Every NFL draft season, we fixate on the top 15 percent of the incoming talent pool, breaking down every possible angle that affects the potential order of how the top names will come off the board (see
And every year, almost unbeknownst to most of us, there's a new wave of
But we didn't know them then, because they all -- and many more like them -- made their names in the NFL without the benefit of being drafted. In some cases, they didn't even get invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which this year featured well over 300 prospects displaying their "draftability'' before almost every personnel decision-maker in the league.
The list of those who made it in the NFL the hard way is an impressive one, and it's filled with undrafted players who were cut multiple times, or forced to hang around on the fringes of the game until their opportunity came, and they seized it. (
"It's the mystery of our business: why first-round picks are sometimes busts, and why seventh-rounders and free agents go to Honolulu,'' said Chargers general manager
All undrafted free agents have some significant hurdles to overcome, including non-typical NFL size, a lack of big-time college experience, ill-timed injuries or not having a natural position.
"A lot of times a guy can just get caught up in the wash, even in his own school,'' Smith said. "There's always a story to be told about every guy. ... You have to cling to the intangibles, because all of these guys have got something going for them. Sometimes we take a chance with a guy who's got a work ethic and some toughness to him."