LB Sam Olajubutu may have slipped through the draft due to his height, but he was very productive at Arkansas
Sam Olajubutu, an undersized but extremely productive linebacker at Arkansas, was asked at the NFL Scouting Combine where he thought he would go in April's draft. Olajubutu, an upbeat sort who is used to being dismissed due to his height (he measured in at 5-8 at the combine), shrugged, gave his best guess and moved on.
"I don't know," he mused. "Probably second day some time."
The NFL wrapped up its 2007 draft early Sunday evening, and as it turned out Olajubutu was not among the 255 players selected. Scramble the picks and hold the seven rounds all over again, and he might hear his name called this time. Drafting is an inexact science, to put it mildly, and it gets less exact each round. Every year, there are dozens of undrafted free agents who make it onto NFL rosters and many more sixth and seventh-round draft picks who don't.
And that is why, each year, the last pick in the draft sets off a flurry of phone calls, all of them emanating from the 32 team draft rooms around the country and ending in the homes of players like Olajubutu who could have been drafted but weren't. The upside for the former Razorback star and his fellow college free agents: They get to choose where they want to begin their NFL careers.
Said Olajubutu when asked again about his draft status at the combine: "I'll just be happy to get on a team and get a chance to go out and play football."
Olajubutu, a Georgia native, will get that opportunity in Tampa. He is one of eight undrafted free agents who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, a list that also includes Georgia Tech cornerback Kenny Scott and Michigan kicker Garrett Rivas.
The Buccaneers also released one veteran on Thursday in order to make room on the 80-man offseason roster. That player was third-year defensive tackle Jon Bradley, who played in seven games with three starts last season and contributed 16 tackles.
Here is the full list of the undrafted free agents signed by the Buccaneers on Monday:
|Justin Frick||DT||6-3||292||North Dakota State|
|Mike McFadden||FB||6-1||255||Grand Valley State|
|Kenny Scott||CB||6-1||179||Georgia Tech|
With these Monday additions, the Bucs have added 18 rookies to their 2007 roster, most of whom will make it to training camp in late July. And though the post-draft signing period receives less attention than the seven rounds of selections that take place over the weekend, the undrafted rookies will have an equal opportunity to prove they deserve a spot on the regular-season roster.
In fact, the Bucs' current roster is dotted with now-prominent players who originally entered the league as undrafted free agents. That list includes quarterback Jeff Garcia, tackle Anthony Davis, running back Earnest Graham, kicker Matt Bryant, linebacker Ryan Nece, safety Kalvin Pearson and linebacker Antoine Cash.
In 2001, Nece completed a distinguished career at UCLA with 281 career tackles and 10 sacks, earning All-PAC 10 honorable mention accolades as a senior. Despite that production, he wasn't drafted and he chose to sign with the Buccaneers as a rookie free agent. Nece made the Bucs' regular-season roster as a rookie in 2002 and excelled on special teams, then graduated to a starting job at strongside linebacker in 2003. He has started three of the last four seasons at that position for Tampa Bay.
Similarly, Olajubutu is coming off a fantastic collegiate career at Arkansas, where he started 40 games and became just the 14th player in school history to eclipse 300 tackles. He finished with 372 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions and was an All-SEC first-team choice in each of his last two years.
Scott was considered one of the most coveted players left on the board after the draft. He is representative of many of the prospects drafted late on Sunday or signed just after the draft in that scouts see some NFL-ready traits in his game. In Scott's case, he is fast, fluid and tall, three attributes that serve an NFL cornerback well.
Scott played in 50 games at Georgia Tech and started 36, finishing with 159 tackles, five interceptions, 20 passes defensed, one sack and 7.5 stops for loss. He also returned 35 kickoffs for 779 yards, averaging 22.3 yards per runback. A Daytona Beach native who was recruited heavily coming out of high school, he led a Georgia Tech secondary that finished ninth in the nation in opposing passing efficiency in 2006.
Syracuse linebacker Jerry Mackey will be reunited with a college teammate, as the Bucs took SU safety Tanard Jackson with their fourth-round pick on Sunday. Mackey has his own NFL lineage, too, as he is the great nephew of former Syracuse great John Mackey, the prolific tight end for the Baltimore Colts who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jerry Mackey, who moved from the middle to outside linebacker for his senior season, finished the 2006 campaign with 64 tackles, one interception, one sack and a fumble return for a touchdown.
The freedom to sign with any team that offers a contract allows some undrafted free agents to stay near home, as was the case for Rivas. The Buccaneers' new state-of-the-art headquarters are located about a mile from Rivas' high school alma mater in Tampa, Jesuit.
Rivas handled the pressure of Michigan's placekicking job for four seasons and finished as the school's all-time leading scorer, with 354 points. He was the All-Big Ten first-team kicker in 2006 after a stellar senior season in which he made 17 of 20 field goal attempts and 42 of 44 extra point tries.
On other occasions, an undrafted prospect is asked to switch positions in order to get a better crack at sticking in the NFL. Such is the case with Grand Valley State defensive tackle Mike McFadden, who will come to the Bucs' offseason program as a fullback. The 6-1, 255-pound linemen finished his college career as the all-time sack leader at GVSU, but the Buccaneers believe he can excel as a lead blocker on offense.
The 6-3, 295-pound Frick of North Dakota State will get to stay at defensive tackle after compiling an outstanding senior season for the Bison. Frick was named to The College Sporting News Fabulous FCS Fifty all-star team in December, the first NDSU player ever to receive that honor. As a senior, he racked up 39 tackles, five sacks, six tackles for loss and four passes defensed.
On the other hand, McFadden will get to compete at fullback with Cal's Storer, who took over as the Golden Bears' starter at that spot after twice earning second-team All-PAC 10 honors as a special teams player. Storer won those honors again in 2006 but also started six games as a lead blocker, carried the ball eight times for 16 yards and caught eight passes for 61 yards.
Prisby comes to the Bucs from the home of one of the most famous undrafted free agents ever. In 1996, the New York Jets used the first overall pick in the draft to select USC Keyshawn Johnson, and later signed Wayne Chrebet after he went undrafted out of Hofstra, which was coincidentally where the Jets held their training camp. Chrebet rose from 11th on the depth chart to a spot on the regular-season roster and eventually finished his career as the second-leading receiver in Jets history, ahead of even Johnson.
Prisby excelled at Hofstra, too, starting at left tackle in his last two seasons. Heading into the 2006 campaign, he was an honorable mention IAA Preseason All-American selection.