Breakdowns

Which Undrafted Free Agents Have Stuck Around at Each Position?

Which Undrafted Free Agents Have Stuck Around at Each Position?

As the final rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft came to a close on Saturday, teams started the process of contacting agents of players who were likely to go undrafted, all in the hopes of signing them as priority free agents. For more information about the undrafted free agent process, read former NFL scout Tom Rudawsky’s article on What NFL Teams Look For In Undrafted Free Agency.

Undrafted players can offer quality, depth, and value on the back end of a roster. While the future of an UDFA may appear bleak compared to the typical drafted prospect, many of them can go on to have productive careers, when put into the right situation. With these things in mind, we wanted to find out how impactful and long-lasting the career of an undrafted free agent actually is.

Below is a breakdown of every active player who is historically an undrafted free agent that appeared in at least one game during the 2021 season. Sorted by position group, we calculated the averages of age, years of experience, games played, and games started. Here’s what we found:

Active Undrafted Free Agents in 2021 (By Position)

Position No. of UDFAs Avg. Age Avg. Years Exp. Avg. GP Avg. GS
QB 18 27.5 4.5 4.67 2
RB 60 25.28 3.12 8.32 1.5
FB 6 25.5 2.83 9.17 3.67
WR 104 25.87 3.43 8.93 2.31
TE 68 26.41 3.41 8.63 2.35
OT 47 27.06 4.04 9.74 5.11
OG 37 26.65 4.3 8 3.89
OC 22 26.85 4.15 10.8 5.05
DT 64 26.05 3.53 7.27 2.08
DE 39 25.9 3.49 7.67 1.46
LB 99 26.06 3.72 9.72 1.88
S 62 26.71 4.53 9.58 2.6
CB 81 25.64 3.5 8.88 3
K 31 27.84 4.94 9.7 N/A
P 22 27.27 4.23 12.82 N/A
LS 25 30.11 6.78 14.85 N/A
Totals/AVG 785 26.39 3.86 9.11 2.31

Quarterback

Number of Players in 2021: 18

Notable Players: Taysom Hill, Taylor Heinicke, Chase Daniel, Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, Tyler Huntley, Nick Mullens

Summary: Although none of the current undrafted quarterbacks are considered to be franchise cornerstones, plenty of them have carved out solid careers for themselves as backups. Their average age of 27.5 years ranks 1st for non-special teams positions, and the average games played in the year (4.67) is well below league average. Taylor Heinicke and Taysom Hill highlight the group from last season, starting in 15 and 9 games, respectively.

Running Back

Number of Players in 2021: 60

Notable Players: Austin Ekeler, Phillip Lindsay, James Robinson, Raheem Mostert, J.D. McKissic, D’Ernest Johnson, Brandon Bolden

Summary: Given the nature of running backs becoming replaceable after the expiration of their rookie contracts, plenty of UDFAs are given plenty of opportunities to become those cost-effective alternatives. The average age of this group is 25.28 years, which is the youngest in all of football – while there is only 1 player over the age of 30 (Brandon Bolden). Austin Ekeler and James Robinson are the only 2 players to have started over 10 games during this past season.

Fullback

Number of Players in 2021: 6

Notable Players: Patrick Ricard, Jakob Johnson, Alec Ingold

Summary: It probably comes as no surprise that undrafted fullbacks were the least-rostered position in the league, with a total of 6 players and an average of 2.83 years playing experience – also the lowest in the league. However, it is worth noting that Patrick Ricard, one of the most talented and heavily used fullbacks in the NFL, was an undrafted free agent.

Wide Receiver

Number of Players in 2021: 104

Notable Players: Adam Thielen, Robby Anderson, Danny Amendola, Cole Beasley, Chris Hogan, Marquez Callaway, Jakobi Meyers, Keelan Cole, Zach Pascal, Greg Ward

Summary: The wide receiver position yielded the highest number of UDFAs in the 2021 season. All other metrics are below the league average, suggesting the revolving door that the bottom of the depth chart is. Adam Thielen is the star of this group, producing nearly 6,000 receiving yards and almost 50 receiving touchdowns in 8 seasons.

Tight End

Number of Players in 2021: 68

Notable Players: Jack Doyle, Cameron Brate, Robert Tonyan, Blake Jarwin, Darren Fells, Mo Alie-Cox, Pharaoh Brown, Donald Parham

Summary: The tight end position numbers are similar to the wide receivers; in that they are all below league average in terms of longevity and impact. While there are no household names that have played over 10 seasons in the league, younger players like Robert Tonyan and Blake Jarwin are looking to make strides this upcoming season.

Offensive Tackle

Number of Players in 2021: 47

Notable Players: Jason Peters, Alejandro Villanueva, La’el Collins, Mike Remmers, Ty Nsekhe,

Summary: The tackle position is an excellent example of taking fliers on players with potential, even if they might be playing other positions. Jason Peters, a 17-year veteran with 9 Pro Bowl selections, originally played tight end when first signing with Buffalo. Alejandro Villanueva is another success story, who played both defensive end and wide receiver before becoming a Pro Bowl tackle in Pittsburgh. The overall positional ranks are average when it comes to experience and average games played but are at the top of the heap when it comes to average games started (5.11).

Guard

Number of Players in 2021: 37

Notable Players: Andrew Norwell, Quinton Spain, Trey Hopkins, Greg Van Roten, Nate Herbig

Summary: The guards were found to be the least impactful of the three offensive line positions in 2021 – they only averaged 8 games played and 3.89 games started. The most notable guard of the group is Andrew Norwell, who once signed a 5-year, $66,500,000 deal with the Jaguars in 2018.

Center

Number of Players in 2021: 20

Notable Players: David Andrews, Matt Skura, Sam Mustipher

Summary: Despite the overall class being relatively lacking in notoriety, it has the highest average of games played for any non-special teams position (10.8), as well as a close-second for games started (5.05).

Defensive Tackle

Number of Players in 2021: 64

Notable Players: Mike Purcell, Steve McLendon, Poona Ford

Summary: It is evident that the defensive tackle position is another group where the majority is buried at the bottom of their respective depth charts. They average the second-fewest games played at 7.27 games with an average of 2.08 games started.

Defensive End

Number of Players in 2021: 39

Notable Players: Roy Robertson-Harris, Mario Addison

Summary: Defensive end is another premium position where impact players are hard to come by in the undrafted ranks. This group ranks dead last in average games started (1.46) and averages only 7.67 games played. Mario Addison is the only active end who has played at least 10 seasons in the league.

Linebacker

Number of Players in 2021: 99

Notable Players: Shaquil Barrett, Cory Littleton, Malik Reed, TJ Edwards, Alex Singleton,

Summary: Linebackers were a close second to wide receivers for the total number of UDFAs playing in the league. They rank the third lowest in average games started at 1.88,

Shaquil Barrett is by far the best most talented linebacker of the active bunch, who broke out his 5th year in the league and is playing on a 4-year, $68,000,000 contract.

Safety

Number of Players in 2021: 62

Notable Players: Tashaun Gipson, Adrian Phillips, Rodney McLeod, Anthony Harris, Andrew Sendejo, Daniel Sorenson, Andrew Wingard

Summary: The safety group has their fair share of undrafted players who have made respectable careers for themselves. While the games played and started are around league-average, they have one of the highest average years of experience, at 4.53.

Cornerback

Number of Players in 2021: 81

Notable Players: J.C. Jackson, Chris Harris Jr., Charvarius Ward, Levi Wallace, Kenny Moore, A.J. Bouye

Summary: The cornerback group has numbers that are virtually the same as the wide receivers and for the most part, follow the same trend with the revolving door at the bottom of their depth chart. They do, however, have some difference makers at the top of the list. J.C. Jackson, the marquee player of this group, just signed a 5-year, $82,500,000 contract this offseason.

Kicker

Number of Players in 2021: 31

Notable Players: Justin Tucker, Robbie Gould, Matt Prater, Graham Gano, Younghoe Koo

Summary: It’s pretty safe to say that kickers offer the most value/upside when it comes to UDFA signings. Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, is arguably one of the best UDFA signings of all-time.

Punter

Number of Players in 2021: 22

Notable Players: Johnny Hekker, Brett Kern, Tress Way

Summary: Punters are another common position group where a large percentage of them are undrafted free agents. They have the second highest average of games played (12.82), however have less experience than both kickers and long snappers.

Long Snapper

Number of Players in 2021: 24

Notable Players: Morgan Cox, Josh Harris, J.J. Jansen

Summary: Undrafted long snappers have more longevity than any other position in the league, as they average well over 6 years of experience and are the only group to have an average age of at least 30 years. There is no other position group on this list that has as many players with at least 10 years of experience (8 players).

General Observations

  • Of the 707 UDFA players on active rosters (Excluding the 77 special teamers), 341 of them started at least one game (48.23%)
  • NFL teams had an average of 26.13 former UDFAs play at least once game last season
  • The Lions fielded the most UDFAs in 2021 (45), while the Titans had the second-most (40)
  • The Bills and Bucs had the least amount of UDFAs play last season, with 17 apiece
  • The Colts UDFAs started an average of 3.5 games, well above league average
  • The Browns’ UDFAs only averaged 0.81 starts per game
Team No. of UDFAs Avg. Age Avg. Exp. Avg. GP Avg. GS
Arizona Cardinals 28 27.46 4.93 6.93 0.86
Atlanta Falcons 22 26.95 4.36 8.86 1.73
Baltimore Ravens 23 26.78 4.39 9.43 3.04
Buffalo Bills 17 27.06 4.47 4.47 2.82
Carolina Panthers 35 26.77 3.97 12 1.94
Chicago Bears 26 27.08 4.5 7.94 2.12
Cincinnati Bengals 20 25.65 3.5 8.69 2.8
Cleveland Browns 26 25.85 3.38 8.85 0.81
Dallas Cowboys 23 26.74 3.74 8 1.35
Denver Broncos 27 25.78 3.07 10 2.56
Detroit Lions 45 25.56 3.22 8.24 2.33
Green Bay Packers 22 24.95 2.41 9.73 3.05
Houston Texans 30 27.17 4.33 7.13 1.97
Indianapolis Colts 22 27.05 4.73 10.95 3.5
Jacksonville Jaguars 31 26.13 3.77 7.23 2.81
Kansas City Chiefs 22 26.27 3.32 9.77 2.09
Las Vegas Raiders 27 26.78 4.26 7.93 1.85
Los Angeles Chargers 31 25.77 3.32 9.23 3.26
Los Angeles Rams 26 25.31 2.77 8.31 1.19
Miami Dolphins 26 26.58 4.31 8.38 1.68
Minnesota Vikings 20 26.4 3.9 8.1 2
New England Patriots 23 27.39 5.22 10.21 3.65
New Orleans Saints 36 26.22 3.72 8.67 2.66
New York Giants 18 26.61 3.5 7.67 1.56
New York Jets 33 25.45 3.52 7.61 1.91
Philadelphia Eagles 24 25.33 2.79 8.79 2.83
Pittsburgh Steelers 19 25.89 2.74 8.37 1.26
San Francisco 49ers 26 26.96 4.88 8.46 2.27
Seattle Seahawks 19 26.05 3.47 10.84 2.42
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 28.59 5.47 8.71 1.88
Tennessee Titans 40 26.7 4.5 8 1.63
Washington Commanders 32 26.28 3.75 8.09 1.91
League Average 26.13 26.42 3.88 8.61 2.18

Why Do Players Go Undrafted?

Story by David Michels