Cut-down day tough on undrafted rookies … One of the concerns around the NFL this odd off-season was that because of the limited training camps, it was going to be relatively difficult for later round draft picks, as well as undrafted signees, to make a final roster. Turns out that that was not the case for this year’s draft class as relatively few players selected this past April were released at this year roster deadline. On the other hand, undrafted rookies didn’t fare as well. In fact, by our unofficial count only 25 players who signed after they were not selected at this year’s draft were still on their respective team’s 53-man roster after the Turk’s visit last week. That’s down from 32 last year and less than half the figure in each of the previous pre-covid years when it was not uncommon for 55-60 undrafted players to make an opening day roster.
It was also not uncommon in those years for some teams to keep as many as 4-5 undrafted rookies. Even last year, for example, at least two teams kept as many as 4 undrafted rookies, while another three retained three. In contrast, though, not one team around the NFL kept more than two undrafted rookies this year, although a half dozen teams (Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Miami, the LA Chargers and NY Jets) did keep a pair of undrafted rookies each.
The other thing that kind of jumps out about this year’s undrafted rookie class is that, whereas in the past a significant proportion of undrafted rookies were from smaller schools, teams played it pretty safe this year with most of the undrafted rookies who mahe rosters coming from major football programs. This year, for example, 17 of the 25 undrafted rookies who made an opening day roster were from Power-5 conference programs, while 5 were from other FBS schools. In contrast, only three undrafted rookies from outside the FBS ranks – Chicago LB Caleb Johnson from Houston Baptist, Denver RB Nate McCrary from Saginaw State and Indianapolis DT Chris Williams from Wagner – made an NFL opening day roster. Of course, it is very possible that a lot of small-school players that would have been candidates to make a pro roster took advantage of the NCAA’s grace year of eligibility and opted to return to school.
However, while the majority of undrafted players who made an opening day roster were in fact from major football programs, they weren’t necessarily all that highly rated going into the draft. Indeed, of the 25 UDFAs who stuck last week, just two were among the top 10 players on our ranking of the top undrafted players following the draft. They were former Iowa OT A.J. (don’t call me Alaric) Jackson, the 6th guy on that list who was signed by the LA Rams and former Louisville CB Ar’darius Washington at #9 who inked with Baltimore. In fact, just 7 of the top 66 UDFAs on the GBN list ended up making an opening day roster. That actually isn’t all that unusual as that pattern was also seen in other recent drafts. It may be simply that most of the top undrafted players had already been pretty heavily scouted by the NFL which had seen their warts.