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Undrafted college free agent starters in the NFL 2011-2017

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How do the Denver Broncos stack up to the rest of the league in finding undrafted college free agent starters?

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

We like to think that Broncos are better at finding overlooked (and undrafted) players and developing them. This comes from the fact that an undrafted rookie free agent made the final roster for something like eleven straight years and it’s also bolstered by the elite status of Chris Harris, Jr. and the slightly above average status of C.J. Anderson who are two long-term UDCFA starters for the Broncos. What about other teams? How good are other teams at finding and developing these players.

To answer that I looked at the how many starteryears that teams have gotten from UDCFAs over the past seven seassons. I went back seven years (to 2011) since that is when CHJ entered the league. I did not count long snappers, punters or place kickers (since 75% of them are UDCFAs) and only looked at the 22 starters on defense and offense. I used the pro-football-reference.com definition for “starter” which is 8 or more games started on offense or defense in a given regular season. So the data below.

UDCFA starters by year for every NFL franchise 2011-2017

Team 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 TOTAL
NWE 3 4 3 2 6 6 6 30
SEA 4 8 5 4 4 2 3 30
NOR 4 4 5 2 6 3 4 28
NYJ 5 2 2 5 3 5 5 27
IND 6 3 4 4 1 3 5 26
KAN 4 3 5 3 3 4 3 25
LAR 0 2 2 5 4 7 5 25
NYG 5 5 2 5 4 3 1 25
OAK 2 2 3 5 7 4 2 25
TAM 3 4 4 4 4 3 3 25
CAR 4 4 3 4 6 2 1 24
PIT 3 3 4 3 4 3 4 24
WAS 1 4 3 4 4 5 3 24
CLE 3 3 6 6 3 0 2 23
DAL 2 2 3 3 5 4 4 23
BAL 6 2 3 2 3 4 2 22
DEN 6 3 2 2 5 3 1 22
LAC 5 4 3 2 1 4 3 22
CIN 3 3 2 4 4 2 3 21
JAX 7 4 3 2 3 2 0 21
MIN 6 4 3 1 2 1 4 21
TEN 3 3 3 4 2 3 2 20
ARI 3 3 2 3 2 3 2 18
GNB 1 2 1 2 5 4 3 18
BUF 3 1 1 2 2 3 5 17
MIA 2 3 2 2 4 2 2 17
ATL 2 3 3 3 2 1 2 16
SFO 2 2 5 4 2 1 0 16
PHI 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 15
CHI 2 7 2 0 0 2 1 14
HOU 2 3 1 3 2 1 2 14
DET 2 2 2 3 2 1 0 12
NFL 106 104 95 100 107 93 85

The average number of starteryears for a team over this time span is 21.5 so the Broncos with 22 are right on the average. The Patriots had the highest number of UDCFA starteryears with 30 while the Lions had the lowest with 12. The most for a team in a given year was the Seahawks with 8 UDCFA starters in 2016. There were a few teams with no UDCFA starters in some years, but there was only one team, the 2011 49ers, that did not have a single game started by an UDCFA.

It was somewhat surprising to find the total number of UDCFA starter in the NFL in a given year is fairly consistent - between 85 and 107 with and average of 99 over the seven year time period.

So let’s look at the Broncos year by year UDCFA starters (number of starts)

  • 2011 - Daniel Fells (15). CHJ started 4 and Wesley Woodyard only started 7.
  • 2012 - Mike Adams (16 starts), Woodyard (14), Harris (12)
  • 2013 - Woodyard (14), Wes Welker (13), Harris (15), Duke Ihenacho (14), Chris Clark (14)
  • 2014 - Harris (16)*, Welker (8)
  • 2015 - Darrien Stewart (13), Harris (16)*
  • 2016 - Stewart (16)*, Harris (15)*#, Todd Davis (15)
  • 2017 - Stewart (13+), Harris (13+), Ronald Leary (11), Shaquil Barrett (7+), Todd David (12+), CJ Anderson (14+)

Note that CHJ was selected as first team Pro-Bowl (*) in 2014-2016 and as a first team AllPro (#) in 2016. Stewart made the ProBowl in 2016.

If there is interest, I will look to see what other UDCFAs outside of CHJ and A.J. Bouye have made the Pro-Bowl over this time span and whether there is a team in the league that is getting more elite production from UDCFAs than the Broncos. I will note that there are five UDCFAs that were selected to the Pro-Bowl this season (and that did NOT include CHJ who was snubbed horribly). Here the five:

  • Donald Penn OT OAK
  • Alejandro Villaneuva OT PIT
  • Adam Theilen WR MIN
  • A.J. Bouye CB JAX
  • James Develin FB NE

Another point that you can make is that the Faiders did not discover or develop Penn (the Bucs did) just like the Broncos did not develop Ronald Leary or Darien Stewart. So the table above does not take into account who developed the UDCFA, but only the team that was starting (and paying) him at the time.

Poll

Do the Broncos do a better job of finding and developing UDCFAs than other teams?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    yes
    (102 votes)
  • 29%
    no
    (78 votes)
  • 31%
    not sure - need more data
    (83 votes)
263 votes total Vote Now