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Undrafted free agents stick at higher rate in NFL despite lockout

Bears WR Dane Sanzenbacher headlines class of 58 new undrafted free agents on NFL teams. (Associated Press)
Bears WR Dane Sanzenbacher headlines class of 58 new undrafted free agents on NFL teams. (Associated Press)

NEW YORK – Hey, kid, too bad you didn’t get drafted by the NFL before it went back into lockout mode. Fat chance of being around for opening day.

So here’s a surprise: More undrafted rookies made NFL rosters this season than in any year since 2003.

They did so despite the 41/2-month lockout that was expected to limit their chances. With no offseason workouts, minicamps or training sessions in which they could be evaluated by coaching staffs, players not selected in April seemed longer shots than usual.

Yet 58 undrafted free agents made teams as of Wednesday. Last year, with no lockout, 57 were on rosters when the season began.

The last time there were more was when 63 stuck eight years ago.

“The teams are getting smarter with who they are signing as undrafted free agents, and players are getting smarter where they sign,” said Gil Brandt, the league’s draft consultant and a former general manager with the Dallas Cowboys. “The players now look at it as: ‘Do I have a better chance with Dallas or with Seattle?’ And they go where they think they have the chance.”

This year, that’s Chicago, which has the most with five, followed by Dallas, Indianapolis and Seattle with four each.

Arizona, Tennessee and Oakland have none.

Chicago’s keepers are Purdue tight end/fullback Kyle Adams, Troy defensive end Mario Addison, Pittsburgh linebacker Dom DeCicco, Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, and Boise State safety Winston Venable.

Sanzenbacher was second on the team in catches (10) and yards receiving (107) during the preseason.

“You never stop proving yourself or trying to get a spot, especially when you’re in my position,” he said. “So you can’t rest on anything.”

Rest actually is one reason so many undrafted rookies made it throughout the league. Teams were reluctant to push their veterans, especially their likely starters, when training camps opened after the lockout. So practice reps that would have gone to incumbents instead went to newcomers.

Coaches had more chance to identify rookies’ strengths in drills, too, as holdovers were held back from such work.

Suddenly, someone overlooked in April was making big impressions in August.

“As I analyzed these people that made it, it looks like the same thing appears,” said Brandt, who was known for his acumen for uncovering gems who didn’t get drafted. While with Dallas, he signed the likes of Cliff Harris, Cornell Green, Drew Pearson and Dave Edwards, all of whom helped the Cowboys win the Super Bowl.

“Teams are going after players with one or two characteristics that have led to success at that position. Offensive linemen with long arms, or running backs who have quickness, for example.

“Last year, we saw that in New Orleans, and Chris Ivory (Washington State), who led the Saints in rushing. They considered four different backs, but went after him because of the quickness.”

Taiwan JonesRBOaklandRookie
Michael RoosOTTennessee7th
Isaiah TrufantCBN.Y. Jets1st
T.J. ConleyPN.Y. Jets1st
Nathan EnderleQBChicagoRookie
*Shiloh KeoSHoustonRookie
**Max KomarWRArizona2nd
Mike IupatiGSan Francisco2nd
*Aaron LavariasDLNew EnglandRookie
Jake ScottGTennessee7th
*Eddie WilliamsFBCleveland3rd
Hamza AbdullahSArizona7th
Husain AbdullahSMinnesota4th
Erik ColemanSDetroit9th
Jed CollinsFBNew Orleans1st
Eric FramptonSMinnesota5th
Brandon GibsonWRSt. Louis3rd
Jason HansonKDetroit20th
Jerome HarrisonRBDetroit6th
Jason HillWRJacksonville5th
***Chris IvoryRBNew Orleans2nd
Ropati PitoituaDEN.Y. Jets3rd
Marcus TrufantCBSeattle9th
**Zack Williams OLCarolinaRookie