Below is my starting lineup, although I’ve selected 12 players on offense and 14 players on defense to accommodate different schemes.
This one’s a no-brainer. Outside of Romo, no undrafted quarterback has done much as of late. As Scott Kacsmar noted yesterday, it’s not just undrafted quarterbacks struggling for playing time: all but five of the expected 2013 starting quarterbacks were top-40 picks.
Running Back: Arian Foster (2009)
Honorable Mention: Willie Parker (2004), Ryan Grant, Fred Jackson, Pierre Thomas (all 2007), BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Tolbert, (both 2008), Danny Woodhead (2009), LeGarrette Blount (2010)
This is the position where undrafted free agents are most likely to make an impact. While I generally think about the running back position as one where rookies can be successful right away, undrafted running backs have to take a different route. With the exception of Blount, none of these players earned much playing time as rookies, but they showed enough in camp to stick around. Grant was the extreme case: he made the Giants practice squad in ’05, but didn’t get his first carry until 2007.
Only three teams drafted fullbacks in 2013. At this point, few teams really utilize a fullback, but it wouldn’t appear to be difficult to find one outside of the draft if a team desired such a player. These days, fullbacks are treated like punters.Wide Receivers: Wes Welker (2004), Victor Cruz (2010), and Miles Austin (2006)
Honorable Mention: Malcom Floyd (2004), Nate Washington (2005), Lance Moore (2006), Davone Bess (2008), Danny Amendola (2009), Mike Furrey (2003)
Another position where teams can find players outside of the draft, especially slot receivers. Offenses like Hawaii (Bess) and Texas Tech (Amendola, Welker) commonly placed four receivers on the field during this era, helping to develop players that would have been overlooked a generation ago. The other area where teams have found success is in small schools, like Tiffin (Washington), Monmouth (Austin), Wyoming (Floyd), and Massachusetts (Cruz).
Gates didn’t play college football, making it hard to identify him as an overlooked player. I recognize saying “outside of Gates, you can’t find tight ends outside of the draft” is the football equivalent of “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” — but really, it seems unlikely that teams can find much at tight end outside of the draft. Except for Gates.
Peters and Bell both caught on with the Bills before becoming Eagles. For the most part, left tackle is like quarterback: if teams think there’s a chance you can turn into a starter, they’re not going to let you slip out of the draft.
Interior linemen aren’t sexy to discuss, but it doesn’t look like NFL teams ignore them in the draft. Until recently, the Jets starting guards were an UDFA and Matt Slauson, a 6th round pick; it’s hard to know whether more teams don’t give undrafted linemen a chance or if most undrafted players simply don’t have the ability to succeed.
Again, very little successful tackles make it through the draft.
Wake was a CFL star after failing to catch on with the Giants (imagine that pass rush) while Harrison was too short and light to play defensive end at a time when few teams played a 3-4 defense. Teams place such a premium on pass rushers that it’s crazy to think that any can fall through the cracks. On the other hand, perhaps teams are generally more willing to give undrafted free agents who show any pass rush ability more of a chance to stick around; if nothing else, they can turn into part-time players.
The Planet Theory: there aren’t many athletic, 300 pound people with football ability walking the planet. Teams don’t miss out on these guys.
While few of these players turned into stars, non-pass rushing linebackers are the type of players that teams can find after the draft. It wouldn’t shock me at all if Stanford’s Chase Thomas — who signed with New Orleans — can be the next UDFA linebacker to start for a half dozen years.
Like wide receivers, college teams can produce significantly more NFL-caliber players at cornerback than they can at positions where the player needs to weigh 275 pounds. You probably won’t get a star cornerback out of an UDFA, but I suspect teams can probably find a nickel or dime corner most years. Total speculation on my part, but I always suspected that cornerback is one of those positions where many college athletes don’t receive the proper training. Perhaps teams can coach up athletic cornerbacks from smaller schools who weren’t necessarily stars in college.
One of the easier positions to fill theoretically — safeties don’t need elite coverage skills or exception size or speed. However, as teams place more of an emphasis on the position, it may become more difficult to find these players. Last weekend, 23 safeties were drafted.
I’m not going to talk special teams on a Friday.
Let’s close today’s post with a list of some of the best undrafted free agents who have signed with NFL teams this week:
Quarterbacks Tyler Bray (Tennesesee – signed with Chiefs), Jeff Tuel (Washington State – Bills), Matt Scott (Arizona – Jaguars), Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt – Jaguars), Colby Cameron (Louisiana Tech – Panthers), and Collin Klein (Kansas State – Texans);
Wide receivers Marcus Davis (Virginia Tech), Lanear Sampson (Baylor – Colts), Mark Harrison (Rutgers – Bears), Ryan Spadola (Lehigh – Jets), Jason Collins (Mount Union – Dolphins), Da’Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech – Bills), and Conner Vernon (Duke – Raiders);
Tight ends Ryan Otten (San Jose State – Jaguars), Jake Stoneburner (Ohio State – Packers), Philip Lutzenkirchen (Auburn – Rams), Marqueis Gray (Minnesota (as a quarterback) – 49ers), and Joseph Fauria (UCLA – Lions);
Offensive linemen Alvin Bailey (Arkansas – Seahawks), Xavier Nixon (Florida – Redskins), LaAdrian Waddle (Texas Tech – Lions), Nick Becton (Virginia Tech – Chargers), Braxston Cave (Notre Dame – Browns), and John Wetzel (Boston College – Raiders);
Defensive linemen Kwame Geathers (Georgia – Chargers), Cory Grissom (South Florida – Patriots), T.J. Barnes (Georgia Tech – Jaguars), Damion Square (Alabama – Eagles), and Glenn Foster (Illinois – Saints);
Linebackers Chase Thomas (Stanford – Saints), Nate Williams (Ohio State – Vikings), Jonathan Stewart (Texas A&M – Rams), Lerentee McCray (Florida – Broncos), John Lotulelei (UNLV – Seahawks), and Nick Clancy (Boston College – Falcons);
Defensive backs Nickell Robey (USC – Bills), Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma – Cardinals), Mike Edwards (Hawaii – Jets), Robert Lester (Alabama – Panthers), Sheldon Price (UCLA – Colts), Jordan Kovacs (Michigan – Dolphins), and Johnny Adams (Michigan State – Texans)