The lockout is over and the first beneficiaries are the young men whose careers were most threatened by "irreparable damage" -- the huge crop of free agents left over after the draft ended and were caught in labor limbo. The window for a UDFA to make an impact in the NFL is vanishingly slim, but the huge success stories out there (long time Colts center Jeff Saturday and Patriots recever Wes Welker to name two) prove that it can be done.
Now, less than twelve hours since the lockout was officially lifted, a deluge of UDFA activity has hit the Twitter wires, and four undrafted players have been semi-officially inked by the Rams: CB James Dockery (no relation to Kevin), Oregon State; DT Arthur Thomas, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; QB Taylor Potts, Texas Tech; and CB Dionte Dinkins.
A fifth name, though not yet confirmed, could potentially have the biggest impact.
PERFECT. Do it Rams RT @RamsHerd: @ShanePHallam What do you think about RB Derrick Locke as a fit for the Rams?
That tweet was from 5 pm... a few short hours later Locke's name started hitting the wires as an rumored acquisition by the Rams. Hopefully we'll know more at 10 am tomorrow, the first time any of these signings can be officially announced.
More on Derrick Locke
Locke is a very fast runner (clocked at 4.21 in the 40 yard dash) who, more importantly, also plays fast on the field. (Your 40 time means nothing if you have a track star mentality and subsequent fear of contact.) Along with WR/QB Randall Cobb, Locke was a dynamic part of the University of Kentucky's dangerous offense, working equally well as a receiver out of the backfield and as runner who can quickly get from the pocket to the edge.
However, all the usual red flags for smaller running backs are there with Locke -- not much blocking ability, not a traditional "between the tackles" runner, and a far from spotless injury record. All of which helps explain why he wasn't drafted in the first place.
If he stays healthy, though, Locke potentially offers all the skillset of a Darren Sproles with much fresher legs.
The Rams' UDFA goldmine
Rams GM Billy Devaney has maximized value out of the late rounds of the draft and the pool of leftover talent in his time here in St Louis, a key in the rebuilding process. Some of these players were camp bodies that were given extended playing time simply because there was no one else (hello Keith Null), but we've struck our fair share of gold here in the last three years.
Danny Amendola (undrafted, 2008 and signed off the Eagles' practice squad in 2009) and Danario Alexander (undrafted, 2010) are poised to contribute significant snaps for the team this year on offense, and both Ken Darby (7th round, 2008) and Keith Toston (undrafted, 2010) came from this pool as well. And we know that Spagnuolo's attack-friendly defense has plenty of room for grinders like David Vobora (Mr. Irrelevant, 2008), CJ Ah You (former Bills 7th rounder, 2007) and Craig Dahl (undrafted, 2007).
As the general talent level of the team rises, opportunities for these players to make an impact dwindle, but this team has hunger bred into its mindset, and adding more hungry players to camp only magnifies the effect.