham started four games at flanker in 2002. He hauled in 17 passes for 184 yards (10.8 avg.) and three touchdowns while also gaining 59 yards on 10 carries. He totaled 638 yards on 28 kickoff returns (22.8 avg.) and 342 yards on 28 punt returns (12.2 avg.). He spent the first six games at flanker in 2003 before injuries to the running unit saw him shift to tailback. Birmingham rushed 88 times for a career-high 549 yards (6.2 avg.) and three touchdowns. He made 17 catches for 186 yards (10.9 avg.) and a pair of scores. He also came up with 89 yards on seven punt returns and 203 yards on 11 kickoff returns (18.5 avg.).

In 2004, Birmingham would start five games at flanker and three contests at tailback. He snared 17 passes for 175 yards (10.3 avg.) and a score while collecting 456 yards and three touchdowns on 111 carries (4.1 avg.). He would also return 10 kickoffs for 217 yards and 17 punts for 115 yards (6.8 avg.). In 49 games with the Razorbacks, Birmingham accounted for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns on 233 rushing attempts. He caught 57 passes for 592 yards (10.4 avg.) and six scores.

Birmingham set a school career record with 1,321 yards on 61 kickoff returns (21.7 avg.), topping the old mark of 1,209 yards by Derek Holloway (1979-82). He also had 52 punt returns for 546 yards (10.5 avg.) and recorded 13 tackles (3 solos) on special teams. His 3,610 all-purpose yards rank fifth in school history. Only Cedric Cobbs (3,657, 1999-2003), Ben Cowins (3,750, 1975-78), Dickey Morton (4,070, 1971-73) and Gary Anderson (4,535, 1979-82) gained more all-purpose yards in Arkansas annals.

Let us know if you disagree or if there are any players we left out. Post your comments.

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