Bryson Albright was a defensive end for Miami (Ohio) who went undrafted in 2016, but has made the Buffalo Bills roster. Albright is a relatively unknown, so when he made the final cut, the Bills media asked Rex Ryan about him:
Q: How much do you like those stories? You know the odds for undrafted guys. To have a guy like that’s got to feel pretty good, right?
A: Well it does and I think that’s where you really saw our scouting department and our coaching department get together and focus on a couple of these guys and we hit on one. So we’ll see how it is, the kind of career he has, but yeah, you’re right. And I mention it every year to these guys that there’s more guys that went undrafted that have a 10 year or more career than there are first round picks. So I think every now and then you hit a guy that—and I’m not saying he’s going to be that, that would be great if he is—but as much effort and everything else that goes into the drafting of players, there’s some exceptions. And we’ll see if this young man will be one of those exceptions.
If we want to measure 10+ year careers, we need to look at players who entered the NFL in 2006 or earlier. To have a large enough sample, I picked 20 years, which means we’ll be looking at all players who entered the NFL from 1987 to 2006. There were 1,062 players who entered the league during that time frame and played for 10+ years, or roughly 53 per year.
255 of those players, or 24%, were first round picks. Undrafted players? Well, that’s limited to just 182 players.
But after running those numbers, I wondered that maybe this is misleading, because it includes players drafted after the seventh round. If we categorize players drafted in rounds 8-12 — which existed during the first few years of this study — as undrafted, that juices the total to 237 players. Still lower than the 1st round pick number, but closer. Was there a specific number Ryan was referencing?
I then decided to go back to 1994? From ’94 to ’06, there were 182 first round picks to enter the NFL and play for 10+ years, compared to 141 that were undrafted (including four 8th/9th round picks from pre-1994 but didn’t first play until 1994). So, no, I don’t know what source Ryan was studying, although I’m skeptical that there was one.
But even if there was a source, or an era in time where this fact was true, it’s almost certainly misleading. That’s because of specialists. There were 711 players whose first season was 1994 or later, and have played for 10+ years. Of those players, 49 of them were kickers or punters, and while they make up only 7% of the study, a whopping 27 of those were undrafted (including one punter drafted in the 8th round in ’93 who first played in ’94).
Let’s take punters and kickers out of the database. At that point, the players who played for 10+ years since 199 and that went undrafted (or were taken in the 8th round) since 1994 are equal to the players drafted in the second round, but not the first:
Finally, we should note that even if Ryan’s claim was somehow true, it’s important to at least remember that we are only looking at the numerator: i.e., how many players have a 10+ year career. By doing this, we are ignoring the denominator: while there are 30-40 draft picks in each round, there are hundreds of undrafted players that make it into camp each year.