Rags to Riches: Overlooked NFL talent cashing in this offseason

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Case Keenum

You don’t have to be a high NFL draft pick to hit the bonanza in free agency when the opportunity presents itself. Who says you even have to be drafted at all?

Draft misses – those high picks that didn’t pan out – often have companion success stories who exceeded expectations. They were either low draft picks or undrafted free agents.

The 2018 NFL free agency is well under way, and we have already seen just how hard working, blue collar NFL players who carved out a niche have been rewarded with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Offensive guard Andrew Norvell, an undrafted signee by Carolina Panthers in 2014, has inked a mega five-year, $66.5 million deal with Jacksonville with $30 million guaranteed.

Quarterback Case Keenum, a 2012 UDFA who signed with the Texans, bounced around the league. Yet the 30 year old journeyman earned a two-year $36 million deal with Denver after leading the Vikings to the door step of a Super Bowl last season.

Right tackle Chris Hubbard has bided his time. Many fans don’t recognize his name. NFL front office brass do. The 26-year old undrafted free agent signed with the Steelers to start hi career. He just garnered a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Browns.

Travis “T.J.” Carrie, a 7th round pick of the Raiders in 2014, was signed by Cleveland to a four-year $31 million, with $11.7 million guaranteed.

Kudos to sometimes underappreciated wide receiver Danny Amendola, who went undrafted before signing as a free agent with the Cowboys in 2008. His productive career continues with a three-year $12 million contract including $8.24 guaranteed with the Dolphins.

Malcolm Butler, an 2014 undrafted cornerback who joined the Patriots out of West Alabama, signed a free agent deal with the Titans for $61.25 million over five years with $30 million guaranteed.

Saints fans came to appreciate the versatile Senio Kelemete, who played a major role in New Orleans success this past season. Drafted in the fifth round by the Cardinals in 2012, the offensive lineman was rewarded with a chance to start with the Texans on a three-year $12 million deal.

Quarterback Tom Savage hails from Springfield, Pa. With Rutgers from 2009-’10, he managed a 9-4 mark as a starter. He was selected as a Freshman All American. In 2010, he suffered an injury. Late in 2011, he announced he was transferring to Arizona. That is, until Rich Rodriguez arrived and changed the offense. Savage knew it wouldn’t be a good fit in the desert. He next headed to Pittsburgh and sat out 2012. Savage was then named the Pitt starter in ’13 under head coach Paul Chryst.

Picked in fourth round by the Texans, Savage landed on IR in 2015 and suffered a concussion in ’16. He was named the starter in Houston in 2017 following a strong preseason, but was benched in favor of rookie DeShaun Watson. In his three seasons in NFL, the 6-foot-4, 230 pounder has thrown for only five touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Okay, it’s true Savage only ended up this offseason with a one-year contract for $2 million. But who is to say that he won’t take advantage of his next good shot to prove himself in the league only to sign a big deal someday?

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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