By keeping linebacker Otaro Alaka and offensive lineman Patrick Mekari on their initial 53-man roster this year, the Baltimore Ravens extended their streak to 16 consecutive years with at least one undrafted free agent on the roster to open the season.
Some of the undrafted free agents the Ravens have kept have been totally forgettable. Some of the Ravens’ undrafted finds have gone on to become extremely impactful players for other franchises, like New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz and former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday. The current roster includes former undrafted free agents like linebacker Chris Board, running back Gus Edwards, offensive linemen James Hurst and Matt Skura, fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard and safety Brynden Trawick.
But some of the undrafted free agents the Ravens have discovered have gone on to become franchise cornerstones. This month, we look back at “The 15 Greatest Undrafted Free Agents In Ravens History.” (These are in alphabetic order, not order of greatness.)
1. Long Snapper Morgan Cox
It’s hard to fathom a long snapper being considered among the greatest ANYTHINGS in a franchise’s history. But the Ravens decided to move on from veteran Matt Katula in 2010 after signing Cox, and the former Tennessee Volunteer has been a key factor for a team that has revolutionized kicking and punting throughout the decade.
2. Safety Will Demps
Not only did Demps make the Ravens’ roster in 2002, he became a major contributor during his four seasons with the team. The former San Diego State standout tallied 234 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 23 pass defenses, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries during his time in Baltimore. Oh, and he has somehow managed to beat out Tony Siragusa for the most successful modeling career of any Raven during their post-playing career.
3. Defensive Lineman Marques Douglas
Douglas was originally signed by the Ravens out of Howard in 1999 but didn’t stick until he returned in 2001. He was just a minor contributor in 2001 and 2002, but between 2003 and 2004, he developed into a defensive stalwart. Douglas combined for 133 tackles (21 for loss), 10 sacks and three forced fumbles during those seasons, earning himself a three-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
4. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe
When the Ravens kept Ellerbe out of Georgia in 2009, it would have been difficult to imagine him being much more than a special-teams contributor. Instead he merely went on to intercept New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC championship game in January 2013 and start alongside Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XLVII. He would also go on to win a second title himself with the Philadelphia Eagles. Not too shabby.
5. Offensive Lineman Mike Flynn
Flynn is a bit of a technicality; he did not actually make the roster out of Maine in 1997. The Ravens actually released him, allowing him to bounce to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars before ultimately returning later in the year. Thankfully, the Ravens brought him back. Flynn would start at right guard for the team during their run to the Super Bowl XXXV title and later shift to center, spending a decade in Baltimore.
6. Running Back Priest Holmes
Sure, his best years ended up coming in Kansas City, where he was a three-time first-team All-Pro. But in his first four seasons with the Ravens out of Texas, Holmes not only had a 1,000-yard rushing season (1998), he was also the key backup to Jamal Lewis during the run to the Super Bowl XXXV title. Of course, he’s still only the second-best undrafted free agent the Ravens have ever discovered out of Texas.
7. Defensive Lineman Ma’ake Kemoeatu
Signed out of Utah in 2002, Kemoeatu played in every game of his rookie season and ultimately developed into an excellent run-stuffing starter by 2005. Unfortunately for the Ravens, that made him a desirable free agent and he signed with the Carolina Panthers. But he ultimately returned to Baltimore in 2012, reclaimed the starting nose tackle job and helped the Ravens to the Super Bowl XLVII championship.
8. Linebacker Jameel McClain
Now serving as the director of player engagement for the Ravens, McClain’s story is one of the best in the history of the team. He grew up at times homeless in Philadelphia but made the roster out of Syracuse in 2008. He was an excellent special-teams performer for a couple of years before becoming a starting inside linebacker for four seasons and winning a Super Bowl XLVII ring.
9. Linebacker Albert McClellan
Similarly, McClellan used special teams to help find his way onto the roster out of Marshall in 2011. He remained one of the team’s top special teamers until 2018 and actually became a starting linebacker in 2012 as the team went on to win Super Bowl XLVII. He also had a brief stint with the Patriots later in his career, but if he’s OK with it, we’d prefer to just kinda pretend like that never happened.
10. Safety Anthony Mitchell
Mitchell made the roster out of Tuskegee in 2000 and finished his rookie season with just one tackle … and one of the greatest plays in franchise history. As you’ll remember, in the divisional round of the 2000 playoffs, it was Mitchell who ran back a Keith Washington block of an Al Del Greco field goal attempt for a touchdown that broke a 10-10 tie with the Tennessee Titans and pushed the Ravens toward their first Super Bowl title. He went on to become a starter a couple of years later, but this was just slightly more memorable.
11. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor
Now in his fourth season out of Portland State, “Peanut” originally didn’t make it to the roster out of training camp, either. He actually had to work his way to the roster after starting on the practice squad in 2016. Ironically, it was the retirement of another undrafted free agent (more coming) that allowed him to become a starter in 2017.
12. Linebacker Zachary Orr
Sadly, Orr’s career was cut short following an All-Pro 2016 season due to a spinal condition that originally forced him to retire and later left teams unwilling to sign him when he expressed an interest in continuing his career. The former North Texas standout may well have been on his way to becoming the next in a line of great Ravens linebackers but instead has worked with the team as a coaching assistant.
13. Defensive Lineman Michael Pierce
Sure, it was a bumpy offseason for Pierce, but he’s still one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL just a few years removed from being signed out of Samford in 2016. The question now becomes whether the Ravens will be able to afford to keep him long term or if he’ll be the next in a long line of Ravens defensive players to sign for huge money elsewhere. Speaking of which …
14. Linebacker Bart Scott
Long before he became “The Mad Backer” or the person synonymous with the phrase “Can’t Wait,” Scott was an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois in 2002. Special teams were Scott’s ticket into the league and ultimately into a starting role, an All-Pro nod, big money from the New York Jets and then high-profile jobs in national media.
15. Kicker Justin Tucker
As good as some of the players on this list are, Tucker’s the only one with a real chance of ending up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s statistically one of the greatest kickers in the history of the game and may well go down as the best to ever play the sport. It’s easy to forget that when he was signed out of Texas in 2012, it was a down-to-the-wire decision as to whether the team would keep him or … Billy Cundiff. Yeah, that Billy Cundiff. It proved to be one of the great decisions in franchise history.
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran and Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 257: September 2019