Opportunity Knocks For Undrafted Players In Kansas City

Posted May 27, 2011

Post-draft pickups play key roles in building a successful Chiefs team

Undrafted rookies have had plenty of time to study this off-season. Ordinarily fast and furious, the post-draft signing process has slowed to a calculated waiting game.

College free agents have more time than ever to analyze which franchises provide the best fit. Which teams can offer the best opportunity for growth and development? Some 300 college prospects have had longer than a month to study.

If the future pros go beyond analysis of depth charts and recent draft picks, they’ll find a pattern familiar to many player agents. The pattern leads to a place that allows rookie free agents, regardless of position, to thrive.

Word is spreading fast. The undrafted can make a big impact in Kansas City.

“I’ve been with a number of organizations that have had success developing rookie free agents into quality contributors on successful teams,” Chiefs General Manger Scott Pioli said. “It takes contributions from a number of people within the organization in order for it to work.

“It starts with scouts identifying players with talent and the makeup that can meet the demands of our organization. It also takes a talented coaching staff that is willing to invest the time that it takes to help a player mature physically and mentally. However, it ultimately comes down to the player doing what it takes to be a pro.”

Normally, the Chiefs would have already signed a double-digit number of undrafted rookies by now. Just like draft picks, rookie free agents would be going through OTAs, getting in classroom time with their respective coaches and spearheading community efforts with the Chiefs Rookie Club.

However, this year’s unorthodox offseason tied to the NFL’s labor situation has delayed that process.

Nevertheless, an environment of true competition is present for these players in Kansas City. The door will eventually open for a new group of undrafted players to sign. When that happens, the Chiefs will quickly spring into action.

The question isn’t about which rookie free agent will make an impact in 2011. It’s revolves around how many.

“Developing players within your own system has become a very important part of success in today’s NFL,” said Pioli. “Having a plan to acquire, train and educate your own players, within your culture is paramount.”

Proof is in the numbers. Undrafted players receive a very good opportunity to make it in Kansas City.

Eight players from 2009’s crop of undrafted additions remain on the roster and played an integral part in the Chiefs worst-to-first run over the past two seasons. An additional five undrafted rookies made it from start to finish last season.

In total, 13 undrafted rookies that joined the Chiefs during the 2009-10 seasons remain with the team today.

The Chiefs operate under a personnel system that doesn’t place draft picks on pedestals. It’s a mindset that’s roots trace back to Bill Parcells.

“It doesn’t matter how you got here,” Parcells would say to incoming rookies. “It only matters what you do when you’re here.”

“That is one of Bill Parcells’ favorite annual statements,” Pioli said. “He used to say it to every incoming rookie class and he meant it. I know Todd (Haley) tells all of our rookies the same thing when they arrive because he and I believe in that philosophy too.

“I don’t wake up in the morning wondering what kind of grade we received for the draft. The NFL is based on building the right team and winning games the right way, with the right kind of people.”

The success stories begin with the obvious. Players like Jovan Belcher have worked their way up from special teams contributors to regular starters. Belcher finished third on the team last year with 97 tackles.

Opportunity exists for players from all levels of play. Cory Greenwood, a 16-game contributor in 2010, hadn’t played football in the United States prior to last season. The former Quebec University Football Leaguer didn’t even sign with the Chiefs until May 17th.

Verran Tucker made starts at wide receiver and found the end zone as an undrafted rookie. Jackie Bates, who developed throughout the 2009 season, received a starting nod in a critical road game last season at Seattle. Ricky Price has been active at multiple positions. Jeremy Horne, Justin Cole, Dion Gales, Darryl Harris, Reshard Langford and Pierre Walters have all found their way to the 53-man roster over the last two years as well.

Commitment doesn’t end at the 53-man roster. It’s extends to the practice squad as well.

After spending all of 2009 as a member of the Chiefs practice squad, former Alabama DL Bobby Greenwood made a switch to offensive line midway through training camp last season. The Chiefs committed to developing Greenwood at his new position throughout all of 2010 and signed him to a reserve/future contract in January.

For other undrafted rookies, a first impression can go a long way.

Take the case of Corey Mays, who joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2006. After playing in nine games with the Patriots from 2006-07, Mays joined the Bengals and remained there through the 2008 season.

Shortly after Pioli was hired in Kansas City, Mays became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Chiefs.

Re-uniting with a system that makes it possible for underdogs to prosper, Mays worked his way up Kansas City’s depth chart to become a regular starter for the first time in his four-year NFL career. He finished the 2009 season with 100 tackles.

During Pioli’s tenure in New England, the Patriots saw undrafted rookies thrive as well. A total of 16 undrafted rookies went on to earn at least one Super Bowl ring after originally joining the franchise as undrafted players.

Randall Gay is one of those players.

Gay first beat out seventh-round draft pick Christian Morton for a place on New England’s 53-man roster. He’d eventually go on to start Super Bowl XXXIX opposite Pro Bowl CB Asante Samuel. Gay actually led the Patriots with 11 tackles in the victory over Philadelphia.

Tracking through a decade of undrafted free agents brings more success stories than anyone would imagine – particularly when it comes to a perennial championship contender.

Stephen Neal, a three-time Super Bowl champion, made his entire career in New England. He’d go on to start 81 games for the Patriots before announcing his retirement this spring.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, an undrafted rookie from the class of 2008, persevered through multiple call-ups and send-downs. He led the Patriots in rushing and recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2010.

Then there’s Lonnie Paxton, the snow-angel celebrating long snapper that initiated nine of Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goals. The list goes on and on.

A new chapter of undrafted success stories will emerge when the NFL’s free agency begins.

The Chiefs are a franchise that embraces its rookie free agents. With a proven track record of success, why wouldn’t they?

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