Undrafted players crucial to rookie classes

April, 25, 2010
4/25/10
11:31
AM ET
The Miami Dolphins' top two receivers last year. The Buffalo Bills' best running back. The New England Patriots' leading receiver and right guard. The New York Jets' right guard, best inside linebacker and a safety.

None of them were drafted.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIWes Welker was one of seven Patriots to start at least four games last season who came into the league undrafted.
When Mr. Irrelevant was ceremoniously introduced Saturday in Radio City Music Hall and the 2010 NFL draft ended, draft rooms didn't go dark. That's when some of the best work takes place.

Scouts scan the long list of players who weren't among the 255 chosen ones and work the phones, trying to convince the best remaining prospects to sign as free agents.

Undrafted rookies are a critical element to building a team and should produce at least a couple of keepers every year.

"First, you improve your football team, but it's probably the most economical way to put players on your team," Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "There are a lot of good players out there.

"As all of us in here probably remember when there were 12 rounds and then there were 17 at one time. All of those players after seven rounds are still out there."

The AFC East is loaded with great examples.

Seven undrafted players started at least four games for division-champion New England last year: receiver Wes Welker, guards Stephen Neal and Dan Connolly, defensive lineman Mike Wright, inside linebacker Gary Guyton, outside linebacker Pierre Woods and safety Brandon McGowan.

The Dolphins relied on fullback Lousaka Polite, receivers Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, tight end Joey Haynos and outside linebacker Cameron Wake, none of whom were drafted.

Bills running back Fred Jackson wasn't drafted, but he rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Strong safety George Wilson evolved into a reliable starter.

The Jets fielded their share of draft-day oversights, including fullback Tony Richardson, right guard Brandon Moore, inside linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard.

That's a lot of quality players who weren't good enough to see their name crawl across the bottom of ESPN's draft telecast.

Still, they were found.

"These scouts bust their tails putting the board together on the back end of the draft board," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said. "You have to trust what they see, and I am pretty involved in it as well because I have been there before and I want to know what we are signing for. It is a very important aspect of [the process]."

Imagine all those Jets scouting reports that would otherwise go to waste if not for undrafted free agents.

Perhaps no team has relied on them to fill out their 53-man roster, practice squad and training camp roster more than the Jets.

Two straight Aprils, they drafted the fewest prospects in the league -- three last year and four this time. They also drafted only four players in 2007.

"I'm banking on our scouting department that we're going to sign a couple players here in the next couple of hours that will have a good chance of making our team," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said Saturday night.

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