For the first time since 2014, the Colorado Buffaloes had a significant presence at the NFL draft. Four players were selected during the three-day event. After it ended, even more former Buffs signed contracts with teams as undrafted free agents. Quarterback Sefo Liufau landed with the Buccaneers, linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Jimmie Gilbert signed with the Browns and the 49ers, respectively. Defensive tackles Josh Tupou and Samson Kafovalu joined the Bengals and 49ers, respectively. Offensive lineman Alex Kelley also signed with the 49ers. Three of our sports writers weighed in on which of the undrafted Buffs will have the biggest impact on their new teams.
Kyle Rini: Out of these six guys, I think linebacker/defensive end Jimmie Gilbert has the biggest potential for impact in the NFL. Gilbert is heading to San Francisco, a team whose front seven is still trying to recover from the great Harbaugh-era exodus of 2015. The 49ers are also looking for young talent to step up in the pass rush game.
Though he might come in low on the depth chart, Gilbert won’t have to compete against proven veterans. Instead, he’ll face a pool of first- and second-year guys with little in the way of job security. On the ends, the 49ers are likely to start Gilbert’s former Pac-12 foes Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner, both first-round draft picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively. At outside linebacker, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch have a little more experience but have yet to wow during their time in the bay area. With Gilbert’s ability to play on the end or at linebacker, he’ll have multiple opportunities to work his way up, especially given the youth and lack of depth of this 49ers’ defense.
Don’t let Gilbert’s status as an undrafted free agent fool you; had this guy not been snubbed for the combine, he would have easily been drafted in the later rounds. Despite that snub, Gilbert posted the same 40 yard dash time as first-overall pick Myles Garrett (4.64), as well as an impressive 37-inch vertical leap. That kind of athleticism was on display during his senior season at CU, when he recorded 48 tackles, 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles for the Buffs. The stellar play of the Colorado secondary may have stolen some of the spotlight in 2016, but Gilbert was no doubt one of the most feared pass rushers in the Pac-12.
The only thing holding him back in San Francisco may be his smaller size (though he has added 20 pounds since he last played) and his relative lack of strength. Still, given his skill and the situation he’s inherited, I can see Gilbert getting some snaps in 2017 and making the best of them.
Drew Sharek: Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode has the biggest potential for impact of the six undrafted Colorado prospects. Olugbode was a key part of one of the best defenses in the country and is now going to join a Cleveland Browns defense that drafted two polarizing, yet effective, players: Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers. Olugbode could be the player at inside linebacker that the Browns need to complement Garrett and Peppers.
Now let’s be honest here, the Browns need all the help they can get on the defensive end, despite having a pro-bowl cornerback in Joe Haden. Olugbode will make big plays for the Browns, as he did for Colorado. Remember the fumble recovery against Utah that Olugbode took to the end zone to clinch the Pac-12 South? And to remind you, Olugbode led the Buffaloes in tackles for the 2016 season.
At 6-feet-1-inch and 222 pounds, Olugbode posted a time of 4.82 seconds in the 40 yard dash at CU pro day, a similar time to Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson (4.78). Olugbode also benched as many times as his soon-to-be-teammate Peppers, with 19 reps.
If Olugbode can break into the squad in Cleveland, which of all the teams is the easiest to make, then he can eventually make a big difference at inside linebacker for a team that is currently struggling to produce a good product on the field.
Yama Radtke: I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy, but I won’t be betting on these free agent prospects contributing much to the NFL. It’s a tough business, and the transition from college is already difficult enough for these players. People might consider me crazy for thinking this, but I also believe Sefo Liufau will have the worst career, or the earliest exit, from the NFL, out of the four free agent prospects.
Liufau couldn’t have found a more comfortable home in Tampa Bay. He will sit behind quarterback sensation Jameis Winston, giving him a chance to allow the NFL game to come to him, slowly, as he holds a clipboard or does whatever he has to do to be part of the team.
I envision such a low ceiling for Liufau simply because of his mechanics. He had a nightmarish combine performance and horrible measurables. Furthermore, his NFL potential can be determined by looking at his game tape.
I personally attended four of the home games that the Buffs won, and it was clear to me that Liufau is not NFL material. He has an extremely slow release, which in the NFL can be the difference between an incompletion and a completion. He also has a terrible pocket presence, which can often lead to a negative play on offense.
Watching him live, I noticed that he becomes anxious in the pocket. Liufau will role out to his left or right and try to throw the ball on the run instead of standing strong within the pocket and making a throw downfield.
Russell Wilson throws on the run all the time, but he goes through his progressions first. He is the ultimate throw first, run second quarterback. Liufau, however, seems to be a run first, throw second quarterback. If I had to make an NFL comparison, Liufau’s game reminds me of Tim Tebow; messy mechanics and impatient in the pocket.
There is an upside, however. Liufau has a chance to develop into a solid backup in the NFL. He will be joining a team that has relatively no NFL game experience when it comes to backup quarterbacks. Ryan Griffin has never thrown a pass in the NFL and Sean Renfree has played in a combined two games with 11 yards passing and an interception.
If Liufau can learn fast in Tampa Bay, then he will have a shot in the NFL, but I just don’t see it happening.
We will have more undrafted player analysis.
Contact CU Independent staff writer Kyle Rini at Kyle.Rini@colorado.edu.
Contact CU Independent staff writer Andrew Sharek at Andrew.Sharek@colorado.edu.
Contact CU Independent staff writer Yama Radtke at Yama.Radtke@colorado.edu.