By the numbers: how the ‘8th round of the 2017 draft’ fared … NFL teams continue to tinker with their rosters in anticipation of this week’s regular season openers, but the early returns suggest that 2017 draft was also a pretty good one for players who went undrafted this past spring. Indeed, as of Saturday’s 53-man roster deadline, 61 undrafted rookie free agents were still on an NFL roster. That’s less than the figure of 69 recorded last year, but over the figure the previous year when 57 undrafted rookies made an opening day roster after the 2015 draft. Indeed, like the data on draft picks making a roster this year, the number of undrafted rookies making their respective team’s opening day roster this year is one of the highest in history, or at least since the league went to the 7-round draft. In comparison, back in the earlier part of this decade, for example, the number of rookie agents making an opening day roster was seldom over 40.
As well, the majority of teams kept at least one undrafted rookie at this year’s deadline. In fact, by our unofficial count, only four teams – Arizona, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Kansas City – did not keep at least one undrafted rookie agent. At the same time, close to half (14) the teams in the league still have two or more undrafted rookies on the roster once their 53-man rosters were set. San Francisco and Miami led the way with with 5 undrafted rookie free agents on their respective rosters, while the LA Chargers, Baltimore, New England and the New York Giants each kept 4. At the same time, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota and the LA Rams kept three each, while New Orleans, Washington, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Jacksonville all kept two each.
The unpredictability of the whole business is also reflected in how the respective undrafted free agent classes of different teams fared on cut-down day. The consensus around the league back in May, for example, was that Jacksonville had one of the best unsigned rookie classes in the league. The Jaguars, for example, had 3 of the top 7 – and 5 of the top 40 – undrafted players left on the GBN Big Board after the draft, but in the end kept only two, neither of which were on the GBN Big Board.
And while many of the undrafted rookies who made their respective rosters this week are relatively well-known prospects, many others still aren’t households in their own homes. This year, for example, just 2 of the top 10, 5 of the top 30, and 13 of the top 100 undrafted players left on the GBN Big Board at the end of the 2017 draft, ultimately made an opening day roster. Overall, just 19 of the 61 undrafted players who made an opening day roster were originally on the GBN Big Board ranking of the top 350 or so prospects for this year’s draft, while 2 out 3 weren’t rated that highly. Part of the phenomenon may simply be that better known players who don’t get drafted, are usually passed over for a reason and teams go looking elsewhere for upside.
This year, for example, undrafted free agents from such football factories Eastern Washington (WR Kendrick Bourne to the 49ers); Southern Oregon (PK Aldrick Rosas to the Giants); and Greenville College in North Carolina (S/LB Nick Morrow to the Raiders). There is also an undrafted free agent from a Canadian school (Laval TE Antony Auclair to the Buccaneers). However, no team appears to have spent more time scouring the football landscape than Kansas City which kept both RB Austin Ekeler from Western State of Colorado and the aptly named Younghoe Koo, a PK from Georgia Southern. For the most part, though, the vast majority of undrafted rookie free agents still on an NFL roster are from DI schools, but weren’t career starters or didn’t play much because of injuries etc.