We love it when someone else does interesting research on obscure facts that most wouldn't bother gathering. Tony Villotti of DRAFTMETRICS produced some data surrounding undrafted free agents (via NationalFootballPost). A common misconception is that most undrafted college free agents come from small school and their impacts are minimal. Villotti takes his research back to 2008 and examines undrafted free agents, the schools they come from and how the numbers compare to drafted players.
Stick with us here--we're about to go into full-geek-mode.
In the past five seasons, there were 56,230 games started by players in the NFL. Games started by undrafted free agents might be a bit higher than one would initially anticipate.The split of those games by drafted players in comparison to undrafted players was 85.7% drafted to 14.3%. Not surprisingly, the percentage of players in both drafted and undrafted categories from major BCS conferences totaled 77% (69.6% drafted, 7.4% undrafted).
Villotti's research also confirms that a lesser-known school for pumping out NFL prospects, Kent State University, had the most games started in the league by their alumni. However, eight of the other schools in the top-ten list of most games started by undrafted free agents are in major BCS conferences. The University of Maine was the only other non-football powerhouse that made the top ten with 157 games started by undrafted players and ironically, they had zero games started by drafted players.
Recently, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals have shown a penchant for drafting players from big schools and/or winning programs. Villotti's research shows that the Bengals aren't the exception to the rule in this regard. The University of Miami (Florida) leads all colleges in games started by drafted players with 1,748; with the University of Southern California behind them with 1,491.
The Bengals have had their successes with some undrafted free agents lately--particularly in 2012. By our count, the Bengals had 59 games started by players who went undrafted between 2008-2012--BenJarvus Green-Ellis (15) and Vontaze Burfict (14) led the team in that regard and were two of the most productive players on their respective units.
What Villotti's research doesn't show is a possible correlation with undrafted free agents getting playing time to recent movements in the league--especially in the past couple of years. With the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed in the 2011 offseason, it allowed an extra player to be active on game days, thus giving 32 additional players a chance to dress on Sundays. Additionally, the NFL has dedicated a lot of time, money and research in concussion awareness. Players are no longer rushed back out on the field when suffering a concussion, giving possible opportunities to other players.
Regardless, the impact of undrafted players has been felt throughout the league and teams aren't totally discriminating on where they come from, though the NCAA football powerhouses still have a big presence.