Making an NFL team as an undrafted free agent is one of the most difficult things for an athlete to do. Yet in Kansas City two — Jovan Belcher and Pierre Walters — broke camp with the Chiefs last season. Coming off a 4 win season with plenty of holes remaining, could another group of UDFAs make the team? Bob Gretz thinks the player with the best chance is Justin Cole out of San Jose State.
Checking around the league in the 10 days since the Draft, we found that Cole was on most team’s boards as a draftable player. Some had him rated as high as a fifth-round choice. Others had him in the sixth or seventh-round. At least one time labeled him a “desirable signee” as an undrafted free agent.
Cole signed on with the Chiefs and went through the team’s rookie camp last weekend. Wearing No. 57, he worked at outside linebacker along with fifth-round draft choice Cameron Sheffield.
The Chiefs do not talk about their evaluations, but several other teams said there wasn’t a shade of difference between Sheffield and Cole. One scout allowed that Sheffield may be a better athlete, but Cole had the same skills and background.
A four-year starter at San Jose State as a defensive end (two years) and outside linebacker (two years), Cole expected to be selected in the Draft based on what he heard from his agent, friends and those around the NFL.
“I’m definitely excited to go to (training) camp and play with a chip on my shoulder,” Cole said. “I think they’re getting a versatile player, a person that fits well into three or four schemes.”
Cole was invited to the NFL Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds, lifted 225 pounds in the bench press 22 times. He had a 34.5-inch vertical jump and 9-foot 9-inch in the broad jump. None of those numbers were in the outstanding to very good range; the numbers are average to below average for someone of his physical makeup.
Still he was on some team’s draft boards for multiple reasons. During four seasons with SJS, he never missed a game. He’s already graduated with a degree in marketing. He was never a prima donna and worked on special teams right through his senior season. He also served as one of the Spartans co-captain last year.
“I did not go to college thinking about going to the next level,” Cole said. “My focus was just to be a good college football player. I lived in the present. I worked out for the present and my college career.
“Now that it’s over and you have the opportunity to continue, I’m definitely going to prepare at 120 percent to take advantage of that chance.”
It’s far too early to handicap the odds for the undrafted free agents, but with the lack of depth at linebacker, Cole should have as good a shot as any of the UDFAs to make the team. The person that he could eventually bump off the roster is the guy who’s footsteps he’s trying to follow in: Pierre Walters.
Cole was at SJS for five years, so you don’t have to worry about experience being an issue. He may have played against lesser competition, but he played… alot. Even during his redshirt season Cole was awarded a “Scout Team” award because of his non-stop motor.
Good character, high effort level and durable? Sounds like the perfect mix to make a run at that final roster spot.