Colts Players Recognized Among Top NFL Undrafted Free Agents Ever
Every April, a couple of hundred college football players hear their name called in the NFL Draft. While being drafted is likely the preferred method of entry into the NFL for prospects, it's not the only way. Of the Colts' 53 players on the 2009 Super Bowl roster, 19 were undrafted free agents.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com recently compiled a list of the top 75 undrafted free agents of all-time. Three current and former Colts were named to the list: center Jeff Saturday, kicker Adam Vinatieri and wide receiver/return specialist Terrence Wilkins.
Saturday joined the Colts after originally signing with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina. After being waived by the Ravens prior to training camp, Saturday worked outside of football before signing a free agent deal with the Colts in January of 1999. The offensive lineman started two games in his initial season at left guard. Then, in 2000, Saturday moved to center, anchoring an offensive line and becoming a cornerstone for one of the NFL's most successful franchises over the next decade. He has started 154 games at center since the 2000 season as the Colts have set numerous franchise and league offensive records.
Saturday, a four-time Pro Bowler entering his 12th season as a Colt, was ranked No. 22 on Brandt's list of the top undrafted free agents.
Vinatieri went undrafted out of South Dakota State and signed with the New England Patriots in 1996. Now he stands as one of 30 NFL players with four Super Bowl rings. Vinatieri won the placekicking job and scored 120 points in his inaugural season, and the two-time Pro Bowl selection scored over 100 points in each of his first 13 seasons in the league. And as consistent as he has been during the regular season, Vinatieri is perhaps most well-known for his post-season success. The clutch kicker has two Super Bowl game-winning field goals to his credit. Vinatieri hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired to defeat St. Louis, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI, and split the uprights with a 41-yard field goal with :04 remaining to beat Carolina, 32-29, in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Vinatieri joined the Colts in 2006, and in his first season with the franchise, set an NFL single-season postseason record with 49 points as the Colts won Super Bowl XLI. In the Divisional Playoffs at Baltimore, Vinatieri connected on five field goals, including a 51-yarder, in the 15-6 victory. He has kicked for 372 points as a Colt and has 1,528 for his career.
Brandt ranks Vinatieri as the 20th best undrafted free agent in NFL history.
Wilkins signed with the Colts in 1999 and immediately made an impact on offense and special teams. He was the team's third-leading receiver, finishing his rookie season with 42 catches for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 388 yards and one touchdown on punt returns and 1,134 yards and one touchdown on kickoff returns. He became just the sixth rookie in NFL history with 2,000 combined yards in a season, and the first undrafted free agent. The other five players to accomplish the feat were first-round draft picks.
Wilkins ended up playing in the NFL for six seasons, five for the Colts. He finished with 124 career receptions for 1,497 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 144 punt returns for 1,307 yards and three touchdowns and 223 career kickoff returns for 5,091 yards and one touchdown.
Wilkins was listed among the top 51-75 best undrafted free agents.
The Colts' philosophy has long been one of giving undrafted free agents an opportunity to make the roster. The Colts have uncovered some other undrafted free agent gems. Among them, Dominic Rhodes and Gary Brackett.
In 2001, Colts starting running back and former first-round draft pick Edgerrin James suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the team turned to Rhodes, James' backup, to carry the rushing load. The Midwestern State University product started the final nine games of the season and became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards.
Rhodes had signed with the Colts after going undrafted in the 2001 draft. He missed the 2002 season with an injury, but battled back to be a key contributor for the Colts from 2003-06 and the 2008 season. Rhodes helped the Colts to a 29-17 victory in Super Bowl XLI by rushing for 113 yards and one touchdown.
Brackett joined the Colts in 2003. The Glassboro, N.J., native was a standout college football player at Rutgers, but was not drafted. Brackett made the Colts squad as an undrafted free agent and primarily made his mark on special teams in his first two seasons. In 2005, Brackett won the starting middle linebacker position in training camp and was named the Colts defensive captain in 2006. He has started the last 72 games he has played in and has over 100 tackles in each of the last five seasons.
Now entering his eighth season with the Colts, the former college walk-on and undrafted free agent is considered one of the NFL's premier middle linebackers.
This past season, the Colts had nine regular contributors in addition to Brackett, Saturday and Vinatieri that entered the league as undrafted free agents. The team often started two undrafted free agents in its defensive backfield. Melvin Bullitt (12 starts) and Jacob Lacey (nine starts) combined for 160 tackles, three interceptions and 14 passes defensed. Dan Muir (10 starts) and Eric Foster (five starts) were part of a defensive line that allowed only 10 rushing touchdowns all season. And Ramon Humber, Chad Simpson and Jamie Silva all were special teams standouts for the Colts. Simpson was the team's kickoff returner, and returned one kickoff for a touchdown at Jacksonville, the Colts first touchdown on a kickoff return since Rhodes had an 88-yard touchdown in 2004. Humber and Silva finished first and second, respectively, on the team in special teams tackles, while Kyle DeVan started the final nine games of the season at RG and Gijon Robinson started 10 games in the H-Back role.
While the upcoming NFL Draft promises to make many dreams come true, and at the same time break many hearts, potential players should take solace in the fact that there is more than one road that leads to the NFL. Saturday, Vinatieri and many other Colts players are examples of that.