The 2011 National Football League Draft has passed, but uncertainty remains for most future rookies. That’s because the NFL is still locking its players out after an appeals court in St. Louis granted the league’s request for a temporary stay.
Popular opinion is undrafted free agents – such as SU grads Derrell Smith, Ryan Bartholomew, and Rob Long – are getting shafted worst by the work stoppage. Drafted players can’t officially take part in team activities, but there are plenty of other ways to get comfortable with their squads’ schemes. They can study their teams or opponents by watching game film, or from getting the low down from soon-to-be teammates. The peace of mind in knowing where they’ll be once football finally resumes can’t hurt either.
The less fortunate undrafted rookies don’t have any of those luxuries, stacking the odds even further against them. At least, that’s what most people seem to think.
But is that true? Five years from now, will we see an abnormally low number of undrafted free agents from the class of 2011 still in the league compared to other years? Or is everyone overrating the lockout’s impact on players that are likely used to fighting uphill battles anyway?
For now we can project how much the lockout hurts the Orange’s crop of undrafted free agents. You have to feel for Derrell Smith, a hard worker that deserves a fair shot to prove himself. But a lockout may hit him the hardest. ESPN AFC East blogger Tim Graham breaks down why the labor stoppage will hurt the players who were passed on in the draft, and when you read his analysis it’s tough not to think about Derrell.
“Undrafted rookies also will face a tougher time when it comes to development. These are marginal pro prospects, long shots who must get into a team’s offseason conditioning program as quickly as possible. It would be almost impossible to expect a rookie free agent to understand NFL schemes minus minicamps and voluntary workouts and with a compressed training camp.”
The former Syracuse linebacker fits the profile of someone whose chances of succeeding will worsen without those advantages. Smith is coming off an injury and still fighting his way back to full health. An NFL conditioning program would help him get there quicker.
Even worse, Smith’s major weaknesses from his Pro Football Weekly scouting report:
“Has only two years of experience inside – instincts and feel for blocking schemes are works in progress.”
If the summer training schedule gets shortened, Graham says NFL schemes will be “almost impossible to expect a rookie free agent to understand,” and Smith is already way behind the curve in that department. Ouch.
Derrell is a smart player, though, with a great work ethic. He’ll just have to fight as hard as he can to defy his poor odds. While it wasn’t surprising to see Smith go unselected, Bartholomew had to be taken aback when all 32 teams repeatedly passed on him.
Whoever ends up snatching Bartholomew as a free agent will probably ask him to convert back to guard – you can’t be an NFL center without the ability to shotgun snap.
So that’s one glaring hole in his game, and he isn’t exactly a polished player anyway. But based on his combine results, you’d think someone would have taken a flier on him. Big Bart led all 56 linemen at the combine with 34 bench press reps, and came in second place in the 40-yard draft. The case should be closed just based on that; he deserved to be picked.
He’s one of the fastest and strongest offensive lineman in the draft. So what the red flags that popped up with Bartholomew? Is there something we don’t know about that caused each team to pass on one of the biggest athletic freaks of nature on the board? More than likely it’s because he’s still raw and unpolished in his football acumen.
Bartholomew does have a lot going for him compared to the normal undrafted free agent. For one, he’s an athletic freak of nature. The lockout won’t erase that. Bartholomew may also be a giant project, so grasping schemes immediately is not required. He’s a player with superb physical tools, but has a long way to go in terms of development.
If an organization wants to invest time in Bartholomew, the unique circumstances caused by the lockout aren’t going to change his situation very much. The 300-pound lineman is who he is, and teams should either take him and understand that he needs years to develop, or leave him.
As for Rob Long, well he’s a punter. Enough said. The lockout should have zero effect on him whatsoever. There are no schemes he needs to learn or weight programs he desperately needs to join. Despite his battle with a brain tumor, punters rarely get drafted anyway. Most latch onto teams with needs as rookie free agents. Here’s hoping Long ends up making a roster and giving his inspirational story a happy ending.
Posted: Andrew Kanell