Importance of the Unheralded Player

Time and time again you hear the old cliché ‘teams are build through the draft' resonate from the top of every NFL organization all the way down to the fan base that supports them.

Heck, its common knowledge.

It doesn't take a five million dollar a year general manager to tell you the importance of hitting the target on high end-draft choices. But what makes G.M.'s like Scott Pioli exceptional at their jobs is the understanding that it's the pieces around those picks that will ultimately determine success.

Pioli was a master at taking undrafted or late second day picks and turning them into major contributors and even Pro Bowlers during his time in New England. Even two years after his departure, the mentality is still the same for the AFC leading 12-2 Patriots.

New England's two leading rushers, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, are both undrafted players who have combined for 1259 yards on the season. Wes Welker, the Pats leading receiver, is an undrafted player who bounced around the league with little success before landing in New England. Since then, Welker has gone on to have three 1000 yard seasons in a row and is on pace for his fourth.

Oh, and let's not forget Tom Brady, possibly the greatest QB to ever play the game, who was an afterthought in the sixth round of the 2000 draft class.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots two leading sack leaders – Tally Banta-Cain and Mike Wright – have combined for 10.5 sacks on the season, but came with little to no expectations. In the case of Banta-Cain, his eight year NFL career had him bouncing from coast to coast before landing back in New England with the team that originally drafted him in the seven round. Since his return to Boston, Tally has accumulated 15 sacks in just two seasons.

DE Mike Wright went undrafted coming out of Cincinnati University six years ago. But in his last two seasons, he's accumulated 10.5 sacks and is currently New England's sack leader.

Back in Kansas City, similar stories are starting to unfold.

In fact, after pursuing the Chiefs' depth charts, I counted 42 players that have had a slight impact in any game this season (excluding special teams). Of those 42, sixteen were taken in the first four rounds of the draft, including Cassel and Vrabel who came to the Chiefs via a second-round pick. Of the 26 remaining contributors, all were either day two picks, free agent acquisitions, or were literally signed off the street.

One of the Chiefs exceeding expectations in 2010 is defensive end Wallace Gilberry.

Despite accumulating 60.5 tackles for a loss at the University of Alabama (second only to Derrick Thomas' 74), Gilberry went undrafted as a rookie and was released from the N.Y. Giants practice squad before being claimed by the Chiefs late in the 2008 season.

Since then, Gilberry has gone on to accumulate 11.5 sacks and is only trailing Tamba Hali (11) for most on the team with seven this season. Gilberry hasn't gotten many starts during his career, but his role is understood and his contributions have been immeasurable.

In last Sunday's victory against St. Louis, the Chiefs defense looked sloppy and incapable of slowing down the Sam Bradford led Rams offensive attack. But it was Gilberry's first of three sacks that swung the momentum into the Chiefs favor early in the second quarter. They never trailed again.

And just like the Patriots have built their Super Bowl dynasty, Gilberry is just a piece of a much bigger puzzle.

Players like Shaun Smith, Andy Studebaker, and Barry Richardson have all helped put the Chiefs into the playoff picture despite none being listed as a starter on the depth chart. If you take either of these players out of the equation, the Chiefs are probably not holding a one game lead on the San Diego Chargers with just two games remaining in the regular season.

Although this team is developing its own identity separate from the one Pioli helped build in New England, the Patriots formula for building championship teams is visibly apparent. And with the fine balance of top tier draft picks and undrafted afterthoughts, Chiefs Nation should be very excited about the direction the organization is heading in.

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