I tweeted the following late Saturday afternoon:
Undrafted: Akrum Wadley of Iowa, Allen Lazard of Iowa State. Combined college career totals: 2,784 rushing yards, 4,097 receiving yards, 60 touchdowns.
Among the responses tweeps sent back:
How does that happen?
Some of those seem a wee bit like exaggerations. However, I was as surprised as them that running back Wadley and wide receiver Lazard didn’t get taken in the 2018 NFL draft.
There were 256 draftees, including four punters, a long snapper, and an Australian rugby player who has never played a down of American football. Yet, no one wanted one of the best receivers and one of the best running backs who have ever played ball in our state?
I’m more beatnik than draftnik and I’m 0.00001 percent beatnik at the most. So I didn’t read the scouting reports on none other than NFL.com before the first of 256 “THE PICK IS IN” messages were on the multiple television networks that provided draft-coverage.
Had I done so on this pre-draft page at the NFL’s site I could have read a dozen things listed as Wadley’s strengths, many of them things our untrained eyes found easy to detect. I also could have read these things cited as his weaknesses:
• Thin lower body will turn off some teams
• Lacks frame to carry desired weight of an every-down back
• Vision and patience can be hit-or-miss
• Makes plays that are in front of him but may not have feel to anticipate developing rush tracks
• Gets hung up in a state of stutter-steps and shakes if clearly defined point of entry isn’t there
• Needs to do better job of committing once he gets to second level
• Will run up the backs of blockers
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• Has narrow, upright base and is missing leg strength and contact balance to break tackles
• Lacks one-cut decisiveness and physicality
• Route-running and consistency of effort in pass protection both need improvement
Those were followed by this comment:
“Great athlete but what is his value? He’s pretty dangerous as a pass catcher but I don’t know if you can trust him to protect your quarterback. He’s a skinny rotational running back with some juice. He’ll test great but I still don’t know if his value is higher than the third day.” — AFC regional scout
On to Lazard. Here is his pre-draft page on the NFL’s site. He, too, had a dozen listed strengths. Which were followed by this laundry list of weaknesses:
• Lacks explosiveness as an athlete
• No juice into his patterns
• Talented press corners will be a challenge to shake
• Doesn’t have the speed to force cornerbacks into an early retreat at any point
• Tight hips prohibit sinking into route breaks
• Short area movement and change of direction is labored and sluggish
• Unlikely to uncover against tight man coverage on the next level
• May need to be moved around and played in bunch formations to help create clean releases
• Cornerbacks with recovery speed might be able to squat on possession routes
• Very little threat with the ball in his hands
The overview: Lazard has been a productive, four-year player who relies on his size and strength to muscle Big 12 cornerbacks around when making the contested catch. Lazard is a possession receiver, but his lack of play speed and athletic ability could make separating from NFL cornerbacks a difficult challenge. With his size and toughness, a switch to pass-catching tight end might give him a better shot at having a productive NFL career.
Almost immediately after the draft, undrafted free agents Wadley and Lazard signed with the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. So it isn’t as if either were anything remotely close to being an untouchable.
Tennessee had just four picks in the draft, and none were running backs. Of 21 known undrafted free agents signed by the Titans, just Wadley and Larry Rose III of New Mexico State are running backs.
Jacksonville drafted receiver D.J. Chark of LSU in the second round. Of the 13 undrafted free agents signed by the Jaguars known to the Florida Times-Union as of Sunday, Lazard and Dorren Miller of Carson-Newman were the receivers. There were no tight ends in the group, nor did the Jaguars draft a tight end.
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Most of us who saw Lazard and Wadley play all those games the last few years can’t imagine them not being among the 1,696 players on active NFL rosters this fall.
If they need some inspiration right now, perhaps they should look at this 2016 NFL.com list of the 30 greatest undrafted free agents of all-time. No. 1 is a quarterback from Cedar Rapids you may know. No. 3 is a defensive back from Iowa.
Of lesser renown but also close to home, offensive lineman Matt Tobin of Dyersville Beckman and the Hawkeyes — now a New England Patriot — has played in 57 NFL games since his Iowa career ended in 2012. He was undrafted.
Tobin is one of five former Hawkeyes on the Patriots. The others are Cole Croston, Adrian Clayborn, James Ferentz and Riley McCarron. Croston, Ferentz and McCarron also went undrafted.
Many UFAs do make NFL teams. Many more do not. Tough business, pro football. Pretty violent, too.