If there’s one position in the NFL where it’s common for undrafted free agents to turn into stars, it’s running back. Even with over two-dozen running backs selected, there were still plenty of talented backs left on the board when the draft was over. Here are a few running backs that could become significant contributors in the NFL, despite going undrafted:
Ray Graham – NFL teams were no doubt weary of using a draft pick on an undersized running back with a history of injury like Graham, who tore his ACL during the 2011 season, but before that injury Graham was one of the most talented backs in college football. He wasn’t back to full strength last season, but he should be close by the time he starts training camp with the Texans, who he signed with after the draft. When healthy, Graham is an explosive back with good vision and quickness, but he’s also not afraid to run inside and get physical. He also has good hands that allow him to catch passes out of the backfield and line up in the slot. If his knee holds up, Graham is too talented not to find an NFL team that can use him.
Onterio McCalebb – After running past defenders in the SEC for the past four years and being the fastest player at the NFL combine, it was a surprise to see McCalebb go undrafted. He’ll likely step into the NFL as one of the fastest straight-line runners in the league, which will give him a chance to find a home somewhere and make plays in a variety of places. He signed with Cincinnati, who was looking for running back help heading into the draft, but the Bengals may look to move him around the field, possibly at slot receiver, cornerback, and definitely on special teams. He may not have the size or strength to handle a lot of touches in the NFL on a week-to-week basis, but McCalebb is a player that needs to get the ball in his hands, and when he does, he’ll be able to make an impact and become a player that NFL teams covet.
Miguel Maysonet – Maysonet is a small-school running back, but he has a chance to make a big impact in the NFL. He is a one-cut back that rushed for nearly 2,000 yards at Stony Brook last year. Maysonet isn’t a flashy runner that is going to break loose and take it to the house very often, but he keeps his legs churching and gets the tough yards. Maysonet may be easy to overlook because he comes from the FCS level, but he’s as talented as most major college running backs. He signed with the Eagles and should be a good fit for Chip Kelly’s offense; if not, there are a lot of other teams that would be lucky to have him.
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Stefphon Jefferson – Jefferson rushed for over 1,800 yards at Nevada last year, so there’s no reason to think he can’t be a productive NFL runner. He has good vision and is able to run through the line of scrimmage with a great burst once he sees the hole. He may not make a lot of big plays, but he doesn’t make a lot of bad plays either; he’s consistently productive, and at the end of the day that’s going to matter more to NFL teams than pure skills. Jefferson signed with Tennessee, which is a roster he may be able to make as the third running back on the depth chart.
Michael Ford – Ford went undrafted because he got lost in a crowded backfield at LSU last season and wasn’t able to put up impressive stats. The previous season he was LSU’s leading rusher, but still had to split the carries with three other backs. On most other college teams he would have been the feature back and put up the kind of numbers that would have made him a mid-round pick. He has a nice combination of size and speed that we often see in SEC running backs, which will allow him to be a productive runner in the NFL. Ford signed with the Bears, but if they don’t want him, he’s talented enough to catch on with another team and stick around the league for a while.