The seven rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft are over and 265 selections have been made. The first round set TV and Twitter rating records as 45.7 million people tuned in to watch Johnny Manzeil free fall down the draft board to the Cleveland Browns at the 22nd pick and only the Jacksonville Jaguars select a quarterback in the top ten. There were the most wide receivers ever selected in an NFL draft and the devalued position of running back set a record for being selected the latest ever. Then on the third and final day of the draft, history was made when the St.Louis Rams selected Michael Sam in the seventh round. These are the big stories and signature moments in the NFL non-playing season when every team gets better and hopes that these new additions can bring depth, impact and competition to their team. But what about the players that didn’t get drafted or the team that didn’t address all their weaknesses in the draft. The seven rounds maybe finished but the war rooms are still a flurry of activity with GMs, scouts and coaches all scrambling to sign the undrafted.
Competition has been the theme of the best programs and teams in the NFL over the past 5 years. The deepest and most talented rosters seem to be the same ones in which competition is allowed to flourish and there is a dedication by the coaches to giving all players a chance to find their strengths thus allowing the program to field the best team possible. One way to build this competition is through undrafted free agents. 20 percent of all NFL starters entered the league as an undrafted free agent and two years ago 16 percent of these undrafted free agents made the roster for the start of the season. Another 21 percent made NFL practice squads which means a total of 37 percent of undrafted free agents earned an spot in the NFL. One team that is ahead of the curve with respect to player development is the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks.
The Seattle Seahawks have one of the most talented and deep rosters in the NFL. Through the 2013 NFL Season they had 8 players out of 53 who came to the team as an undrafted free agent. Alvin Bailey, Doug Baldwin, Jeron Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Ricardo Lockette, Benson Mayowa, Mike Morgan and DeShawn Shead all began their NFL careers as a undrafted free agent but with the Seahawks they have been given oppertunity to perform and compete to see what type of talent they can bring to the team and to challenge the starters at their respective positions. In 2013, the Seahawks ranked 1st overall in total offensive and defensive playing time by undrafted rookies in the pre season with 36.2% The league average is around 23% and few teams like the New York Jets, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts were hovering at around 10%. This is a substantial variation in the league for an undrafted free agent looking to succeed and jump start their NFL Career. Ultimately, they could sign as a rookie free agent with the Jets, Giants or Colts and probably have a significantly smaller chance at competing and making an impact with the team than if they sign with a team like the Seahawks. Additionally, over the last three years the Seahawks have had fifteen players (22%) of their undrafted free agents make their roster and six other undrafted free agents make another NFL roster after they were cut by the Seahawks. Conversely, the Tennesee Titans (the lowest team in the league in that regard) have only had 4 undrafted free agents make their roster in 3 years and two of those years no players made the team. For the Seahawks, two undrafted free agents Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined for 12 touchdowns last year and also each had a touchdown in the Super Bowl and contributed immensely to their playoff run and Super Bowl title. As a player, this is the alluring aspect to the Seattle Seahawks, under general manager John Schnieder and head coach Pete Carrol the Seahawks have developed a program in which competition is key. Every player drafted, signed or acquired off waivers is given notably more opportunity than other teams in the league to compete and challenge for a starting position on their team and therefore succeed in their career.
It is an advantageous cycle that is being built in Seattle for both the organization and the players with the premier and most talented undrafted free agents being attracted to this type of program to allow them the opportunity to succeed and develop, making the Seattle Seahawks stronger as a team. If they have a decision to go to a team like the Seahawks where they will be given significantly more playing time and opportunity to grow and compete for a roster spot or go to the Jets where they may only see the field 10% of the time and not get as much opportunity they will probably choose the Seahawks. This year has been no different. On Monday, the Seahawks acquired and signed nine sought after undrafted free agents. Two of them were to top rated undrafted free agents at their position and could be big additions to the already competitive and deep Seahawk defense. Meet Jackson Jeffcoat, a 6 foot 5 , 250 pound defensive end from Texas who was projected to be drafted in the 5th or 6th rounds. Jeffcoat tallied 86 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks on his way to the Big 12 defensive player of the year. Dion Bailey was another, a classic linebacker style strong safety who tallied 61 tackles, six pass breakups and 5 interceptions for USC last season. These players will get an opportunity to have the most playing time of any undrafted free agents around the league and will challenge the already talented Seahawk team this year. They will compete and “show it on the field” as Pete Caroll usually says in his press conferences at their respective positions and in turn make the final 53 man roster or at the very least make the final 53 man roster stronger.
By: Ryan McCabe
*all stats via nfl.com and seahawks.com
*photo credit via latimes.com