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Six former Rebels sign with NFL teams as undrafted free agents

Who will have the best shot at making an NFL roster?

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft concluded late Saturday afternoon, with four Ole Miss players among those who had their names called in front of primarily Chiefs fans and people who were definitely paid to dress up as fans of other teams.

Shortly after the draft ended, the bonanza that is the signing of undrafted free agents roared to life and reached full volume within the hour. When it was over, six former Rebels now find themselves with the opportunity to make either a 53-man roster or a practice squad, which last I checked, also pays cash money.

Malik Heath, Mason Brooks, AJ Finley, Troy Brown, Otis Reese IV, and KD Hill joined Ole Miss’ four drafted players - Jonathan Mingo, Tavius Robinson, Zach Evans, and Nick Broeker - as the latest additions to the NFL from Oxford.

The odds all 10 make a 53-man roster or practice squad are close to zero, but I will note Ole Miss had seven undrafted free agents last year and five are still with the teams that signed them. So it wouldn’t be unprecedented for several of them to not have to consider their XFL or USFL options.

Let’s take a quick look at each of Ole Miss’ 2023 undrafted free agents, as well as their teams and outlooks. Obviously, these teams may add more to their rosters, which can squeeze someone out, but this is where things stand as of the beginning of May.

Malik Heath - Green Bay Packers

Heath will not have the opportunity to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers, who is off to New York to see if he can get the Jets in the playoffs and lose at least five figures to various Three-Card Monte dealers. However, Heath may have a chance to stick around Green Bay.

Here are the Packers’ current receivers:

  • Jeff Cotton
  • Romeo Doubs
  • Bo Melton
  • Samori Toure
  • Christian Watson
  • Jayden Reed (2023 2nd round)
  • Dontayvion Wicks (2023 5th round)
  • Grant DuBose (2023 7th round)

He’s not exactly trying to crack the Rams rotation of the late 90s and early 2000s, but it will still be a steep climb, as the addition of drafted rookies adds to the number of people he’ll have to beat out to earn a spot.

Heath most likely doesn’t have a future in special teams, so he won’t have an additional avenue that some guys might have. He’ll have to perform well enough as only a receiver to extend his stay in Green Bay.

Mason Brooks - Washington Commanders

Much like college teams who wanted Brooks out of the portal, NFL teams also think there’s something here. Brooks’ height and long arms are plusses, but he was never able to get regular playing time on an offensive line at Ole Miss that needed other options.

Maybe NFL coaching will help him dramatically improve and he’s viewed as a project, but the odds of him even getting to a training camp are not in his favor.

AJ Finley - Los Angeles Chargers

The good news for Finley is that the Chargers didn’t draft a safety and only signed one other undrafted free agent safety. The bad news is that the Chargers employ Derwin James at one of their safety spots, and the other three safeties on the roster are 26, 25, and 23 years old, meaning they’re not moving on from older players.

However, given those players are also young and not terribly experienced, the Chargers may not be locked into them. Finley is a smart player and has good size, but he doesn’t have high-end athleticism and speed. To make the roster or practice squad, he will likely need to perform at a high level on special teams.

Troy Brown - New York Giants

Like AJ Finley, Brown’s path to employment goes through special teams. He’s too undersized to play inside in the NFL and not dynamic enough off the edge to see a ton of snaps, but he has the ability to be a special teams player and limited backup snaps.

It will be difficult for him, but, of note, the Giants didn’t draft any linebackers, and Brown is one of three undrafted free agent linebackers. If he stands out among those three, perhaps they keep him around.

Otis Reese IV - Tennessee Titans

Reese has outstanding size for his position, but he’s a safety that offers a lot in defending the run while struggling in coverage. The coverage issues don’t translate great to the NFL, which demands players be able to do both.

Maybe he finds a way to improve in that area with NFL coaching, but he is likely another special teams or bust guy. However, as THE OLD SAYING GOES, BOB, you can’t teach size, meaning he too could be seen as a project and worth storing on the practice squad.

KD Hill - New York Jets

Hill certainly has the beefiness and strength teams like in interior linemen, but he’s on the shorter side and isn’t particularly explosive. He also spent most of the last two years at Ole Miss playing a zero technique, meaning he lined up directly over the center on almost every play.

The Jets’ base defense involves four defensive linemen, with two of those being interior tackles who do not play a zero technique. Now, technique is teachable and it won’t be totally new to him, but it will be an adjustment for him.

In more bad news, the Jets had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year, which likely means they aren’t looking to make a lot of personnel changes. Maybe Hill is able to show them enough that he lands on the practice squad and can develop there or provide emergency relief if needed, but earning a 53-man roster spot is unlikely.

And that stinks on multiple levels, including Hill, who is a smart and fantastic human being, not being in New York to prevent Aaron Rodgers from losing five figures at Three-Card Monte.

Good luck to our now-NFL sons, and we wish them all the best. We would love to be talking about them having a roster spot this time next year.