Every year, there is so much focus on the first round prospects – – especially the guys in the top 10.
Since 1994 there have been seven rounds to the NFL draft, seven rounds of 32 picks in each round (plus compensatory picks).
After that comes the fun part – – the undrafted free agents. This is where scouts can really make a name for themselves, finding the proverbial diamonds in the rough. This is the time where scouts get to identify players every team in the league passed over, many times over, and this is what scouting is really all about.
Growing up, I had the privilege of watching and studying general manager (GM) Bobby Beathard, who has since been inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I consider Beathard the best GM in NFL history, not because he ran Redskins, the team I was absolutely nuts for; I say it because of his resume. I have never seen anyone accomplish more with what was perceived to be less.
Beathard built three Super Bowl championship teams in Washington with three number one picks TOTAL in a decade. Although, Beathard was not the GM of the Redskins in 1991 when the team won their third, the nucleus of that team were players he had acquired. It was also Beathard’s understudy, Charley Casserly who was the team GM for that third Super Bowl.
Beathard also recommended an unknown head coach named Joe Gibbs to the team owner during those years, Mr. Jack Kent Cooke.
Washington is the only team in league history to win three different Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, and we are not talking about top five picks either.
Beathard built these rosters I loved growing up, with mostly mid to late round draft choices (back when the draft was 12 rounds). He also picked up a fair number of undrafted free agents and castoffs from other leagues, mainly the defunct USFL.
In the words of my grandma, whom I loved dearly, and fondly remember – – that team back then was like a family.
The chemistry Beathard built with those teams was uniquely special. This is who I learned from when it came to the importance of undrafted free agents.
The draft is not over after the first or even the fourth round – – the draft is not even over after it ends in the seventh round.
This is when scouts start pounding on the tables of war-rooms across the league saying, “We need to sign this guy!” Scouts will call these undrafted free agent prospects on the phone, and offer them small signing bonuses and an opportunity to compete for a roster spot with their teams.
This year as a writer for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions, I was tasked with looking at all the undrafted free agents the Lions had signed and putting my name on the players I thought would actually make the final roster, way back before training camp in the beginning of May.
Based on evaluating their college game film (which is a crystal ball in the NFL), I picked four of them to make the team – – out of 14.
I put my name on guard Tommy Kraemer, corner A.J. Parker, receiver Jonathan Adams and linebacker Tavante Beckett. As of Wednesday, September 1, 2021 – – after the final cuts – – three out of four I liked are still with the team.
Adams got cut in June, Kraemer and Beckett got signed to the Lions’ practice squad and made it to the final cut and Parker made the team. Parker did not just make the team either as some guy listed last on the depth chart, he is listed as Detroit’s second-string back-up to starting corner, Amani Oruwariye.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.