John Clayton argues that the days of superstar undrafted free agents like Rod Smith, Kurt Warner, and Jake Delhomme are numbered.
The NFL always has been a friendly haven for the undrafted player to succeed. Teams build through the draft, but they also need the luck of finding football players who slip through the cracks and make it on hustle and desire. Personnel offices do group high fives when players make the journey from being off the draft boards to playing in the Pro Bowl.
While those undrafted stars defied the world of computerized scouting that spit out reports deeming their size, height and speed numbers deficient, it’s a different form of analysis that is putting bull’s-eyes on their backs. The Internet is toughening the odds for undrafted players to make it.
How is technology affecting the futures of players? It’s simple. The Internet spreads information at an incredible rate. Internet draft gurus not attached to teams build enough quality database information on college prospects that it’s harder for good players to be bypassed. Teams have benefited. They draft smarter and better.
Rarer are the days when undrafted players man the five main positions (defensive end, left tackle, wide receiver, cornerback and quarterback) teams use as the foundation of their franchises. Only 18 start at those positions and none has been developed at those spots since 2002.
So much has been made of the five undrafted quarterbacks who are projected as starters — Warner (Arizona), Delhomme (Carolina), Billy Volek (Tennessee), Kelly Holcomb (Buffalo) and Jon Kitna (Detroit) — but those players were products of different eras to a certain degree. In the 1990s, quarterbacks were harder to find because colleges ran the ball rather than use the spread passing offenses.
NFL teams had to send untested quarterbacks to NFL Europe to develop their skills. Several came back and became quality starters. The Peyton Manning draft of 1998 was the turning point for the quarterback position because it was the first in which more passing quarterbacks were coming from the college ranks.
I would add, too, that the small college draft steals are probably a thing of the past, too. The Emporia States (Leon Lett) and Jackson Universities (Walter Payton) are no longer backwaters now that scouts can easily get game film, stats, and analysis without physically going to all the games.
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