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Undrafted Players Can Still Make An Impact

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Atlanta Falcons linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu were not drafted but still contributed in every game last season. Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Atlanta Falcons linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu were not drafted but still contributed in every game last season. Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

NFL teams usually go into a new season with a roster that is filled with veterans, vets they may have acquired via trade, vets they may have acquired via free agency, and first-year players they selected in the college draft. Another group of players, albeit ones that normally don't get a lot of attention, are the first-year undrafted players that teams invite to their training camp.

In most cases, undrafted first-year players fill a role by taking a roster spot during training, but many are not expected to make the final roster. There have been, however, cases where an undrafted rookie not only makes a team, but gets significant playing time during the regular season.

Last season 20 different undrafted rookies played in all 16 of his team's games (a total of 82 rookies played in all 16 of its teams games last season). Five teams, Arizona, Atlanta, Cleveland, New England and Tampa Bay, each had two undrafted rookies play in all 16 of their games. For the Atlanta Falcons, their two undrafted rookies, linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, not only played in all 16 games, but Bartu started 13 games while Worrilow started 12 for the team.

In looking at the past 10 seasons, it appears some teams have placed a higher value on these first-year undrafted players than others. The Packers and Colts have each had 10 different undrafted rookies play in all 16 games in a season since 2004. At the other end of the list are the Detroit Lions who have had only one undrafted rookie play in all 16 games in a season in the last 10 years. That player was tight end Joseph Fauria, who played in all of the Lions 16 games last season.

Following is a look at how many undrafted rookies have played all 16 games in a season for each of the NFL teams in the past 10 years (2004-2013).

10: Green Bay, Indianapolis

8: Denver, Miami

7: Cincinnati, Dallas

6: Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

5: Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Jacksonville, New Orleans, NY Jets, Seattle, St. Louis

4: Kansas City, New England, NY Giants, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Washington

3: Chicago, Houston, San Francisco

2: Carolina, San Diego, Tennessee

1: Detroit

Note: The St. Louis Rams are the only NFL team to have had at least one undrafted rookie play in all 16 games in a season in each of the last four seasons.