The Denver Broncos will conduct their annual official rookie minicamp next weekend, and most of the attention will naturally be centered on the highly praised 2013 draft class.
But not to be lost among the bigger drafted names is that there will be 16 undrafted college free agents in attendance as well, and one of the biggest mistakes made by fans and press is that only the well known names are recognized, and hence the relative unknowns are given little chance.
This is understandable and nobody’s fault.
Nobody is known until he makes a name for himself, and then human nature is such that we all think we knew of him all along.
Last year the Broncos had a 13-3 regular season record and won the American Football Conference Western Division for the second straight season, so there is no question that the roster was an excellent one.
But just consider that Denver has a nine-year streak of an undrafted player making the active roster, and the current roster that is poised to follow up last season with another exceptional year has four current undrafted players signed out of college by the Broncos.
Included are starting linebacker and team captain Wesley Woodyard (he joined the Broncos in 2008), cornerback Chris Harris (signed in 2011), and long snapper Aaron Brewer and linebacker Steven Johnson, both signed as rookies last year.
Generally speaking the high draft choices have the bigger files of press clippings, but the first thing a team of players does when it gets ready to practice is take off the civilian clothes and put on the common uniform that makes every guy part of the same team.
Then they take the field, and they do so without any announcement of their press clippings or the size of any bank accounts of lists of any fans in the community.
They are all equal on the field and in the classroom, and the players who learn the most and apply the most, who are faster and stronger and more successful, regardless of how they may have been perceived in these categories in all the scouting reports—those are the guys who jump to the head of the class.
The scouts do a tremendous job of identifying talent, but part of that scouting process is to also locate sleepers, players who for one reason or another were passed over in the draft but who nevertheless possess a quality, a spark, a reason to take a look.
The first look leads to the second, and the third, and at the end of and beginning of every day the coaches meet. Coaches meet a lot.
They discuss the progress of the team as a whole and of individual players, for it is the collective group of players that will ultimately make up any team.
Due to their play on their field, their work in the classroom and the steady and absolute observance of the entire coaching staff during this process, some players move up, and unfortunately, some move down.
The National Football League, like every other professional sports league, is a complete meritocracy.
Everyone starts off equal and in a position to impress.
I have many times heard coaches say that they do not cut players, the players cut themselves. The above process is the methodology by which the rise and fall takes place, and when it is over, some names that no one ever heard of or imagined making the team might just do so.
The Broncos have had a great number of undrafted free agent success stories, and sometimes one such tale begets another.
Virtually every Broncos fan knows who Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith is, and many fans are aware that he was undrafted when he came out of Missouri Southern University. Smith holds all the NFL records for receptions, reception yards and reception touchdowns by undrafted players, but those marks might be surpassed by a fellow Bronco this year.
On the heels of Smith in these categories is Wesley Welker, second in each category and pressing fast to surpass Rod.
Of course, Welker is now a vital member of the Broncos after signing in Denver as a free agent this off season, as fans once again realize.
But many might not know that Welker also was an undrafted player coming out of college.
Rod Smith and Wes Welker are two pretty good undrafted free agent success stories, so never count out that there might be others who emerge from the pack to make to make the team’s final roster again this year.
That would be 10 straight seasons in Denver, the land of opportunity for undrafted free agents.
It all begins next weekend at the team’s Dove Valley headquarters, as this group of rookies will once again be evaluated on the playing fields, not on paper.
We’ll write the stories on paper, but they will determine their futures on the field.
Tags: Rookie Minicamp