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Going undrafted doesn’t mean your career is over

By Staff
Commentary by STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
It’s been an incredible weekend for guys like Chris Long, Darren McFadden, Matt Ryan, and Chris Johnson. Some of college football’s finest players are floating on cloud nine. Two-hundred fifty-two young men, have seen their dream come true after hearing their name called in the 2008 NFL draft.
But while these guys celebrate their football futures with endless parties and barbeques, hundreds of other players sit and sulk. Their dreams of being selected in the NFL draft have fallen by the wayside. A weekend of waiting and watching television with a telephone glued to their ear has ended with tears and heartache.
Local players like former Williamston and Catawba College star quarterback Brad Roach and ECU’s Josh Coffman, Matt Butler, Travis Williams, Fred Wilson, and Jay Sonnhalter must put the disappointment of not being drafted behind them and ponder their professional football futures.
However, not getting drafted doesn’t mean the dream is over.
In fact, it just might be a blessing in disguise.
While seventh round picks like LSU QB Matt Flynn (Green Bay), USC RB Chauncey Washington (Jacksonville) and North Carolina LB Hilee Taylor (Carolina) know where they’ll be headed when NFL mini camps open this weekend, Roach and the ECU guys will listen to offers from a plethora of teams for undrafted free agent contracts.
And unlike the aforementioned seventh rounders, the undrafted guys actually get to choose where they’d like to sign.
So, say you’re a quarterback like Roach. Hypothetically, you’ve got offers on the table from Steelers, Buccaneers, and Panthers. Big Ben’s got the gunslinger position locked down in Pittsburgh for the next decade, and they just drafted Dennis Dixon, you might want to scratch the Steelers off the list. Tampa Bay has five quarterbacks, plus newly drafted QB Josh Johnson. The Bucs don’t seem like a good fit. But Carolina’s quarterback situation has more flaws than ’08 presidential race. Jake Delhomme was good in his prime, but he’s starting to age and is oft-injured. Behind him, you’ve got undrafted rookies Matt Moore and Brett Basanez. If you’re Roach, Carolina looks like the place to go. But had you been drafted like Houston seventh-rounder Alex Brink, you’d be listed behind Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, and Shane Boyd, and would be a long-shot to make the roster.
Or say you’re a lineman like Butler and Coffman and you’re a great run zone-blocker, but get drafted by Detroit and their pass-happy offense. Not exactly a good fit. But since you’re undrafted, you might get to choose a place like Atlanta or Denver that fits your style. By going undrafted, you’ve increased your shot of sticking with an NFL team.
Hundreds of undrafted players have gone on to have wonderful careers.
Hey Roach, look up a guy named Kurt Warner who played in every league known to man before coming a Super Bowl MVP. Or All-Pro quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Jake Delhomme. None of those guys got to see their name scroll across the tube.
Hey Sonnhalter, you’re not the first future pass-catcher to not get selected. Does the name Antonio Gates ring a bell? Or how about Rod Smith or Wayne Chrebet?
And you beefy lineman, you can draw inspiration from guys like Tony Ugoh, Chester Pitts, and Brian Waters, who went unpicked, but are now some of the brightest offensive lineman in the game.
Going undrafted doesn’t mean it’s the end of your career. In fact, it might just be the fuel that gets it started.
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Steve Franklin is a sports writer with the Washington Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4218, or by e-mail at sfranklin@wdnweb.com.