Fri, Sep 18, 2015

Five Small-School UDFAs with a Shot to Stick

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FS Gordon Hill (No. 41). Photo by Shana Siler,

GM Tom Telesco drafted a couple small-school players in Craig Mager (third round, Texas State) and Kyle Emanuel (fifth round, North Dakota State), but his search for "diamonds in the rough" did not end there. He also signed five small-school players as undrafted free agents, each of whom has a surprisingly good shot at making some noise as early as this season.

Here is a look at those five players and their prospects for sticking around.

TE Brian Parker (Albany)

Parker originally joined the Chargers with his eyes on 2016. He is well aware that San Diego's four tight ends -- Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, John Phillips and David Johnson -- are all on expiring contracts. But with the league announcing late that week that Gates is suspended for the first four games of the season, there is a chance Parker's time could come sooner than expected.

Gates will not count against the 53-man roster during his suspension, which could open the door for Parker. If he plays well -- both on offense and special teams -- there is a chance the Chargers could keep the rookie over Phillips once Gates returns.

"[Parker] was a matchup nightmare for safeties and linebackers," Albany offensive coordinator Joe Bernard told us in an exclusive interview earlier this offseason. "He can stretch the field a lot better than you think."

ILB Nick Dzubnar (Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo)

The Chargers have an interesting mix at inside linebacker, with recent second-round picks Manti Te'o (2013) and Denzel Perryman (2015) competing for time with veterans Donald Butler and Kavell Conner. That is quality depth -- perhaps too much so. Butler, Te'o and Perryman figure to eat up the vast majority of the snaps, especially considering how well their skill-sets complement one another. That means the fourth inside linebacker, whoever that may be, will be asked to contribute primarily on special teams.

That is why Dzubnar has a shot to stick ... all he does is ring up tackles. He finished second in the FCS in tackles last season (167) and led the Mustangs in that category each of the last three seasons. The primary reason he went undrafted is because teams had questions about how he moves laterally, but that issue won't hinder him in kick coverage.

The Chargers may keep Dzubnar over Conner, knowing the rookie could fill Andrew Gachkar's void on special teams. Also working in Dzubnar's favor: he makes about half as much money as Conner. That is why we predicted Dzubnar would win a spot on the active roster in our full roster projections.

FS Gordon Hill (Sacred Heart)

By the time training camp begins, it is almost certain Eric Weddle and his agent, David Canter, will have cut off communications with the Chargers regarding a possible contract extension. That means once the players report to Chargers Park, San Diego's coaches will have no choice but to consider the future of the safety position.

Enter Hill, the versatile safety who chose the Chargers over competing offers from the Chiefs and Buccaneers. Hill visited all three teams prior to the draft but came away most impressed by the Chargers. He felt the coaching staff had a solid plan in place for him; that plan involved playing a lot of special teams at first, but it also included everything from covering receivers in nickel and dime packages to rushing off the edge.

San Diego's top four safeties are set: Weddle, Jimmy Wilson, Jahleel Addae and Darrell Stuckey. Hill will compete with holdover Adrian Phillips and fellow undrafted rookie John Lowdermilk for the fifth and final safety spot.

WR Tyrell Williams (Western Oregon)

It would only be fitting for the Chargers to find the next Malcom Floyd in what is likely Floyd's final year. Williams certainly has the size (6'3", 204 pounds) and speed (4.42 40-yard dash) to be San Diego's next big-play threat. He flashed that ability last season at Western Oregon, when he finished with 56 catches for 950 yards and eight scores despite facing double- and triple-coverage.

When NFL coaches reviewed Williams' game film, they all came away with the same question: What is this kid doing at Western Oregon? He is in the NFL now, though, choosing San Diego's deal over offers from the Panthers and Rams. If all goes according to plan, he can spend his rookie year learning from Floyd before assuming M-80's place on the roster in 2016.

"I'm just trying to make an impact on every single play I can," he told us in a one-on-one interview earlier this offseason. "Just catching every day and running basic routes every day and working on my blocking every day. [I'm] still trying to stay tuned up on everything."

OT Forrestal Hickman (Missouri S&T)

San Diego's most recent free agent signing is also its largest. Hickman (6'7", 320 pounds) fits right in with one of the biggest offensive lines in the NFL. He was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Miners, where he was named first team All-Great Lakes Valley Conference in 2012 and 2014.

Hickman is further away from contributing than the players above him on this list, but that is fine given his position -- backup tackles can be given time to develop.

It is impossible to project what San Diego's depth chart will look like until things are settled on the right side of the line, but if D.J. Fluker moves inside to guard and Joe Barksdale starts at right tackle, then swing tackle Chris Hairston would be the only established backup tackle on the roster.

The best-case scenario for Hickman likely involves starting the season on the practice squad. But if he can prove the jump in competition level is not overwhelming for him, there may be a spot for him on the active roster. Barksdale and Hairston are both on one-year deals, so Hickman will have every opportunity to earn a place in the team's long-term plans.

Which of these players has the best chance to make the roster? Discuss in the message boards!

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. In addition to being publisher of, he works as the Senior NFL Reporter for You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.

Adrian Phillips, Antonio Gates, Brian Parker, Chris Hairston, D.J. Fluker, Darrell Stuckey, David Johnson, Denzel Perryman, Donald Butler, Eric Weddle, Forrestal Hickman, Gordon Hill, Jahleel Addae, Jimmy Wilson, Joe Barksdale, John Phillips, Kavell Conner, Ladarius Green, Malcom Floyd, Manti Te'o, Nick Dzubnar, Tyrell Williams
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