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Undrafted Tigers will still get their chance in the NFL

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The Tigers had just two draftees, but several others signed with NFL teams on Saturday.

Troy v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

As soon as the New York Giants made Tae Crowder this year’s Mr. Irrelevant by taking him with the 255th and final pick of this year’s NFL Draft, the undrafted free agency signing period began.

Though Missouri had just two players drafted with Jordan Elliott going in the second round and Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth, the Tigers had plenty of other players who could find themselves a spot on an NFL team. Sometimes it can be even more beneficial to remain undrafted than get selected in the seventh round, as it gives players more room to negotiate with more than just one team.

At least five players were discussed as possible draft picks, and it didn’t take long for them to get snatched up by teams.

An all-time Missouri favorite, linebacker Cale Garrett, signed with the Tennessee Titans. Garrett was on pace for an All-American caliber season in 2019, with 35 tackles, five tackles for a loss, two sacks, two pass breakups, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. The recovery and two of the interceptions went for touchdowns, and Garrett was one yard shy of getting that third one into the end zone. He did all of that in just five games before a pectoral injury cost him the rest of his college career.

He won’t wow anyone with his athleticism, but Garrett is a smart player who seemingly always made the right read of the opposing offense. This, in turn, always kept him in position to make a play. Garrett has the work ethic to become a very good NFL player, but at the very least, he will provide solid time as a backup and should be a standout on special teams.

Joining Garrett in Nashville is Tucker McCann, Missouri’s four-year kicker (and 2019 punter). His efficiency fell last season with him manning both positions, as he missed three PATs and six field goals. But even though his kicking game regressed slightly, it was offset by McCann’s punting ability. On the year he averaged 43.2 yards on 68 punts, leaving with 20 going for 50-plus and 25 landing within the opponents’ 20. He’ll have the chance to compete for a spot at either position with the Titans.

Trystan Colon-Castillo was one of the first to get scooped up, as he signed with the Baltimore Ravens. He was the lone non-senior Tiger to go undrafted, but was the center on one of the top offensive lines in 2017 and 2018. The quality line play Missouri had those seasons diminished in 2019, but Colon-Castillo was an outspoken leader both on and off the field and will add a solid element to the Ravens whether he’s playing special teams or ends up protecting Lamar Jackson.

Two other members of those dominant offensive lines, Yasir Durant and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, were also picked up by AFC teams. Durant is staying in-state and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, while Wallace-Simms signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Both Durant and Wallace-Simms were in the same boat as Colon-Castillo, and their draft stock likely fell with the lackluster offensive line play for Missouri last season. As Barry Odom, Derek Dooley and Co. tried multiple sets to fill the spots left open by Kevin Pendleton and Paul Adams, Durant and Wallace-Simms’ weaknesses showed, which was a factor in the team’s offensive decline in the second half of the season. But as both proved in 2017-18, they can still be very effective with the right unit around them.

Two of Missouri’s top defensive backs are headed to the Bay, as DeMarkus Acy and Ronnell Perkins signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

Missouri’s secondary was by far the most improved unit on the team this season, and Acy and Perkins played a big part in that.

Acy was the No. 1 corner on the roster, and when he went down for the last two games of the season, it was clear how much he meant to the pass defense scheme. He ended the season with 15 total tackles and five passes defensed. Not glamorous numbers, but with other teams often looking to avoid throwing his way, they’re solid enough.

Perkins moved into the boundary safety role as the Tigers implemented a 4-2-5 scheme, sharing time with Khalil Oliver at the spot. He finished the season with 17 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions, with the second of those coming on a 100-yard pick-six.

Both Acy and Perkins will have a tough task trying to get on the field with the Niners already fielding one of the NFL’s top defenses, but like the other Missouri players that went undrafted, special teams will be a great place for them to start.

Though it took until later in the night, Johnathon Johnson finally got his shot by signing with the Washington Redskins.

As a slot receiver for four years, Johnson was one of the most productive wideouts on the roster, landing in the top 10 in multiple receiving leaderboards. He was limited in 2019 though, playing just eight games and amassing only 294 yards and no touchdowns. Still, a speedy receiver with experience as a return man will have an opportunity at the next level.