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Who Defied the Odds to Make the Initial 53-Man Roster?
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Each roster in the NFL is a fluid entity, updated and tweaked every week as needed.
Still, the biggest day of the year arrived on Saturday as all 32 teams cut their rosters down to the mandatory 53-man limit.
The Los Angeles Chargers entered 2017 with at least one undrafted free agent defying the odds to make the initial roster for an impressive 20 straight years.
Make it 21.
In total, five undrafted free agents remained on the roster after the team announced 37 transactions. Sean Culkin, Austin Ekeler, Nigel Harris, Younghoe Koo and James Onwualu can now add their names to an impressive list of undrafted free agents currently on the Bolts, following in the footsteps of Antonio Gates, Tyrell Williams, Jahleel Addae, Tenny Palepoi, Spencer Pulley and more.
However, it’s important to note the roster may likely change in the coming days due to waiver claims and possible free agent signings. In fact, it was only a year ago that the Bolts made a trio of moves less than 24 hours after announcing their initial 53-man roster.
Nonetheless, it’s a feat to be proud of after each undrafted rookie turned heads during training camp and preseason action.
A hulking 6-5, 255-pound tight end, Culkin cut his teeth in the tough SEC while at Missouri. Known for his prowess as a blocker, he proved capable of being an asset as a pass catcher this preseason. While he caught only 61 passes for two touchdowns in 48 career games, he hauled in nine receptions for 77 yards in four games during exhibition play. His nine catches were tied for the second most on the team.
Meanwhile, Ekeler showed his ability to make men miss all preseason after a noteworthy career at Western State. He totaled 5,587 yards rushing with 55 touchdowns on the ground on 932 career carries. The 5-10, 200-pound running back led all of Division II football a year ago, averaging 149.6 yards per game. Ekeler showed the same production with the Bolts, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He toted the rock 15 times for 87 yards, while also catching six passes for 72 yards (14.4 ypc).
Harris is a 6-0, 225-pound linebacker blessed with blazing speed in the low 4.5s. The South Florida product totaled 232 career tackles, while his eight forced fumbles rank second in school history. He set a career-high with 78 tackles last season while also posting 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a pair of interceptions. Harris showed the same production this preseason, leading the Bolts with 15 tackles.
Koo drilled his only field goal attempt of the preseason, yet showed off his accuracy throughout the offseason program and training camp. The kicker set Georgia Southern’s all-time record for career field goal percentage (88.6%), connecting on 31 of 35 attempts over his career. He became the school’s first FBS All-American a year ago, earning third-team honors in 2016.
A former team captain at Notre Dame, Onwualu totaled 143 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and six sacks over a memorable career with the Fighting Irish. The 6-1, 235-pound linebacker recorded 75 tackles with a team high 11.5 tackles for loss a year ago. Onwualu had seven tackles in three preseason games, and impressed the Chargers with his play on special teams as well.