What Does It Mean to Go Undrafted?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Going undrafted means a player was not selected in the NFL or NBA draft by any team.
  • This happens due to concerns about a player’s measurables, competition level, or off-field issues.
  • Undrafted players can sign with teams as undrafted free agents and compete for a roster spot.
  • UDFAs typically have to prove themselves quickly before regular season begins.
  • Some use going undrafted as motivation to succeed despite pre-draft concerns.

What Is the Significance of Going Undrafted in the NFL Draft??

Going undrafted in the NFL draft means that a college player eligible for the draft was not selected by any of the 32 NFL teams during the 7 rounds of the draft. This occurs for a variety of reasons, usually related to concerns that teams have about a player’s potential fit and success at the professional level.

Some common reasons a player goes undrafted include:

  • Small school background – Coming from a small school or lower division, the player did not face top competition. NFL teams are unsure how they will perform at the highest level.
  • Injuries – A history of injuries in college causes doubts about durability and longevity.
  • Off-field issues – Character concerns, arrests, failed drug tests, or other off-field issues raise red flags.
  • Lack of ideal measurables – Size, speed, strength, and other physical traits do not meet NFL standards for the position.
  • Age – Players who are older when entering the draft, perhaps due to injury redshirts.

A study by NFL Operations found that only 27% of college players who entered the draft between 2017-2019 were selected. The vast majority went undrafted.

Going undrafted does not mean a player’s hopes of an NFL career are over. They are still able to sign with teams as undrafted free agents and compete for a roster spot in training camp and preseason. However, the odds are stacked against them and they face an uphill battle.

What Obstacles Do Undrafted Free Agents Face in the NFL?

Players who go undrafted face significant obstacles in their quest to make an NFL roster:

  • Tough Competition: UDFAs must compete against drafted rookies, veterans, and other UDFAs fighting for limited roster spots. In 2022, over 500 UDFAs were signed following the draft.
  • No Guaranteed Money: UDFA contracts are not guaranteed. If cut, the team owes the player nothing. Drafted rookies receive signing bonuses that guarantee payment even if released.
  • Short Timeframe to Impress: UDFAs must stand out immediately in offseason workouts and training camp. Coaches spend less time developing them.
  • Fewer Reps/Opportunities: Drafted rookies and veterans take priority for practice and preseason game reps. UDFAs have limited chances to showcase their abilities.
  • Low Job Security: UDFAs are easiest to cut when rosters are trimmed. They can be released at any time if another player becomes available.

According to the NFL Players Association, less than 5% of UDFAs typically make opening day rosters. However, for the driven few, going undrafted provides underdog motivation.

What Motivates Some Undrafted Players to Prove Teams Wrong??

Although the odds are stacked heavily against them, some players use going undrafted as motivation to fuel their drive to succeed:

  • Proving Doubters Wrong: Being passed over in the draft ignites an intense desire to show teams they made a mistake.
  • Playing With a Chip on Their Shoulder: Feeling disrespected, they approach every practice and play with an aggressive chip on their shoulder.
  • Silencing Critics: They are determined to silence all critics who question their ability by making a roster and producing on the field.
  • Earning Respect: They want to force teams to respect their work ethic, skills, and talents.
  • Love of the Game: Their passion and love for football outweighs draft disappointment. They remain dedicated to achieving their NFL dream.
  • Remaining Confident: They do not let being undrafted damage their confidence. They trust their abilities regardless of draft status.
  • Having Patience: They understand the challenge ahead and are willing to be patient for their opportunity to arrive.

While being undrafted provides extra motivation, it ultimately comes down to whether the player has the physical gifts, work ethic, and mental makeup to impress coaches and take advantage of opportunities. Some maximize their situation, others quickly wash out.

What are SomeNotable NFL Players Who Went Undrafted?

Some all-time great NFL players surprisingly went undrafted before going on to highly successful pro careers:

  • Kurt Warner, QB: After going undrafted out of Northern Iowa in 1994, he stocked shelves and played in the Arena League. Signed by the Rams in 1998, Warner went on to be a Super Bowl MVP, 4x Pro Bowler, and won MVP in 1999.
  • Antonio Gates, TE: Undrafted in 2003 from Kent State as a basketball player, he signed with the Chargers and became an 8x Pro Bowl selection. He is the NFL all-time TD leader for tight ends.
  • Tony Romo, QB: Romo joined the Cowboys as an UDFA from Eastern Illinois in 2003. He became a 4x Pro Bowler, holder of many Cowboys passing records, and is now an NFL broadcaster.
  • Jeff Saturday, C: The Colts signed Saturday after he went undrafted in 1998 from North Carolina. He was a 6x Pro Bowler, won Super Bowl XLI, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
  • Arian Foster, RB: From Tennessee, Foster went undrafted in 2009 but became a 4x Pro Bowl selection with the Texans and led the NFL in rushing yards in 2010.
  • James Harrison, LB: Harrison was undrafted from Kent State in 2002 before becoming a 5x Pro Bowler and winning 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the Steelers.

These Pro Football Hall of Famers also went undrafted: Willie Wood, Lou Groza, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Marion Motley, Emlen Tunnell, and Larry Little.

How Can Undrafted Players Increase Their Chances of Making an NFL Roster?

To maximize their odds of defying the long odds by landing an NFL roster spot, undrafted players should:

  • Pick the Right Team: Sign with the team that offers the best opportunity for competing for a roster spot rather than the biggest UDFA bonus.
  • Get Noticed Immediately: Flash playmaking skills early in offseason workouts. Coaches begin evaluating from Day 1.
  • Master the Playbook: Put in extra study time to thoroughly learn the playbook and schemes. Memorize assignments.
  • Be Consistent: Bring maximum focus, effort, and execution each and every practice rep and drill. No wasted days.
  • Work Overtime: Arrive early and stay late for extra drills, film study, and skills development. Outwork everyone.
  • Perform on Special Teams: Volunteer for all coverage and return units. These are critical paths to roster spots.
  • No Bad Habits: Avoid off-field issues, legal situations, poor social media behavior, or skipping team commitments.
  • Look the Part: Arrive in peak physical shape. Pass the eye test. Demonstrate NFL conditioning and strength.
  • Make Plays in Preseason: Take full advantage of preseason action. Few chances are afforded, so make them count.

What Happens to Undrafted Players Who Do Not Make NFL Rosters?

For the vast majority of undrafted players who inevitably get released during final roster cuts, they are faced with difficult choices if hoping to continue their football dream:

  • Practice Squad: Can sign with team’s 10-man practice squad, but only makes minimum salary and can get released at any time.
  • New NFL Tryouts: Enter free agent player pools for opportunities to try out for other NFL teams after being cut.
  • Arena/CFL football: Leagues like the Arena League or CFL in Canada represent fallback options. The pay is low but keeps the dream marginally alive.
  • Alternative Football Leagues: Join upstart leagues like the USFL or XFL when they launch, although these ventures fold frequently.
  • Coaching: Turn to coaching high school or college football as a way to stay involved in the game.
  • Non-Football Career: Ultimately face reality and enter the regular workforce in a non-football field.

The window of opportunity in the NFL is tiny, and most undrafted players see it close quickly. How they choose to respond to the disappointment of getting released determines whether they move on or keep striving for unlikely gridiron glory.

What Does It Mean to Go Undrafted in the NBA Draft?

Going undrafted in the NBA draft means a player eligible for the draft was not selected by any team during the 2 rounds of the annual draft. While being undrafted presents challenges, the basketball landscape provides options for players still hoping to make the NBA.

Reasons a player can go undrafted by NBA teams include:

  • Too small/big for ideal NBA position
  • Perceived lack of athleticism
  • Did not perform well in workouts/combines
  • Concerns about basketball IQ
  • Maturity issues
  • Injuries
  • Advanced age

According to an analysis by Basketball News, 60% of players who declare for the NBA draft go undrafted on average. International players make up a significant portion.

What Pathways Exist for Undrafted Players to Make the NBA?

While the mountain seems steep, undrafted players still have pathways to land on an NBA roster:

  • Summer League: Undrafted players can join NBA teams for summer league. Strong performances in summer league games can lead to training camp invites.
  • G League: Can sign in the NBA’s developmental G League. Success and growth in the G League can get a player promoted to an NBA roster.
  • Two-Way Contract: A two-way contract splits time between the G League and NBA team. It allows up to 45 days on the NBA roster.
  • Overseas: Some undrafted players go overseas to play professionally in Europe, Australia, or China to polish skills and get experience.
  • Training Camp: Players may be invited to compete for a roster spot in an NBA team’s training camp and preseason games.
  • Midseason Signing: After the season starts, undrafted players may be signed to fill sudden roster needs due to injuries or trades.

What are Some Notable Undrafted NBA Players?

Some current and former NBA stars surprisingly went undrafted before making a name for themselves in the league:

  • Ben Wallace: Wallace went undrafted from Virginia Union in 1996. He signed with Washington and went on to become a 4x All-Star and 4x Defensive Player of the Year winner.
  • Brad Miller: After two years in Italy post-draft, Miller returned and signed with Charlotte. The undrafted center was named an All-Star in 2003 and 2004.
  • Bruce Bowen: A defensive specialist, Bowen went undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 1993 before winning 3 NBA titles with the Spurs.
  • Jeremy Lin: Former New York Knicks sensation Lin went undrafted from Harvard in 2010 before his unforgettable “Linsanity” stretch.
  • Udonis Haslem: Overlooked from Florida in 2002, Haslem joined Miami and became a key role player over a long career, winning 3 NBA titles.
  • Jose Calderon: Calderon has been a steady undrafted point guard from Spain who has played for seven NBA teams over 14 seasons.
  • Fred VanVleet: VanVleet from Wichita State found a home in Toronto after going undrafted in 2016. He became a key player on their 2019 championship team.

How are Undrafted NBA Players Different from Other Rookies?

Undrafted rookies trying to make the NBA face a much steeper climb than drafted first-round picks:

  • No Guaranteed Deal: Unlike first rounders, undrafted players do not get guaranteed multi-year contracts with millions guaranteed. They may receive only partial guarantees.
  • No Celebrity Status: Undrafted players do not get the red carpet treatment, media hype, and high profile that accompanies top draft picks.
  • Less Financial Security: They earn far less on mostly minimum contracts. Bonuses and shoe deals that drafted players receive are extremely rare.
  • Tougher Rookie Transition: Whereas high picks join rebuilding teams, undrafted players must produce immediately to keep roster spots on winning teams.
  • Less Patience from Management: Undrafted players have a shorter leash. Coaches quicker replace them if they do not produce compared to drafted prospects.
  • Underrated Upside: Undrafted players may possess just as much raw talent and upside as drafted players. Scouts sometimes miss their potential.

Overall, undrafted NBA rookies need to prove themselves quicker despite reduced job security, financial stability, and hype surrounding them. The determination required is immense.

What Helps Undrafted NBA Hopefuls Increase Their Chances?

To maximize slim odds of making the NBA without being drafted, players can:

  • Get Noticed in Combines/Workouts: Attend combines and seek workouts with NBA teams. Impress scouts with skills and potential.
  • Learn New Positions: Showing versatility at multiple positions broadens opportunities for making a team. Willingness to adapt is key.
  • Improve Specific Skills: Identify weak areas–shooting, ball handling, defense, etc. Relentlessly sharpen them through training.
  • Network Aggressively: Connect with NBA coaches, scouts, agents, veterans to get name out there and gain valuable advice.
  • Go to Summer League: Seek summer league invites. First step is getting a foot in the door on a roster.
  • Consider Overseas: Weigh playing internationally first to build game tape and experience against pro competition.
  • Stay Ready: Players must be prepared when unexpected tryout or roster openings occur. Jumping on opportunities is critical.
  • Remain Confident: Don’t lose belief despite going undrafted. Self-confidence combined with work ethic is vital.

Going undrafted makes the path to the NBA extremely challenging. But players who strategically play their cards while relentlessly perfecting their game can still find a route.

What Happens to Undrafted Players Who Do Not Reach the NBA?

For the majority of undrafted players who are unable to ultimately land a coveted NBA roster spot, they are left with an uncertain basketball future:

  • International Leagues: Many continue their pro careers internationally in Europe, Australia, or Asia. The money overseas is strong.
  • G League Lifers: Some undrafted players bounce around the NBA’s development league for years hoping for an NBA call-up.
  • Basketball Abroad: Collegiate undrafted players often leverage their degrees to play basketball and pursue other careers in countries abroad.
  • Domestic Minor Leagues: Undrafted players may end up in fledgling leagues trying to catch on like The Basketball League or Basketball Africa League.
  • Coaching/Front Office: They transition to coaching or scouting roles at the high school, college or pro level.
  • Non-Basketball Field: After basketball does not work out, shifting focus to alternative career paths in business, tech, media or other industries.
  • Education: Returning to school to complete undergraduate degrees or pursue graduate programs for dual-career preparation.

Going undrafted starts the clock ticking on already short athletic careers. These realities steer many to pivot and embark upon new ventures beyond just basketball sooner than they hoped.

Conclusion: What Does Going Undrafted Truly Signify?

Getting passed over in the NFL or NBA draft certainly signals challenges ahead for players aspiring to reach the highest level of their sport. But going undrafted does not close the door completely. It simply means the path forward is far more arduous.

Ultimately, what determines whether undrafted players overcome the long odds comes down to their work ethic, skill development, and mental toughness in translating motivation into roster spots. Passion combined with perseverance can still land them membership into the most elite fraternity in sports.

While most will not overcome the uphill battle, undrafted players who maximize their talents and opportunities continue to make league rosters each year. They serve as inspirations for future generations to keep striving relentlessly no matter the barriers or doubters they must face.

For the gifted few able to take the hard road less traveled all the way to the bright lights of playing fields in front of millions, going undrafted will not define their destination, only further fuel their journey.

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