Scramble'11: The dash for undrafted rookies

Another in a series on what looms in the NFC North during the mad scramble to assemble teams when the lockout ends:

NFL front offices will balance an unprecedented number of tasks in the days and weeks after the lockout ends. Perhaps the most chaotic will be the pursuit of undrafted rookies who otherwise would have been signed immediately after the draft.

If the NFL expands training camp rosters beyond the traditional total of 80, some teams literally will need dozens of these players to give coaches enough bodies to run the kind of training camp they have planned. Their arrivals will coincide with other important tasks, from signing draft picks to acquiring veteran free agents.

As we noted in April, some of our teams got a head start on this process by trading back in the draft to collect late-round picks. The Minnesota Vikings grabbed six players during the final two rounds of the draft combined, while the Green Bay Packers drafted five. All teams keep a list of players who are on the fringe of the draft, and sometimes the guarantees due a seventh-round pick are cheaper than the results of bidding wars during the hectic free-agent period.

If you doubt the significance of this process, look no further than the Packers. Two rookies who signed last spring as undrafted free agents, linebacker Frank Zombo and nickelback Sam Shields, played prominent roles in the team's run to Super Bowl XLV.

Who will be the next Zombo or Shields? In May, Scouts Inc. ranked the top 40 players who weren't draftedInsider. You'll need an insider subscription to see the entire list, but I can give you a peek at the top 5:

  1. Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged

  2. North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney

  3. Southern Arkansas defensive tackle Cedric Thornton

  4. Auburn receiver Darvin Adams

  5. Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel

If you're wondering if the Vikings might have targeted someone to replace pending free agent Ryan Longwell, Scouts Inc. lists UCLA's Kai Forbath as the top place-kicker available.