The Ravens front office has often been lauded for its prowess and success in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. And while the balance of Day 1 of the draft has historically been checkered at best for the Ravens, they have discovered a few gems on Day 2 such as Jermaine Lewis, Jeff Mitchell, Edwin Mulitalo, Adalius Thomas, Ed Hartwell and Chester Taylor.
Then there are other discoveries that are uncovered on what could be considered Day 3 of the NFL Draft – the process of recruiting undrafted free agents (“UDFA’s).
Six weeks prior to the draft, the Ravens front office in cooperation with their scouting staff begin to send letters out to potential UDFA’s. Many of these players are talents that the Ravens have on their board yet for some reason or another their names are not called prior to Mr. Irrelevant – the last player taken on Day 2. It may be that these players weren’t even invited to the scouting combines and simply fell off the radar screen of talent evaluators.
The Ravens have done well in this area, adding productive players like Bart Scott, Will Demps, Maake Kemoeatu, Priest Holmes, Mike Flynn and long snapper Matt Katula as examples. The Ravens have also had success in bringing in reclamation projects who were castaways from other teams such as Darnell Dinkins, Daniel Wilcox and Kelly Gregg. All of these names bode well for the Ravens while recruiting UDFA’s who all have a clear and unconditional choice in where they go.
Typically the Ravens offer much less money to the UDFA’s (which tops out at $15,000 per player.) Although seemingly an insignificant number, that $15,000 per player does count against the cap. What if you extend 15 offers at that rate and only one or two UDFA’s actually make a team’s roster? That results in forfeited cap space that could be used during the season to fill in for an injured player.
With that in mind, the Ravens typically offer only $1,000 to UDFA’s. Their pitch is their history of success with UDFA’s. They try to convince the UDFA’s to look beyond the money today and focus on the value of the opportunity and the precedent the Ravens have set in finding players that fit their system – a few of which have gone on to become millionaires.
Player agents certainly will have their say. Many field multiple offers for their clients and it is incumbent upon the agent to select the team that offers the most promise for their client long-term – a choice that for obvious reasons benefits both the agent and client. Sometimes it’s not the team picking the UDFA has much as it is the UDFA picking the team. Just ask Antonio Gates who once sifted through 19 offer letters before settling on the Chargers.
But how do these talents escape the draft while draft busts litter NFL Draft boards? How does a two-time NFL MVP or a team career rushing leader or a blazer like Willie Parker with 4.28 speed escape the watchful eyes of many NFL scouts on draft day?
Talent evaluators like the Ravens Director of College Scouting Eric DeCosta like to lean on their experience when projecting players to the NFL. They look at a player at the collegiate level today and compare their skill sets to past collegiate players who have gone on to the NFL. In doing so, scouts get a handle on what players might be able to do at the next level.
But the handle is sometimes slippery and the grip isn’t always firm.
Sometimes players just get better as they mature and the pace of the maturation process can vary from player to player. That is why there are the Ryan Leafs of the NFL world and then there are successful UDFA’s like Kurt Warner.
Knowing the difference and acting upon it can make or break front office careers.