A ton of very good college football players never even get a shot at the next level.
According to the NCAA, in recent seasons there have been just over one million athletes playing high school football, and approximately 74,000 playing in the NCAA.
Roughly 7.4% of high school players go on to play college ball.
We also know that there have been on average about 2,000 players on NFL rosters and practice squads in recent seasons, and approximately 375 to 425 of them are rookies with more than half of those rookies on practice squads.
What I’m getting at is somewhere in the ballpark of 1% of college football players make it to the NFL.
Most NFL draft choices – usually about 256 a year - spend at least a year or two on a roster or practice squad, leaving the other 150 or so rookies to come from the ranks of undrafted rookie free agents.
Most of those players have short or unspectacular careers, but every once in a while you find a true diamond in the rough like future Hall of Famer Jason Peters, former Chicago Bear Jay Hilgenberg, who should be in the Hall, or current Denver 2018 All-Rookie running back Phillip Lindsay.
Identifying those gems is more art than science and it involves an element of luck.
Current Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace has actually done quite well in recent seasons identifying UDRFA’s like Bryce Callahan, Roy Robertson-Harris, Cam Meredith, Ben Braunecker, Isaiah Irving, Kevin Tolliver, Rashaad Coward, Jesper Horsted, Ryan Nall and Alex Bars.
Are there any future Chicago Bears in this year’s current crop of UDRFA’s unveiled Monday?
It includes: RB Artavis Pierce, Oregon St., RB Napoleon Maxwell, Florida International, WR Ahmad Wagner, Kentucky, OG Dieter Eiselen, Yale, OT Badara Traore, LSU, DT Lee Autry, Mississippi St., DT Trevor McSwain, Duke, LB Keandre Jones, Maryland, LB LaCale London, Western Illinois, LB Ledarius Mack, Buffalo and LB Rashaad Smith, Florida Atlantic.
What are the greatest opportunities on the Bears depth chart right now?
You will notice there are no tight ends or cornerbacks because those two positions already account for 22 % of the Bears 90-man roster. Enough is enough.
On the other hand, David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen and Ryan Nall are the only true running backs on the roster – although Cordarrelle Patterson will line up there too – and the team is almost certain to carry four.
Pierce and Maxwell become players to watch closely, although it seems likely the Bears will add a veteran street free agent at the position, too.
You’ll also notice four linebackers in this group of 11 and, yes, Ledarius is Khalil’s little brother (although no one will mistake him for big bro).
That is because with both Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre Louis both now gone, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Josh Woods, Devante Bond and James Vaughters were the candidates prior to this new infusion of competitors for backup inside linebacker roles. While the Bears do like Woods, “Iggy” in spite of being a former fourth-round pick was almost cut last year and the others are all former UDRFA’s themselves.
Jones and Smith are probably the most interesting.
Most notable by their absence, there isn’t a safety in the bunch, suggesting the Bears are serious about either Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson or Jordan Lucas starting next to Eddie Jackson unless last year’s seventh-round pick Stephen Denmark moves inside, or a veteran street free agent is added here, too.
Beyond that, Traore is here because at 6-7, 320, he was one of the top junior college lineman in the country in 2018 before choosing LSU, and like seventh-round pick Lachavious Simmons, they are fascinating pieces of clay who if molded properly could be left tackles, a serious need and one of the hardest to fill.
While it would be akin to winning the lotto, finding a 23-year old future Peters is more appealing than paying dearly for the 38-year old version.
As for the rest... a group of very good college players who will at least get that 1 in a 100 chance to live out their dreams.