For scouts and assistant coaches with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the busiest part of last weekend's NFL Draft was right after the final pick was made. That's when Buccaneer staffers got to work on their phones, contacting undrafted rookies they were hoping to lure to Tampa. Of course, the same scene was being repeated in 31 other team headquarters around the league.
The Buccaneers managed to sign 14 rookie free agents to add to their six picks in the draft. Those 14 will get a very real opportunity to make the regular season roster, just as six undrafted rookies did last year: running back Peyton Barber, tight end Alan Cross, cornerback Javien Elliott, defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert, defensive end Channing Ward and tackle Leonard Wester.
By the time the Bucs hit training camp, there might be more than 14 undrafted rookie candidates for the roster, however. Those Buccaneer staffers burning up the phone lines after the draft worked hard to get their most coveted players, but competition from the rest of the league makes that difficult. In addition sometimes the best roster candidates aren't immediately obvious.
"A lot of the times it's funny how it works," said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht about the Bucs' efforts with undrafted players on Saturday night. "You're targeting guys just like in the draft. The guy that you want, another team is paying him more money, you get upset. And then you bring in Adam Humphries on a tryout deal, and he works out to be the best."
That's where this weekend's mini-camp and a couple dozen tryout contracts come in handy. Since first-year players like Tevin Westbrook and Derel Walker are allowed to participate in the rookie camp, the team does have a few more participants on hand to add to their 20 recently-added rookies. Still, that's not enough to run fully-functional practices, so the rest of the weekend roster will be filled out by the following 26 rookies who have signed tryout contracts.
The players headed to One Buccaneer Place for tryouts this weekend can take heart in Humphries' story. The Clemson wide receiver was not immediately signed by any team after the 2015 draft, even though he had been a team captain and a productive receiver and punt returner. Humphries was likely overshadowed by such big-name Clemson NFL prospects as Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant.
Photos of the Buccaneers 2017 rookies.
However, Humphries came to Tampa on a tryout contract and did well enough to subsequently be signed to the offseason roster. The same was also true of Heidelberg wide receiver Donteea Dye. Moreover, both Humphries and Dye made the Bucs' 53-man roster and carved out significant roles as rookies. Humphries continued his ascent in 2016, taking over the slot receiver duties and recording 55 catches for 622 yards and three touchdowns. He was also the team's primary punt returner.
Even for those players who do not immediately earn a more permanent contract, the mini-camp tryout can be useful simply to put their skills on tape for later consideration. For example, Florida State long-snapper Dax Dellenbach participated in last year's rookie camp at One Buccaneer Place, and when the Buccaneers were looking for a new snapper after the 2016 season, Dellenbach got a call. He will now compete with veteran Garrison Sanborn to replace Andrew DePaola.