The final pick in the NFL draft is hardly the last opportunity for future pro football players.

Though no Griz was selected in this year's draft, defensive lineman Caleb Kidder and cornerback JR Nelson found NFL homes Saturday by signing priority free agent deals.

Kidder is headed to the Minnesota Vikings while Nelson will be a Kansas City Chief.

Both were on the phone with teams during the seventh and final round as possible picks, the former Grizzlies told the Missoulian. For Kidder, there were as many as four teams ringing him.

"Come seventh round, my phone was just going off like crazy," the Helena Capital product said. "It was kind of nerve racking. Talking on the phone, watching the draft, having to rush someone off the phone to get to the next call."

Following the draft he chose the Vikings from a field that also included Baltimore, Chicago and Tampa Bay. Kidder bonded with Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson, a former UM player and graduate assistant in the early 1980s, and Minnesota talked to him about playing both defensive end and three-technique D-tackle in some pass rushing formations.

"It just felt right, kinda felt like home to call myself a Viking. It's really surreal," said Kidder, who heads for Minnesota and rookie mini camp Thursday. " ... Their D-line coach is an ex-Griz. He's pumped as all get-out to have another Griz on the Vikings squad with him."

The 6-foot-5, 269-pound lineman was second on the Griz with 5.5 sacks last year, his first at end after playing tackle his previous three seasons. Kidder tallied 55 tackles, fifth-best on the team, with 11 of them coming in the backfield.

That followed a junior season in which Kidder earned first-team All-Big Sky recognition at tackle. He had 82 stops that season, including 10 for loss with 3.5 sacks.


For Nelson it was Detroit that reached out near the start of the seventh round, though the Lions opted for a defensive end with their last pick of the day. Seconds after the draft's conclusion, the Chiefs contacted Nelson's agent about signing him.

"I just made the best decision for me. Kansas City didn't draft any corners," explained Nelson, who said Seattle also showed interest after he'd committed to KC. "I feel good about the organization and how I fit in their scheme."

A 6-foot-2, 177-pound corner from California, Nelson led Montana in pass breakups with eight despite playing in just the final five games of the 2016 season. He also picked up 23 tackles, forced a fumble and blocked a kick.

Nelson was dinged by a positive drug test during UM's playoff run in 2015 and forced to sit out the first half of the season. He knows how lucky he is to still have a shot at his NFL dream. 

"Just getting the chance is a blessing," said Nelson, who leaves for Kansas City on Friday. "Most guys in my boat wouldn't even have that shot. The fact that I'm here and I can say I have that opportunity is such a blessing."

Kansas City was one of six NFL franchises represented at Montana's pro day in March.

As of late Saturday night, neither Griz quarterback Brady Gustafson nor safety Yamen Sanders had free agent offers.

Montana State did not have any draft picks either, though offensive lineman J.P. Flynn landed with San Francisco as a free agent.


The Griz were shut out of the draft for the first time since 2015, but the third time in the past five years.

UM endured a down season in 2016 and stumbled to a 6-5 finish that kept the Griz on the outside of the playoff picture for the first time since 2012. It was the Grizzlies' fewest wins since that same '12 campaign and Montana was left without a first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection for the first time since 1984.

Defensive end Tyrone Holmes, the winner of the 2015 FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award, was Montana's most recent draft pick a year ago. Jacksonville selected him in the sixth round with the 181st overall pick, though the Jaguars cut him before the season. Holmes played his rookie ball with Cleveland. 

The Big Sky as a whole saw only two players drafted this year, with both coming from Eastern Washington. Record-breaking receiver Cooper Kupp went in the third round Friday to Los Angeles and the Rams went back to EWU in the fourth to select linebacker Samson Ebukam.

This story will be updated with any further free-agent breaking news Saturday evening at