High Impact From Low Picks and the Undrafted

If you're only looking at the top-ranked college players for the future high-impact Colts players, you're making a big mistake. Indianapolis has proven that there are great players to be found at the bottom two rounds of the draft and amongst the undrafted players.

Some fans pour over articles, pausing to read about the top players and salivate over the possibility that their personal favorites might be dressed in blue and white this fall. And as some run across information about other players who are projected to be sixth or seventh-round picks -- or worse yet, who are on the bubble and maybe will be an undrafted free agent -- they poo-poo the notion that these players could be the next high-impact player for their team. Ironically, these are some of the same players that they'll shell out their hard-earned cash for a few years later so they can wear their jerseys while watching at the dome or from home.

Only a few years ago, a number of stars and key role players for the Colts were amongst the "rabble" of draft-eligible players that many fans traditionally overlook or discount. They may not have been overnight sensations, but take them off the Colts' roster today and you'd have a team with gaping holes that would be in big trouble.

LB Cato June: A sixth-round pick out of Michigan, June earned a Pro Bowl spot in his fourth season.

C Jeff Saturday: The Pro Bowl center was originally signed by the Ravens in April as an undrafted free agent. About six weeks later, he was waived. The Colts picked him up the following January.

LB Gary Brackett: Undrafted out of Rutgers, Brackett battled his way from special teams role player and nickel linebacker to the starting middle linebacker spot in 2006.

CB Nick Harper: Fans probably chuckled when they saw the Colts pick up this undrafted free agent out of Fort Valley State (where?). Harper's been the starter for the past three seasons. Who's laughing now?

RB Dominic Rhodes: Back in 2001, the Colts signed a running back out of Midwestern State University. Anyone know what state that's in? Anyway, he not only made the team, he stepped in for Edgerrin James after his injury and put his name in the Colts record book for one of the top rushing totals by a rookie -- all-time for the franchise. And now he's the team's heir apparent to the starter's role heading into the 2006 season.

DE/DT Raheem Brock: The versatile Brock was just awarded a new contract estimated to be in the $25 million range with $8 million guaranteed. Not too shabby for a 7th-round pick out of Temple who was cast off by the Eagles because they didn't have enough money in their rookie pool to keep him.

OG Ryan Lilja: Lilja didn't even have it as good as Brock. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Chiefs but was waived. He started every game last season and six games in 2004.

P Hunter Smith: Consistently one of the top punters in the NFL, Smith was a 7th-round pick in 1999.

K Adam Vinatieri: The Colts new kicker was a true undrafted free agent out of South Dakota State who started in NFL Europe to get noticed. It worked. The Patriots signed him in June following his NFL Europe debut.

QB Jim Sorgi: The Colts have counted on Sorgi to be the man ready to step in for arguably the top quarterback in the NFL. Sorgi was a 6th-round selection.

S Gerome Sapp: Tied with Robert Mathis for the team lead in special teams tackles, Sapp's presence on the field makes a difference in the battle for field position. He was a sixth-round pick by the Ravens who was waived after his rookie season.

LB Keith O'Neil: Here's another guy who had a real impact on the Colts special teams this year. But he was undrafted and Dallas gave him a shot. He was released after two pretty darn good seasons with them.

TE Bryan Fletcher: The reserve tight end took some significant steps forward this year. He was undrafted coming out of UCLA.

OL Makoa Freitas: The sixth-rounder out of Arizona stepped in and played admirably his rookie season when Tarik Glenn was injured. The Colts thought highly enough of his skills to give him a contract tender as an unrestricted free agent even though he was still recovering from the foot surgery that landed him on injured reserve last season.

Point made?
The Colts have had plenty of success stories with players who started out as marginal draft picks or undrafted free agents. And, just as you see around the rest of the NFL, some of the players they picked with high or mid-range picks turned out to be real busts. I'm sure some come to mind quite quickly.

So remember, as you continue to read stories about draft eligible players who appear to be on the bubble for the late rounds of the draft -- or appear to be certain undrafted players -- don't snicker or discount them. Instead, try to figure out which ones could be the next June, Saturday, Brackett, or Rhodes for the Indianapolis Colts.

As you can tell by the list above, they're critical to the future success of the franchise.

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