Gut Check No.332: UDFAs to Monitor & Why You Should Care


A look at undrafted free agents you should be monitoring in daily, re-draft, and dynasty leagues.


Undrafted free agents (UDFAs) are among the least likely subgroups of rookies to experience success in football, much less make an impact as a first-year fantasy commodity. The structure of the NFL Draft inherently gives the high-round rookies the first shot at playing time. The organization’s grade of talent corresponding to round is one of the underlying reasons. Another is the difference in money invested in the high-round picks compared to a late-round or undrafted rookie.

As Ross Tucker and I discussed on his upcoming podcast, the coaching staff is often guilty of confirmation bias when it comes to high-round versus low-round talent. A high-round talent can get 10 reps in a scrimmage or preseason game and perform poorly in 9 of those 10 reps, but that one good rep will be the play that a coach or general manager will hang onto as the reason the rookie will become a productive NFL player. At the same time, a low-round talent can earn 5 reps in a scrimmage or preseason game and perform better than the high-round talent in 4 of those 5 reps and that one bad rep will be the play that a coach or general manager will cite as the reason the rookie has a longer development curve to become a productive NFL player. Although context can matter enough with these two plays where the coaches and general managers are correct with their assertion, there are many instances where the root issue is a biased stance on a player they’ve invested so much that they’re afraid to admit early struggle or outright failure.

Note the reps mentioned in the example above, because draft status also dictates opportunities. High-round players generally earn more reps than low-round players and undrafted players are often regarded as camp bodies and earn minimal reps in practice. When football practices are structured so UDFAs earn 1-2 reps per practice, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that most UDFAs will make a bad impression because errors stand out more and good plays stand out less.

Contrary to popular belief, NFL practices are rarely structured to develop skills as much as these sessions are designed for players to learn the scheme and develop timing and rapport with teammates. Players learn position skills and refine technique through individual work after practice, with coaches they hire during the offseason, and with teammates that serve as mentors. It’s why there are numerous examples of UDFAs-turned-starters that “slip through the cracks.”

Fred Jackson told that Joique Bell was always an excellent runner, but his third down skills needed further development. Six teams passed Bell around in 18 months while he was developing this part of his game. When the Lions landed Bell, he was ready to make more well-rounded impact.

NFL Network’s A Football Life on Kurt Warner featured a segment where Brett Favre told a story about Warner telling the coaching staff that he was not ready to enter a preseason game. The combination of minimal and/or non-existent reps for UDFAs and Warner’s honesty earned the future NFL and Super Bowl MVP a ticket out of town.

The Buccaneers gave future Vikings Hall of Famer a tryout and decided to pass. The New England Patriots were the first time to have Broncos receiver Rod Smith in its camp. Wes Welker was an expendable return specialist as a rookie with the Chargers. Center Jeff Saturday and guard Brian Waters enjoyed long, productive Pro-Bowl careers the began the season after their first teams sent them to the Turk. In addition to Warner, Bell, Welker, Jackson, and Smith, other relevant UDFAs-turned-NFL starters include C.J. Anderson, Arian Foster, Priest Holmes, Tony Romo, Charles Johnson, James Harrison, Jeff Garcia, Wayne Chrebet, London Fletcher, and Antonio Gates.


This brief list of examples should offer compelling enough reason never to assume that UDFAs are a complete waste of time. Dynasty owners often play in leagues where the roster size and makeup that includes a practice squad encourages them to draft UDFAs or make them a higher priority on their free agent radar. Re-draft and daily leagues are seeking more immediate returns where UDFAs are a lot less likely to have any appeal.

It doesn’t mean that re-draft and daily players should ignore UDFAs. Read the rest at 

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