Tony Romo, Wes Welker, Antonio Gates, James Harrison, Kurt Warner. What do they all have in common?
Each one went undrafted.
Now, it’s not often that you find a gem like this in the post-draft process, but undrafted free agents making rosters in the NFL is a lot more common than you’d expect.
Roughly 20% of 53-man rosters over the past decade have come from undrafted backgrounds, and even though the majority of those hardly make the cut in their first year, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
This year, there are plenty of names that didn’t hear their name called on draft weekend that could find themselves as roster players when the season begins. A few that immediately come to mind are Javian Hawkins (RB, Falcons), Ar’Darius Washington (S, Ravens), Paris Ford (S, Rams), Kenny Yeboah (TE, Jets), and Marvin Wilson (DT, Browns). The one that sticks out for me, though? Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga.
A 6-foot, 231-pound linebacker out of Oklahoma State, Ogbongbemiga is hardly the biggest collegiate “name” that went undrafted, but he provides a rounded skill set along with an above-average athletic toolbox and strong work ethic.
Born in Nigeria before moving to Houston and eventually landing in Canada in his early teens, Ogbongbemiga had a very solid career with the Cowboys, racking up 181 tackles over his last two years while also adding crucial character and on-field instincts to the program.
He wasn’t overly flashy, nor did he prove himself especially successful in coverage—two reasons he wasn’t drafted—but many still expected him to hear his name called on Day 3.
Of course, that didn’t happen, so Ogbongbemiga signed with the Chargers post-draft.
(*He was also drafted eighth overall in the 2021 CFL draft, so if it doesn't work out in the NFL, Canada is salivating at the chance to have him in their professional football league.)
Oftentimes, the types of deals priority UDFAs sign right after the draft ends determines their overall value, particularly when it comes to the guaranteed money attached to the entry-level deals. Although there were plenty of players around the league that got more money straight up (Yeboah got a staggering 300k guaranteed with the Jets), Ogbongbemiga got a solid 30k right away with LAC, second on the team to former Louisville DT Jared Goldman (50k).
What sets him apart
Ogbongbemiga is a solid and instinctual linebacker who very well could make a team off of his defensive skills, but that’s not why I’m writing about him. Instead, it’s his special teams prowess that gives me extreme confidence in his ability to make the Chargers' final roster.
Reportedly already impressing the team during OTAs with his abilities in this regard, Ogbongbemiga logged more than 500 snaps on kick and punt units during his time at Oklahoma State (along with a crucial punt block against Boise State) and has a ton of experience in this aspect of the game.
For a Chargers special teams unit that finished DEAD LAST in the league last year, adding Ogbongbemiga’s size, above-average athleticism, and overall experience would certainly help the unit—and was no doubt a reason they prioritized him as an undrafted free agent.
At the end of the day, special teams is the quickest and easiest way to make a team as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent and Ogbongbemiga is in a perfect position given the Chargers’ desperate need for improvement in that regard.
As stated above, Ogbongbemiga isn’t going to start his career on the defensive side of the ball. Very few first-year UDFAs can become meaningful offensive or defensive players right away and that’s not a slight to them or their overall talent—it’s just reality. But assuming he uses his impressive OTAs as the springboard for a good training camp and preseason, there’s no reason to think Ogbongbemiga can’t latch on to the back-end of the Chargers roster—or even potentially be picked up by another team in the event he gets waived.
If we dissect it down to a roster breakdown, NFL teams often keep five or six off-ball linebackers on the final 53, and with the Chargers’ overall lack of talent at the position, we can assume they’ll likely keep the former.
Penciling in Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, and Kenneth Murray as the three starters and Nick Niemann as a key reserve, it leaves one spot for either Ogbongbemiga or Cole Christiansen. With his overall versatility, Ogbongbemiga truly has a significant advantage for the final spot.
Now, at the end of the day, is he a lock for the final roster? Of course not. But if I were a betting man and had to pick one priority UDFA to make a team this coming season, it’s going to be Ogbongbemiga.
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