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The plight of the undrafted rookie

Analyzing the realities of going undrafted.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around 255 college football players are selected in the NFL Draft. Few succeed in spectacular fashion, some make a career as a journeyman. But for most, they never end up establishing themselves in the NFL and find their way out of the league. Then there's the players that go undrafted. Shortly after Day 3 of the draft ends, their journey begins.

If a player didn't get drafted, they may still get a chance to prove themselves to an NFL team. But the reality of this is that these players find themselves as the smallest fish in a gigantic pond. They find themselves in an ever changing world full of scenarios. On Monday, it's about making the 53. By Wednesday, it's about getting a good showing on film because they think they won't make it. By Friday, it's all about making the team again after a player goes down with an injury. It can be quite hectic.

I wrote an article back in June about an epidemic going on in Detroit that's all about the theory of camp darlings. The majority of players mentioned in that piece were undrafted players. There's something about a player that doesn't get drafted that makes a fan want to assume 32 scouting teams were wrong. That's what drives today's piece. I want to show you just how hard it is make things work in the NFL after a player has gone undrafted.

The Numbers

In favor of time, I've decided to base these numbers off the current decade we're living in. Since 2010, the Detroit Lions have signed 87 undrafted free agents. Here's a breakdown of how that's worked out.

Year Amount of UDFA Players that played a game for the Lions Players that played elsewhere Still in NFL
2010 12 2 2 0
2011 18 2 1 0
2012 19 2 1 1
2013 11 2 1 1
2014 15 3 2 1
2015 12 2 1 2
Total 87 13 8 5

Pretty telling graph, if I do say so myself. But admittedly, this graph doesn't tell it all. These 87 UDFAs combine for a total of 192 games played. Both LaAdrian Waddle and Cornelius Lucas lead the way with 30 games played in each of their NFL careers. Joseph Fauria and Aaron Berry are the closest to that with 23 and 20 respectively. After that it's a lot of fours and fives, or in some cases, just one.

Of the 13 players that have played a game for the Lions, only three remain with the team. Two other UDFAs remain in the NFL on other teams: Waddle, who plays for the Patriots now, and Boise's favorite son, Kellen Moore. You've won this one Kellen. It won't happen ever again.


The numbers are strongly against these players. Even if you're a player like Aaron Berry or Joe Fauria, your time seems to be limited by default. Not everyone can be a Joique Bell and fight their way out of the depth of undrafted hell to have a decent career. One has to wonder if these numbers change come cut season. Is it safe to assume Isaiah Johnson and Cornelius Lucas make the 53 this year? No it's not. That would leave Zach Zenner as the only UDFA left.

This year could be different, as guys like Cole Wick, Jay Lee, and Quinshad Davis are making cases for themselves. But the reality is that 10 or 11 of the 12 UDFAs signed by the Lions this year will either find their way to the practice squad, or find their way to a new team. It's a sad state of affairs. But it's the nature of the beast.

What do you think Lions fans? Do any of this year's crop of UDFA's have a chance to make the team? Is your opinion on UDFAs slightly changed? Be sure to leave your comments below or come chat with me on Twitter @POD_Payton.

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