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Why Do Players Go Undrafted?

Why Do Players Go Undrafted?

A total of 262 selections will be made in the 2022 NFL Draft. That does not mean it's the end of the journey for the players that go undrafted. Each year, roughly 200 or more undrafted players join an NFL team. At the end of the draft, having spoken with the prospects prior, the players and teams make a dash to sign those players that go undrafted for a multitude of reasons. The reasons for a player going undrafted can be different for everyone.

Ahead of the beginning of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 28, we asked members of our Insiders Network: Why Do Players Go Undrafted?

It's About Traits

Usually, “something doesn’t measure up for these prospects, it could be off-field issues, medical concerns, physical build (height, weight & speed), or even level of competition,” said former NFL GM Mike Tannenbaum. 

“Height, weight and speed are the biggest reasons that players go undrafted,” added former Falcons Director of Player Personnel Steve Sabo. “Production and playtime would be the next.”

That does not mean that these players cannot be productive. In a previous article written by Tannenbaum, he discussed what makes a successful late round draft pick, and the same can ring true for UDFAs. About 30% of the NFL is made up of UDFAs, including 17 HOFers who were undrafted out of college.

Mike Giddings is the owner of Pro Scout Inc. His company has worked with 35 Super Bowl-winning teams, 21 HOF coaches, owners, and GMs since 1977. Giddings feels that there are potentially a lot of reasons players go undrafted.

“La’el Collins from LSU had off the field issues. Vontaze Burfict had a lack of speed. With Kurt Warner, it was production,” said Giddings. “Injuries factor in as well.” 

The drafted players have it all. Undrafted players are missing something: height, weight, speed, productivity, or something else that makes them less desirable. 

Case Studies

This can lead to players going into other professional football leagues before making their appearances in the NFL. Both Warren Moon and Kurt Warner, played in the CFL and/or AFL prior to their starts in the NFL. In Warner’s case, as Giddings outlined it, he was missing the production. During his time at Northern Iowa, he only started for one season, amassing an 8-4 season with under 3,000 yards and just 20 TDs.

When speaking with a long-time NFL agent who has negotiated large contracts for some of the league's top players and counseled with undrafted players, it boils down really simply for him. 

“Undrafted players are missing one, two, or three of these (necessary) traits," the agent said. "If you have an abundance of these traits, that's a first round pick.”

When asked which of those traits UDFAs typically lack, he added, “Generally, it's the level of competition as it relates to productivity. [They] must have height, weight and speed, no matter what level… especially for skill position players.”

When looking at the career of former UDFA, Jeff Saturday, characteristics that pushed him towards his future HOF career include: leadership, mentality and work ethic. In a recent call with Saturday, he spoke about the fact that he had a will and a want to get better every day. That included watching tape, working out, and coming into the building after each offseason in shape and ready to play. 

The End of the Draft Isn't the End

This begs the question, what intangibles do successful UDFAs have? Tannenbaum points to Bart Scott, former UDFA LB out of Southern Illinois. 

“Bart had remarkable toughness, leadership, instincts and was a tempo-setter,” Tannenbaum said. What he might have lacked in his H/W/S, he made up for with his ability to be a great teammate and presence in building a locker room.

Randy Mueller, the 2000 Executive of the Year, adds that “heart and football IQ” is what takes a player from an UDFA toward success in the National Football League.

As you ask around the league, the premise remains the same. Often, undrafted players don’t fit the requirements. Those who end up succeeding in the NFL pair drive and determination with the intelligence and toughness necessary to thrive.


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