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Undrafted players can become NFL stars

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; NEW YORK - Who says NFL scouts know everything? They missed on Antonio Gates, now considered the best tight end in football. They missed on Kurt Warner, who merely became a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player and an MVP of ...

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Old 04-24-2006, 07:25 AM   #1
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Undrafted players can become NFL stars

NEW YORK - Who says NFL scouts know everything? They missed on Antonio Gates, now considered the best tight end in football. They missed on Kurt Warner, who merely became a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player and an MVP of the Super Bowl. And on Rod Smith, who's fourth on the career yards receiving list among active players. All those players didn't go in the first round of the draft. In fact, they didn't go in any rounds.

Despite all the poking and prodding at the NFL Combine each year, players deemed too small, too slow or too injured invariably go on to become stars in the NFL after being passed over by personnel directors and general managers.

So who will be this year's Priest Holmes? Dick Vermeil, for one, doesn't pretend to have the answer.

"You'd like to believe that we're all smart enough to draft them anyway, but none of us are, obviously," the former Chiefs coach said.

Holmes went undrafted in 1997 after an injury-filled career at Texas, but latched on with the Ravens as a free agent. After showing a glimmer of his potential, he signed with the Chiefs in 2001. Holmes went on to rush for a league-record 27 touchdowns in 2003, a mark broken last season by NFL MVP Shaun Alexander.

Vermeil, who won a Super Bowl with the Rams in 1999, said teams don't take it lightly when they miss on evaluating a player.

"I think every time someone misses on somebody that glaringly, they go back and evaluate their reports, evaluate the scouts that wrote the reports. They deeply evaluate the whole situation better and see where they made a mistake, or if they did," Vermeil told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"Many times there's little, mitigating circumstances that just prevented ... you didn't think a guy would drop from a first-round pick (to) out of the draft. Maybe he drops to a sixth- or seventh-round pick. So, I think people do go and re-evaluate everything."

Warner may have the most improbable success story. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he played in the Arena Football League and then NFL Europe.

He finally got his shot in St. Louis when starting quarterback Trent Green went down with a knee injury in the 1999 preseason. Vermeil stuck Warner in the lineup, leading to a storybook career he's still writing in Arizona.

Warner was the league MVP in 1999 and 2001 and MVP of the 2000 Super Bowl, leading the Rams to a 23-16 victory over Tennessee. He also led St. Louis to the 2002 Super Bowl, where the Rams lost to New England 20-17.

Another two-time Super Bowl winner, Denver's Smith is the NFL's career leader in receptions (797), yards receiving (10,877) and touchdowns receiving (65) among undrafted players. At just 6-foot, 200 pounds, he's the only undrafted player to eclipse 10,000 yards receiving. The rap against Smith? He played at that non-football factory, Missouri Southern.

Chargers GM A.J. Smith says sometimes it's just a matter of luck. He should know.

San Diego was one of 19 teams vying for Gates, a college basketball standout for Kent State. Smith said the football gods were with him the day Gates' original agent, Eugene Parker, called him with the good news.

"You know, of all these 19 teams, we've decided that we're going to sign with you," Smith recalled Parker saying. "So, I've never stood at a podium and took credit for this. This is absolutely what you call luck. Period and simple. And sometimes it happens in this business. And the San Diego Chargers were very, very lucky."

Gates, an All-Pro, last season led NFL tight ends with 89 catches for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Inspired by Gates, George Mason center Jai Lewis is the latest basketball player hoping to make the jump to the NFL.

For some teams, it's being in the right place at the right time.

Willie Parker will never forget the embarrassment of Senior Day at North Carolina in 2003. The Steelers' starting running back never set foot on the field for the Tar Heels that day against Duke, even with friends and family looking on.

As the story goes, Steelers scout Dan Rooney Jr. remembered Parker as a high school player in Clinton, N.C. He saw him at his pro workout day in Chapel Hill and lobbied the front office hard to sign him. Because Rooney stayed in touch with Parker, the player felt a certain loyalty to Rooney when it came to signing a free-agent contract.

With 4.28 speed, he was the only undrafted running back among the NFL's 16 1,000-yard rushers last season, and his 1,202 yards were the most by a Steeler since Jerome Bettis ran for 1,341 yards in 2000. It was his 75-yard scamper in February's Super Bowl that helped the Steelers join the 49ers and Cowboys with five Lombardi Trophies.

To this day, A.J. Smith is mystified how players such as Parker can get past talent evaluators.

"I've said this before: first-rounders are busts, and seventh-rounders and free agents have gone to Honolulu and the Pro Bowl," Smith said. "How in the world does this happen? It's a mystery of our business.

"A lot of times players do get better, and some of them get worse."

Undrafted players have also made their mark on special teams.

Regarded as the best clutch kicker ever, Adam Vinatieri's right leg helped New England win three Super Bowl titles in four years. The Colts signed Vinatieri in the offseason, hoping he can take them where Mike Vanderjagt could not.

New Orleans castoff Jake Delhomme found a home in Carolina after languishing on the Saints' bench. The quarterback has led the Panthers to the Super Bowl and the NFC championship game in the past three years.

Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye parlayed his pass-rushing abilities into a $33 million contract after he demanded a trade from Miami.

A.J. Smith said the art of scouting is a never-ending pursuit. The Chargers scour the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League looking for the next Gates, Warner or Smith.

"That's part of the cycle of our business," he said. "The bottom line is: Keep looking for players and you never know when you're going to turn one over. ... That's what you do in scouting. You're always looking. You never know where they're going to come from."

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