Right now there isn’t a lot to talk about aside from the seeming inevitability of Bud Dupree leaving next year and the immense uncertainty surrounding the state of the 2020 season, both relative to the continued spread of the coronavirus and the seemingly intractable differences that are arising between the NFL and the NFLPA.
So let’s just take a detour for a minute and talk about something somewhat random. As a job-related habit, I have a tendency to store up random bits of insignificant news and trivia to call up when we just need something else to focus on. Today is one of those days, so I’m going to talk about a post last month from Pro Football Focus about undrafted free agents.
Every year, more players are signed to offseason contracts as undrafted college free agents than there are players who are drafted. Of course, undrafted free agents have a much harder time of making it, but because of the volume of their numbers, they tend to fare better at their peak than late-round picks.
There are, for example, a number of former undrafted free agents in the Hall of Fame. The Steelers are sending another one in soon with Donnie Shell. Perhaps none of these four players to be named below will get there, but they are, according to Pro Football Focus, the best former undrafted free agents since 2006.
As you might guess, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison is among them, and he is ranked fourth. At the top of the list is Chris Harris, the long-time cornerback for the Denver Broncos, followed by defensive tackle Damon Harrison, arguably the best run-stopper of the past decade, and Cameron Wake, the last CFL player to be a true success. The rankings go by Pro Football Focus career grades, and all four players top 90.0, with Harrison’s grade being 91.3.
Originally undrafted in 2002, Harrison floundered for years, even making a stop in NFL Europe, before finding his feet. His first season as a starter game under Mike Tomlin in 2007, and a year later, he set a franchise record with 16 sacks, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors.
He continued to be a dominant force for the next few years before injuries began to take their toll. He had a short stint with the Bengals before retiring, with the Steelers pulling him back out of retirement in 2014. He then put in a few more good years as a rotational starter, eventually breaking the franchise’s all-time sack record in the process.
Even if his time with the Steelers ended badly, himself acknowledging that he was doing about everything he could to get himself released because he was not being given the opportunity to play, his impact in the team’s history during the mid-late 2000s and early 2010s cannot be denied.