Lots of players from Big 12 football teams who went unselected in the 2016 NFL Draft will get opportunities to play in the league next season. A count this morning showed 45 undrafted free agents with Big 12 ties have signed with NFL teams and the total is expected to increase before training camps open in July.
As always, some players put themselves in better positions than others to secure their NFL futures. Here are five former Big 12 performers who seem like they have maximized their fits as free-agent signees:
Trevone Boykin, TCU quarterback: The player who posted a 22-2 record as the Horned Frogs’ starting quarterback the past two seasons signed with Seattle, where dual-threat Russell Wilson is the starter and the Seahawks’ roster is light on backup options. Boykin, a gifted athlete with elusive open-field moves who also played running back and receiver in college, is headed to a team that could use help in its receiver ranks. With the NFL’s love for versatile players, a “slash” role as backup QB/receiver/kick returner could secure Boykin a roster spot in September.
Eric Striker, Oklahoma linebacker: Arguably the highest-rated potential draftee from a Big 12 school that went unselected, Striker signed with the Buffalo Bills. He has the leadership and intangible elements that coaches covet in backup/role players at the next level, as ESPN fans witnessed during Saturday’s telecast with his moving talk to assembled family and friends once he realized he would not be selected.
Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State fullback/H-back: A valuable multi-year contributor for the Wildcats, Gronkowski also signed with the Bills. He’ll compete in the same division with his brother, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. That connection to the Patriots’ locker room, by itself, could be enough to convince Bills’ coach Rex Ryan to keep “Little Gronk” on his September roster. An even bigger factor is Gronkowski’s talent and versatility he has shown as a blocker, rusher, pass-catcher and potential special-teams standout at the NFL level.
Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma offensive lineman: The Euless Trinity graduate signed with the Houston Texans, a team in need of shoring up its offensive line to protect incoming quarterback Brock Osweiler. Kasitati has all the tools to handle the position versatility required of a backup lineman at the NFL level.
Jay Lee, Baylor receiver: A solid, multi-year contributor to the Bears’ prolific offense, Lee signed with the Detroit Lions. The Lions’ offseason was marked by the retirement of elite receiver Calvin Johnson, leaving a massive void in the starting lineup. While no incoming Lions’ receiver, including Lee, can match Johnson’s rare physical gifts, some of those newcomers will inherit his playing time. Lee could be one of them.