What is it like to hear your name called in the NFL Draft? What is it like waiting for your name to be called?
Let’s hear the answer from the players themselves ...
That is a great video, isn’t it?
Today’s story is about all of the guys who waited and waited and waited and waited ... and never heard their name called.
Today is about the undrafted players that make up a significant portion of the NFC West rosters (and, by extension, all rosters, league-wide).
Note: As a reminder, all of the data in this series was collected on June 25th and all of the calculations are based on the NFC West rosters as they were that day.
Before we dive into the numbers surrounding undrafted players on NFC West rosters, let’s first take a moment to appreciate just how SUPER-EXCEEDINGLY-DIFFICULT it is for a player to even get to the point where they have semi-legitimate shot at playing in the National Football League.
U.S. high schools offer opportunities for about a million football players a year.
Colleges and universities can accommodate 70,000 to 75,000 football players a year.
Roughly 15,000 to 18,000 players a year are eligible for the NFL Draft.
Note: COVID impacted that number in 2021 (and will end up skewing it again in 2022) due to the NCAA’s decision to grant players an “extra” year of eligibility if they wanted to stay in school.
This year a total of 259 players were selected in the NFL Draft - an average of 8.09 per team.
Per Spotrac, a total of 288 undrafted free agents were signed after the draft. That’s an average of exactly 9 per team.
Add it up and we get a grand total of 547 1st-year players who will get a shot at making an NFL roster this year (an average of 17.09 per team).
From an initial pool of roughly one million down to 547 over a span of just a few years ...
Those are some pretty long odds, no?
The 2021 rookie class
Let’s start today’s analysis of the NFC West rosters by looking at the division’s 2021 rookie class - both those players that were drafted and those that were not.
Table 6.1: The 2021 rookie class
As this table shows, Seattle had the division’s second-largest rookie class this year - despite having less than half as many draft picks as any of our rivals.
What does that mean?
Probably nothing - unless a bunch of the Seahawks’ UDFAs unexpectedly make the final roster.
It is, however, an interesting segue to the next part of the analysis.
A tale of two tables
The next part of this story is going to revolve around two tables.
The first table (Table 6.2) shows the drafted players on each team’s roster, grouped by the year they were drafted, while the second table (Table 6.3) shows the undrafted players, grouped by the year they signed their first NFL contract.
Table 6.2: Drafted players, 2004-2021
As we can see from this table, there are 206 drafted players on NFC West rosters.
Given the fact that each NFC West team had 91 players on their roster on June 25th, we can deduce that more than half of the division’s players (56.6%) were selected in the NFL Draft between 2004 and 2021.
Table 6.3: Undrafted players, 2004-2021
The 158 undrafted players in this table represent 43.4% of the NFC West’s current player pool. But the total number isn’t what we’re going to focus on.
Keeping in mind the percentages that we’ve already calculated (56.6% drafted v. 43.4% undrafted) and knowing that the division, as a whole, has 48 more drafted players than undrafted players, let’s look at the 2021 rookie class again.
- 65 total players
- 27 drafted players --- 41.5%
- 38 undrafted players --- 58.5%
Okay, so clearly this isn’t a proportional thing - i.e. the 2021 numbers don’t align with overall numbers. Surely they will get on track “soon” though ... right?
Let’s look at the last two years: 2021 + 2020.
- 130 total players
- 53 drafted players --- 40.8%
- 77 undrafted players --- 59.2%
The last three years?
- 196 total players
- 89 drafted players --- 45.4%
- 107 undrafted players --- 54.6%
Last four ...
- 242 total players
- 120 drafted players --- 49.6%
- 122 undrafted players --- 50.4%
That is how far we have to go back to tip the roster numbers in favor of the drafted players. 2017 to 2021 ... 139 drafted players, 131 undrafted.
That seems absurd.
And, yet ...
Here in Seattle, the 2021 UDFAs outnumber the 2021 draftees by an eye-popping margin --- 16 to 3 on 6/25; 15 to 3 today. But how many of you think that there will be more 2021 UDFAs on the team than 2021 draftees come September 1st?
Yeah, me either.
It is a combination of intuition and experience that leads us to believe that this is almost certain to be the case.
And that same combination tells us that the pattern will probably hold for the 2020 class ... and the 2019 class ... and the 2018 class as well.
How about the 2017 class?
At some point though, draft status (probably) stops mattering. Or, more specifically, at some point a player’s experience and skill matter more than their draft status.
Note: The rest of this story is going to focus on specific UDFAs - both those on Seattle’s roster, and those that are on the rosters of our division rivals.
Some notable UDFAs on Seattle’s roster
Every year, there are players that go undrafted and then end up sparking our imagination during training camp and/or in the preseason games. Some of them make the roster, Unfortunately, many don’t.
The same story plays out for all 32 teams.
And, as a general rule, UDFAs tend to “bounce” around the league more so than draftees - especially their first few years.
Three of these five players started their careers elsewhere, but we won’t hold that against them as all 5 appear to be “locks” to make the team in 2021 and are expected to contribute to our success.
(Players listed in alphabetical order, by first name.)
BENSON MAYOWA didn’t hear his name called in the 2013 NFL Draft. It didn’t matter; he’s managed to carve out an 8-year career, has recorded 13 sacks over the past 2 seasons, and is expected to be a key piece of Seattle’s D-line rotation.
JASON MYERS was undrafted in 2015, but he connected on every single one of his 26 field goal attempts last year (including 2 in the playoffs) and has an active streak of 37 straight without a miss, dating back to Week 10 of the 2019 season.
Myers is under contract through 2022 and will get a chance to extend his franchise-record streak starting on September 12th when the Seahawks face the Colts.
As an FYI, the NFL record is 44 straight.
Note: Lest anyone think the streak has been built on “gimmes,” this picture was taken in L.A. on November 15th, 2020 --- right after Myers connected on a career-long and Seattle franchise-record 61-yard field goal.
KERRY HYDER JR. had 8-1/2 sacks last season and signed a 2-year contract with us as a free agent ... despite sitting through he same draft that Jason Myers did (2015) without hearing his name called.
NICK BELLORE started his career as a linebacker before moving to fullback and was named to the 2020 Pro Bowl roster for his special teams play. Ten years earlier (2011), Nick Bellore waited to hear his name called ... to no avail.
POONA FORD went undrafted 3 years ago (2018). He made the team and appeared in 11 games that year (1 start). In 2019, he appeared in 15 games (14 starts) and last year he bumped it up to 16 of each.
That trend - increasing his numbers - appears to be his calling card as he’s done the same thing with snap counts, tackles (solo, assisted, and combined), tackles for loss, QB hits, and sacks each season --- and he earned himself a pay raise this offseason because of it.
Note: The 2-year, $12.345M contract that Ford signed in March included a signing bonus ($3.5M) that was nearly double his career earnings to that point ($1,808,000).
Notable UDFAs on other NFC West rosters
I apologize in advance if I miss any of your favorite players.
I’m kidding ... I know that none of the 12s have favorite players on other teams!
DANIEL BRUNSKILL didn’t hear his name called in the 2017 draft. Worse, he didn’t make an active roster until 2019. Since then, per PFF, he’s taken snaps at 4 of the 5 offensive line positions (all but LG) and he heads into camp with the 49ers penciled in as the starter at Right Guard.
DARIOUS WILLIAMS originally signed with the Ravens as a UDFA in 2018. He started 10 games for the Rams last season and heads into camp as their presumed starter at RCB.
EMMANUEL MOSELEY went undrafted in 2018 but he’s started 17 games the past 2 seasons and signed a 2-year, $9.384M contract in March that could be worth as much as $10.1M. He heads into training camp as one of the 49ers’ starting corners.
JOHNNY HEKKER is a 4x Pro Bowler and 4x first-team All-Pro punter who has a reputation for trick plays and also sports the league’s highest APY for a punter. Not too shabby for a guy that went undrafted in 2012.
JUSTIN MURRAY heads into training camp with the Cardinals as the presumed starter at RG after being undrafted in 2016 and failing to make an appearance in a game until 2018 (with the Raiders). He’s started 19 games over the past 2 seasons (and appeared in 8 others).
MALCOLM BUTLER is someone that us 12s will never forget ...
Not after his “Cinderella” rookie season ended with him as the hero in the Super Bowl ... a mere 9 months after all 32 teams passed on him in each and every round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Butler signed a 1-year deal in free agency that’s worth up to $6M and heads into camp with the Cardinals as one of their two presumed starters at cornerback.
MATT PRATER is a 2x Pro Bowl kicker who has hit 83.2% of his field goal attempts (321 of 386) over a 14-year career after going undrafted in 2007. He signed a 2-year free agent contract with the Cardinals in March.
RAHEEM MOSTERT sat through the 2015 NFL Draft without hearing his name called. After bouncing through four other teams, he found a home in San Francisco in 2016 but didn’t break out until 2019 when he racked up 772 yards on 137 carries (5.6 average).
He battled injuries last season but finished with 521 yards in 8 games and is considered San Francisco’s RB1 heading into the 2021 season.
ROBBIE GOULD has made 400 out of 462 career field goal attempts (86.6%) and led the league with a 97.1% success rate in 2018. He went undrafted 16 years ago (2005).
2021 UDFAs to keep an eye on
As today’s story draws to a close, and with the start of training camp only 2 weeks away, I’d like to highlight one player on each NFC West roster who was an undrafted free agent this year.
Seattle: CADE JOHNSON (WR)
“Guilty as charged.” That will forever be my response to anyone that wants to accuse me of being a founding member of the Cade Johnson Fan Club.
Seriously though, which of Seattle’s 2021 UDFAs has a better shot than Johnson at surviving final cuts on August 31st?
The standard / default / go-to knocks on Johnson are the level of competition he faced in the FCS ... and his size (5’ 10 3/8”, 184 pounds).
I offer four counterpoints:
One. From PFN’s scouting report:
As his measurements imply, Cade Johnson is a speedy guy. He gears up quickly off the line with his explosiveness. Down the field, he has the speed to separate and elongate space. Johnson’s speed is evidenced further by his returning experience. With his dynamic ability, he was a valued returner for the Jackrabbits, amassing almost 1,500 kick return yards in three seasons.
Two. From a site called PrimeTimeSportsTalk.com:
Johnson offers some intriguing talent as a slot receiver. He has the catching technique and skills to be a reliable high-target volume player. The suddenness and craftiness however are what separates him from other receivers and what will allow him to cut out a role on an offense. While the size and limited speed will limit his initial chances in the NFL, Johnson will get on the field and convert a few third down plays with his reliable hands.
Three. PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Guide had this to say:
While he didn’t get the fanfare that others may have, Johnson quietly put together an elite Senior Bowl performance to solidify what we saw on tape from him over his last two seasons at South Dakota State. The man can scoot, and he is a nightmare for defenders to stick with down the field. He possesses some of the best burst in the class. Maybe most impressive is that he still plays exceptionally well through contact on his routes, even at under 190 pounds.
Four. Video of every 1-on-1 rep he took at the Senior Bowl (where he earned the highest grade in 1-on-1 drills):
Bottom line: While PFF and others have compared Cade Johnson to Tyler Lockett, he may ultimately end up being compared to Doug Baldwin given their style of play and the fact that both were undrafted coming out of college.
Arizona: CAMERON MURRAY (DT)
This is less of a “keep your eye on this guy” and more of an acknowledgement that it would be even more difficult to justify the selection of any of the Cardinals’ other UDFAs.
Three of the Cardinals’ five 2021 UDFAs are tight ends and there are four tight ends on the depth chart in front of them. Making the challenge even harder, 3 of the 4 veterans have at least 4 accrued seasons.
The other 2021 UDFA is a cornerback, Lorenzo Burns, who has a mountain to climb if he wants any chance at making the team - a mountain that includes Byron Murphy (2019, R2.33), Darqueze Dennard (2014, R1.24), Malcolm Butler (the hero of SB49). Marco Wilson (2021, R4.136), Robert Alford (2013, R2.60), and Tay Gowan (2021, R6.223).
If you’re wondering why I haven’t talked about Cameron Murray yet, well, it’s because I’ve seen the scouting reports.
For example, this is from Sports Illustrated:
He’s an oddly shaped one-technique with tiny legs and a filled-out torso and his thin lower half is going to make life tough when it comes to holding his ground at the point of attack.
And PFF had this to say:
I also know how many players are ahead of him on the Cardinals depth chart (at least 6, probably 7).
Still ... his chances are arguably better than Arizona’s other four 2021 UDFAs. And who doesn’t like rooting for an undersized defensive tackle?
Los Angeles: PARIS FORD (S)
Between his controversial decision to opt-out of the last 4 games of his team’s 2020 season (so he could “focus on the draft”) and his subpar Pro Day results, Ford definitely didn’t do himself any favors. But he’s a hitter who can play both free and strong safety and that will work in his favor - especially in L.A.
From PFN’s scouting report:
Ford proved he can work as a deep safety and in multiple coverage schemes. His new 2020 tape that proved he can work better in these zones with his athleticism and ball skills is a huge part of why his stock has improved. He is no longer just viewed as a box safety that can come downhill and make big tackles.
On the contrary, Ford showed he is capable in that role, in the slot, and as a deep safety in both Cover 1 and Cover 2 schemes. That versatility will be viewed as a huge plus among NFL teams.
And PFF wrote this about the Pittsburgh cornerback-turned-safety in their 2021 NFL Draft Guide:
Ford plays the game the way you wish every player would. That’s what you want at safety.
The main reason I think Ford could make the team though is the simple fact that the Rams lost star safety Josh Johnson in free agency (Cleveland, 3/$33.8M) and ain’t really got that many options at safety that are exponentially better than him.
San Francisco: JUSTIN HILLIARD (LB)
Playing time will be hard to come by with Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Samson Ebukam as the projected starters, but if he can stay healthy and on the field (practice field or otherwise), Hilliard has a shot to carve out a backup role as a rookie.
From PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Guide:
It took a long, long while to come to fruition, but Hilliard finally lived up to the hype for the Buckeyes in 2020. After missing his first two seasons with two different torn biceps, Hilliard then partially tore his Achilles in 2019. At full strength in 2020, he was the Buckeyes’ best linebacker.
And this from PFN’s scouting report:
Coming up big in the most important games, the interception against Northwestern helped Ohio State win the Big Ten Championship Game. Two of his tackles for loss came in the National Championship defeat to Alabama, with one coming in the win over Clemson that got them there.
Part seven later this week will look at drafted players across the NFC West!