“I'd rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.” – John Wooden
They have made the NFL the greatest professional sports league in the world. Some of their more celebrated members rest in the Hall of Fame while others are perennial Pro Bowlers.
It is difficult to imagine the NFL without John Randle, Warren Moon or Priest Holmes. How would the Green Bay Packers have fared this year without Tramon Williams and how many Super Bowls would the New England Patriots have won if not for Adam Vinatieri?
What would the NFL be without undrafted rookies? What would this magnificent game be without some of the world’s most magnificent athletes?
Unfortunately, these are questions the league may be forced to answer.
While most of the media and its pundits have focused on how the lockout will effect high-profile rookies and veterans, there is a segment of future NFL players that will be affected more than anyone else—and that is the undrafted player.
Each day the lockout continues after the draft, there is another day lost for an undrafted hopeful. While no player—outside of a player picked in the first three rounds—is guaranteed an opportunity to play, every drafted player is guaranteed a look. For most players, that is all that is needed for coaches to decide if they want to keep or to discard them.
Once training camp arrives, that look turns into a glimpse for an undrafted player, which is why minicamps and O.T.A.s can make or break an NFL career.
Whether it is a high draft pick fighting for every penny in his rookie contract or a high-profile veteran choosing to do a reality television show, minicamps and O.T.A.s have been an unnecessary evil for those players. The lack of attendance at these events by the veterans and more celebrated rookies has created an environment where an undrafted player can shine.
These camps and activities have provided unselected players an opportunity to get one-on-one coaching and a long hard look from the scouting departments prior to training camp. So when camp does arrive, these players have a sense of familiarity and comfort with not only the playbook, but also with the position coaches that they will be working with.
Sadly, the lockout has hindered the immediate post-draft activity for these players and looks to completely eliminate any hope for post-draft minicamps.
A loss of one minicamp would be detrimental for many players, but the loss of an entire offseason schedule would mean death to many promising NFL careers.
“It’s not only going to affect the free agent guys, but the borderline practice squad guys. The late round draft picks it’s going to affect all of them tremendously. It’s unfortunate, but when they do get their chance they are going to have to make the most it. Spring is a time for the undrafted rookies and all the late round players to come in compete and prove themselves. Then position themselves for training camp and with that being gone it is going to hurt a lot of people, it is unfortunate but it is a business.”—Davone Bess Miami Dolphins wide receiver and undrafted player.
Bess is another example of an undrafted player who shined during the post-draft camps and translated that practice success into game success.
Everyone loves the story of the underdog or the guy who "makes it” despite horrific odds. These stories have not only made the NFL great but have also made America great.
How many of these stories will the NFL lose to other leagues? The loss of these players will definitely hurt the NFL brand but may help other leagues grow.
“It is hard to get into mini-camps and if that option is not there, players should look at the CFL and UFL.”—Jonathan Tilly, NFL and CFL agent
Hopefully, it does not come that. Hopefully, Jerry Jones and Jeffrey Lurie will find a way to keep Jerry Richardson and Ralph Wilson Jr. happy so we can enjoy another great NFL season.
However, that seems unlikely and it appears the old saying “Hope leaves the room when reality walks in” will hold true once again.
Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Davone Bess and Bart Scott all impatiently waited for their opportunity at NFL glory and the league is better for their efforts.
Now, a new crop of NFL hopefuls wait for their call to glory. These players will wait for a call that may never come and a dream that may be permanently deferred.
Kwame Fisher-Jones is a contributing writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from an official interview.
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