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Irish Free Agency: 2007-12

Among this year’s crop of Notre Dame alumni hoping to hear their names called in last month’s NFL Draft were center Braxston Cave, offensive guard Mike Golic Jr., wide receiver John Goodman and running back Cierre Wood. The quartet did break into the professional ranks via free agency, with Cave inking a deal with Cleveland, Golic Jr. landing in Pittsburgh, Goodman signing with Cincinnati and Wood reaching an agreement with Houston.

Running back Jonas Gray is eager to get on the field for the first time as a pro in 2013.

Now it’s a matter of what they do with their respective opportunities that will ultimately decide how long they’ll remain employed at the highest level of the sport. And it got us thinking: Which former Fighting Irish players to go undrafted had the most successful careers in the NFL? Which ones went one and done? Which had potential but where derailed by injury?

In part three of our series, we examine 2007-12 and how Notre Dame’s undrafted free agents have fared:

2007 — Running back Darius Walker began his back-and-forth NFL career with the Houston Texans, who released and re-signed the player twice each before the start of the 2007 season. He was promoted to the active roster in late November and played in four games, putting up 264 yards and a touchdown on 58 carries. Walker was released again by the Texans in August 2008, was signed to the practice squad, then activated and eventually cut in October. Walker spent a few months on St. Louis’ practice squad in 2008, was cut and joined the Texans’ practice squad again in November. Walker migrated to Denver’s practice team in 2009, but was released in November. He signed a one-year deal with Dallas on Dec. 15, 2009.

2008 — Long snapper J.J. Jansen was picked up by Green Bay for a season and moved to Carolina in 2009. He has played in 64 career NFL games through the 2012 season.

2010 — Safety Sergio Brown was waived by New England in the final round of cuts in September 2010 and was re-signed to the team’s practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in late October and registered four tackles in his debut against the San Diego Chargers. Brown started at strong safety to open 2011 and had six stops in the first game and his first NFL interception in week two. Brown was released by the Patriots prior to 2012 and was claimed by Indianapolis, where as a reserve he finished with 11 tackles, bringing his career total to 59.

Fellow safety Kyle McCarthy signed with the Denver Broncos and appeared in eight games in 2010 (four tackles). He saw action in four contests the following season before suffering a serious injury. McCarthy was released and later claimed by Kansas City.

2011 — Running back Armando Allen was waived as part of Tampa Bay’s final cuts in 2011. He signed on with Chicago in September of that year and made the active roster in December, making his regular-season debut on Christmas Day against the Packers (11 carries for 40 yards). Allen was released on Aug. 31, 2012, and later placed on the practice squad. By Sept. 8, he was activated and scored his first career touchdown (46 yards) against Jacksonville on Oct. 7. He has totaled 42 carries for 172 yards and once score over the past two seasons (17 games).

Running back/fullback Robert Hughes was cut by the Bears after the 2011 preseason and signed with Tampa Bay in April 2012. He was released in the final round of cuts. Hughes lasted a week on Washington’s practice squad last September and was waived. The following month he was signed to Indianapolis’ practice team and was activated on Oct. 29. He rushed once for five yards and caught one pass for three yards last year.

Linebacker Brian Smith was Cleveland’s final cut before the 2011 season and he spent 10 weeks back in South Bend waiting for an NFL team to call. The Browns brought him back to the practice squad around Thanksgiving and he made his pro debut on Christmas Eve in Baltimore. He has since spent time with Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Buffalo, but has not seen the field.

Cornerback Darrin Walls signed with the Atlanta Falcons and played in five games (two tackles and a pick). He was signed to the New York Jets practice squad in September 2012 and made the active roster in late November, picking up a pair of tackles by season’s end.

Nose tackle Ian Williams appeared in one game as a rookie and recorded three tackles this past season for the San Francisco 49ers, which lost to Baltimore in the Super Bowl.

2012 — Running back Jonas Gray suffered a serious knee injury near the end of his senior year at Notre Dame, and the Miami Dolphins took a chance on him through free agency following the 2012 draft. He sat out the season while continuing the rehabilitation process and is 100 percent healthy heading into 2013.

In wasn’t until May 2, 2012, that guard Trevor Robinson found a home in the NFL with Cincinnati. Injuries opened the door for him to appear in 13 games and start seven contests as a rookie. He’s projected as a starter heading into the 2013 season.

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