On May 10, 2014 the Philadelphia Eagles signed fifteen undrafted, free agent rookies to compete on the 90-man roster heading into training camp this July. For these young men, the uphill battle to secure a spot on the 53-man roster going into the regular season will be very difficult.
College players that make themselves eligible for the NFL draft may be rejected for numerous reasons. Proneness to injury, character issues, getting into trouble, exhibiting non-ideal measurables, or even being just a bit too slow can permit 250+ names to be called, and seven rounds to pass, before a draft-eligible player reduces to an undrafted free agent.
Although there are currently a few star players in the NFL that went undrafted, such as Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, Denver wide receiver Wes Welker and Houston running back Arian Foster, history has not particularly favored players that are skipped over on draft day.
As an example, Bleacherreport.com has Romo, Welker and Foster on their list of the twenty five best undrafted free agents of all time. This does not bode well for current undrafted hopefuls–considering the above-mentioned players are relevant to the past ten years and the NFL has been around since the 1920s. Bleacherreport.com also has only one undrafted player on their list of the twenty five best Eagles of all time–kicker David Akers. Although this is just one website’s opinion, if this trend is taken a bit further, an undrafted player has roughly a four to five percent chance of becoming a memorable play-maker.
The most productive undrafted free agent on the current Eagles roster is running back Chris Polk. Had Polk not been injured going into the 2012 NFL draft he would have been a top running back prospect. The Eagles decided to hang onto him while shipping the more productive running back, Bryce Brown, to the Buffalo Bills for a draft pick. Unless Eagles running backs Lesean McCoy or Darren Sproles get injured, or the Eagles secure massive leads over their opponents, we should not expect Polk to see much playing time in 2014.
Most undrafted players only receive a couple of opportunities to leave a lasting impression. If they do not capitalize on such infrequent occasions there is a sizable chance another one will not come again. Players that are drafted, and subsequently paid well, are scrutinized more highly and hence given an advantage to show flashes that grant access to starting roles.
Preseason games offer the greatest likelihood an undrafted free agent can gain attention. Additionally, excelling in a specific role/package or on special teams will help such players make the final roster.
A fortunate aspect of the NFL is that once the pads are on and competition begins, a complacent first round selection may get his bell rung by a hungry, undrafted free agent–which can certainly turn heads and open some eyes.