Winning With Arya Stark: Potential Impact Undrafted Free Agents
Who isn’t rooting for Arya Stark?
I suspect those of you who don’t watch Game of Thrones aren’t, basically because…well…you have no idea who I’m talking about. But of all of you who DO watch Game of Thrones, it’s hard not to want Arya Stark to succeed. And don’t worry, it’s cool to be a Game of Thrones fan. Heck, even Snoop Dog likes GOT — so much so that he’d even like to smoke weed with Tyrion Lannister. Then again who WOULDN’T want to smoke weed with Tyrion. I mean not that I would smoke weed, just…um…well, let’s get back to Arya Stark.
So, for those not as cool as Snoop Dog, I’m going to try to explain who Arya is without spoilers. Arya is the youngest daughter of Ed Stark (who WAS very important to one of the Kings until…well…let’s just say until his situation changed). She’s strongly independent and hates traditional female roles. Instead, she learns to fight, ultimately kicks ass with a sword named Needle and teams up with a crazy awesome assassin named Jaqen. Bottom line, she was left alone at an early age and through sheer will and commitment, she becomes, let’s say, a really intimidating individual.
So why does this matter for football? Well, every year, after the NFL Draft, there are numerous undrafted free agents. Some deserve to be UDFAs, but there are several that deserved to be drafted and will end up being steals in free agency. Underdogs that through sheer will and commitment become really intimidating football players.
So who are these overlooked players? Well, I’m not talking about La’el Collins, who SHOULD have been a first round pick but was unfairly passed on by all 32 teams in the draft. And I already discussed Josh Harper, who I think, if given the chance, can be a real impact player in Oakland.
So who am I talking about? Well, there are several, but I want to focus on two that I think deserve closer looks — Lucky Whitehead and Mike Hull.
Lucky Whitehead – WR – Dallas Cowboys
Lucky Whitehead was another wide receiver which I believe should have been selected in by the sixth round of the draft. He’s speedy threat who spent his last two years dominating at the position while at Florida Atlantic University, both as a slot receiver and as a punt / kick returner. Unfortunately, although there were reports of significant interest, Whitehead remained undrafted and was recently signed by the Dallas Cowboys. When asked about the experience, Whitehead stated:
“The whole process was very nerve-racking. In the sixth and seventh round my phone started blowing up, but nobody was pulling the trigger. After I wasn’t picked, I was just trying to weigh my options.”
And then, of course this:
Lucky Whitehead Has Signed with Dallas http://t.co/gxQ08Pp0hk. Speedy receiver is the second WR to sign with the NFL in FAU's history.
— FAU Athletics (@FAUOwlAthletics) May 3, 2015
Why did I believe that Whitehead should have been drafted by the sixth round? In his final year, Whitehead was impressive leading Florida Atlantic and Conference USA with 76 receptions, totaling 706 yards and six touchdowns. In addition to being a potent receiving threat, Whitehead also impressed in punt / kick returns, being ranked 18th nationally in all-purpose yards, 11th in combined kick returns, 33rd in kick returns, 10th in punt returns scores and 5th in number of returns. And on top of all that, Whitehead had 21 attempts rushing the ball, totaling 210 yards on the ground. On the back of these accomplishments, Whitehead was named Florida Atlantic’s offensive MVP and was named to the 2014 Conference USA All-Conference First Team.
Whitehead didn’t go to the Combine, but was impressive at his Pro Day showing off his speed with a 4.39 second 40-yard dash (which would have been good for 5th best among wide receivers at the Combine and ahead of such names as Amari Cooper and Nelson Agholor) and his strength with 20 reps on the 225 lb. bench press.
Bottom line — Whitehead is incredibly versatile as a slot receiver with the ability to effectively run sweeps and take the occasional hand off, while being an absolute monster in the return game. With primary returner Dwayne Harris no longer with the Cowboys, there’s opportunity here for Whitehead to take over and incrementally make his way into three receiver sets. Just check out this amazing run and punt return he had against Tulsa:
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Whitehead will thrive off his underdog status and will do what it takes to succeed:
“I’ve always been the underdog and it’s more for me to feed off of. There’s plenty of great undrafted players out there and I’m going to make a name for myself.”
Mike Hull – OLB – Miami Dolphins
Another guy that I thought would have been drafted, at least by the sixth round, was linebacker Mike Hull. Penn State had one of the best defenses in college in 2014, being ranked first in the country in rushing defense, second in total defense, tenth in passing defense and eighth in scoring defense. And the leader of that defense? You guessed it — Mike Hull.
Hull was named the Big 10 Linebacker of the Year for his senior year, amassing 140 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and 2 sacks in 2014 for Penn State. He played both inside and outside linebacker in college, giving him significant versatility in the NFL. However, even with these credentials, Hull remained undrafted.
Apparently, the Miami Dolphins felt the same way about Hull that I do and signed him as an UDFA. And so far, with rookie minicamp, things appear to be going well:
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) May 11, 2015
At the NFL Combine, Hull actually put up impressive numbers, with 31 reps on the bench press (good for 2nd best among linebackers), an 11.52 second 60-yard shuttle (good for 3rd best among linebackers) and a 3 cone drill time of 6.99 seconds (good for 5th best among linebackers). Unfortunately, draft pundits were concerned with his size (6′ and 232 lbs.), short arm length (30.5″) and the arthroscopic knee surgery he had to remove a piece of his meniscus after the 2014 season.
Fortunately, what you see if you watch Hull on tape is that he never stops. He’s a fierce competitor that will play at 110% effort to the whistle each and every down. He was also known as a leader on and off the field and the brains behind the Penn State defense, who according to one analyst, “show[ed] terrific recognition skills and read/react quickness to break down and make a play”.
In fact, Hull’s ability to “read/react” to plays was on display in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, which Penn State won 31-30:
Regardless of his success in college football, Hull understands that there’s a long road ahead, and he’ll start by playing the part of the underdog in the NFL. But that’s OK, I think he’s ready for it:
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) May 11, 2015
And when asked, Hull didn’t hesitate:
“I believe in my heart I can play at this level. I know nothing will be handed to me and that’s the way it should be. I keep reminding myself that it doesn’t matter where you start off; it matters where you end up.”
Clearly, Hull is up for the task.
With rookie minicamps in full swing and the NFL preseason looming only a few short months away, it will be interesting to see how the 53-man rosters ultimately shake out. If I were a betting man, though, I’d take a long look at both Whitehead and Hull, as both have the pedigree, the commitment and desire to excel in the NFL. And besides, underdogs play with a chip on their shoulder, so you don’t want to get on in their way when they have a goal in mind.
Just like you wouldn’t want to piss off Arya Stark.