All the way back in the fall of 2011, wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was the next big thing in the SEC. Less than two years later, he's the most notable undrafted free agent signing for the Buffalo Bills - and not exclusively for reasons related to football.
Let's start at the beginning: in 2011, the SEC had just lost two of the conference's best receivers ever to the NFL, with A.J. Green and Julio Jones both going in the Top 10 of the 2011 NFL Draft. It was a sophomore at Tennessee named Da'Rick Rogers that filled the receiving void in college football's best conference, earning all-SEC honors that season with 67 receptions, 1,040 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
That high point in Rogers' career, however, was sandwiched by off-field troubles. Prior to his getting onto the field as a freshman (he was used sparingly as a runner, receiver and returner that year), he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to John Wawrow of the Associated Press. Then, his break-out campaign in 2011 behind him and NFL riches in the future, he was indefinitely suspended by Tennessee and ended up transferring to Tennessee Tech for the 2012 football season.
Why did Tennessee suspend Rogers? Three failed drug tests, according to a CBSSports.com report from this past February, as Rogers was working to clean up his image at the NFL Combine. Rogers had another big season at Tech (61-893-10) - including an 18-catch, 303-yard performance - but the damage to his reputation was done. Despite immense physical talent (he ran 4.52, had a 39.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump at the Combine), Rogers didn't do enough in his interviews to warrant a draft pick. His was not among the 254 names announced this past weekend.
Still, throughout the pre-draft process, the Bills showed plenty of interest in Rogers - enough to include him among the team's 30 pre-draft visitors to Orchard Park (four of which are now on the team, including Rogers). Buffalo passed on the talented and troubled wideout twice in favor of other prospects at his position - USC's Robert Woods was added in the second round, and Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin came a round later - but now that Rogers is in the fold, it's fair to argue that the undrafted free agent has more raw upside than either of his drafted teammates.
Goodwin is a project; he possesses one elite trait (speed) that the team will try to build around. Woods was about as productive as one can hope to be as a collegiate receiver (251 receptions, 2,924 yards and 32 touchdowns), but is viewed as something of a system player that could be a productive pro for a long time, but may never be a star.
Rogers has star potential - assuming, of course, he can keep his head on straight as a pro. He has drawn comparisons to Eric Moulds for good reason: he's a powerful player and an imposing physical presence. He's strong, highly athletic and can high-point a football and out-physical defensive backs to make tough catches, and he's a talented route-runner that plays the game with an aggressive demeanor.
He'll get an opportunity to make the Bills' roster this summer, and the odds are high that we'll be buzzing about what we're seeing from the undrafted free agent wide receiver. Assuming he can keep his act together when he's not on the practice field at St. John Fisher, of course.