Rookie free agents look to make a good first impression

T.J. Edwards doesn't have to look far for inspiration.

The rookie linebacker's portable locker stall at the NovaCare Complex is directly across from his college teammate Corey Clement, who was in a similar situation to Edwards' just two years ago.

Clement was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after a career year at Wisconsin in 2016, rushing for 1,375 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. It wasn't good enough, however, to get him drafted.

Edwards, also a first-team All-Big Ten choice by the media as a senior in 2018, started 52 career games for the Badgers, finishing with 367 tackles, 37.5 tackle for loss, and 10 interceptions.

He, too, wasn't selected in the draft.

Clement signed with the Eagles as a rookie free agent and not only earned a spot on the 53-man roster, but was an instrumental part of the Super Bowl LII victory. Clement took the snap and pitched the ball to Trey Burton in the Philly Special. Clement also hauled in a 22-yard touchdown reception while becoming just the fourth rookie to have 100 receiving yards in Super Bowl history. Clement called Edwards to welcome him to the Eagles family after he learned that the two would reunite in Philadelphia.

"He's a guy who has been through it all from going undrafted to being a huge part of the Super Bowl season," Edwards said.

Get an inside look at the first Rookie Minicamp Practice from the Novacare Complex.

Edwards is one of the 11 undrafted free agents looking to follow in the footsteps of Clement and numerous others up and down the Eagles' roster. Former Penn State offensive lineman Ryan Bates, who is lining up at right tackle in this weekend's Rookie Camp, has a future Hall of Famer in Jason Peters to emulate. Peters, a tight end in college, originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2004.

"I grew up bleeding green, so it was a dream come true," said Bates, who hails from Warrington, Pennsylvania, the same hometown as last year's leading rusher and former rookie free agent Josh Adams. "When I watch football, I don't watch the running back. I watch the offensive line. I watch Jason Kelce. I watch Jason Peters, all of those guys who are playing now. They're becoming my mentors. It's pretty cool. It's a dream come true."

Draft weekend was filled with mixed emotions for the players who did not hear their names called among the 254 players selected. There was stress. There was disappointment. But once the draft concluded late on the afternoon of April 27, there wasn't time to sulk. Phones were ringing and the players were able to choose their NFL destination.

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Cornerback Jay Liggins is already quite familiar with one of his new teammates. Liggins moved to Bismarck, North Dakota when he was 11 years old and graduated from quarterback Carson Wentz's rival high school. Wentz was a senior when Liggins was a freshman, so the two never competed against each other on the gridiron. The fact that their paths are crossing now is a remarkable tale unto itself.

Liggins wasn't going to play college football out of high school, but changed his mind and reached out to Dickinson State, an NAIA school. The 6-2, 200-pound Liggins was called by The MMQB "the NFL Draft's most unlikely sleeper" candidate. He had eight interceptions in 2018 and called it a "weird feeling" when the Eagles reached out to sign him. On the one hand, Liggins was proud that he made it into an NFL camp, but at the same time, he recognized that the real work was just getting started.

"I'm happy where I ended up," Liggins said. "I have to come out here and really prove myself and show my work, so I'm excited for this whole process to begin so I can show what I have to offer."

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