The 2014 NFL Combine has come and gone, and as teams look ahead to the pro days leading up to the NFL Draft in May, let's take a look back at the prospects who didn't get invited to Indianapolis but still carved out an NFL career.
It's true that the Combine is the most important measuring stick for NFL hopefuls, but not getting invited isn't an automatic death sentence for a player's professional career. After all, 335 prospects got invited this year, but there are only 256 spots open in the draft, so a lot of them will be left out of the loop. That opens a potential door for non-invitees to get scouts' attention over the next month.
Let's take a look at the most notable Combine snubs who have managed to carve out an NFL career.
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos--An undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech, Welker might be the best-known success story of Combine snubs. He was a part-time player and special teamer with the Miami Dolphins for three years, but truly came into his own after being traded to the New England Patriots, catching 100 or more passes in five out of six seasons.
Osi Umenyiora, Atlanta Falcons--The New York Giants took Umenyiora in the second round of the 2003 draft, and he became an essential part of New York's two Super Bowl teams, racking up 75 sacks in nine seasons. The Giants let him walk in free agency after the 2012 season, and in the face of advancing age he's still producing, getting 7.5 sacks in his first season in Atlanta.
Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots--Despite not going to Indianapolis, the German offensive lineman had a private workout with the Patriots. He impressed enough that they took him in the second round of the 2009 draft, raising some eyebrows in the process. Here's what NFL.com had to say about the pick:
The Patriots pick up an intriguing developmental prospect in Vollmer. The former Cougar started his college career as a tight end but he developed into a quality offensive tackle prospect as a senior. Though he lacks the athleticism to play left tackle as a pro, Vollmer has the size and length to develop into a starting right tackle in time.
Vollmer has gone on to be one of the best right tackles in the league, becoming a second-team All-Pro in 2010.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots--Sticking with the Patriots here, Edelman was a seventh-round pick in 2009. He played quarterback at Kent State and got New England's attention during his pro day. Being a seventh rounder, NFL.com didn't have high expectations:
Edelman will function in the Wildcat formation for the Patriots. He was unbelievably productive as a college quarterback and can make the club as a specialist in certain packages. He's an intriguing prospect for New England.
Edelman was moved to wide receiver and was mostly a special teams player for his first four years. He broke out in a big way in 2013, setting career highs with 105 catches and emerging as Tom Brady's new favorite weapon after Wes Welker left. Now a free agent, Edelman is looking to cash in on his career year.
Smith is an old pal of Pete Carroll's, who brought him in for an official pre-draft visit a few weeks back. Though just a two-year starter at weak-side linebacker at USC, Smith is a workout dynamo. He benched 225 pounds 28 times at the Trojans' March 30 Pro Day, and ran 4.47 at 6-foot-1, 225. Smith projects as a special teamer and possible nickel 'backer in Seattle.
Smith indeed started off as a special teams guy and part-time player. He earned more playing time in 2013, and enjoyed his best success yet. Smith had a coming out party in the playoffs, catching Richard Sherman's tipped ball to clinch the NFC Championship Game and running back a pick-six in the Super Bowl, winning the MVP award.
Smith is an encouraging success story for the guys that didn't get invited to the Combine. He told MMQB that he's still angry at the snub and uses it as a constant motivational tool:
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," he said. "Let it humble you, and let it give you fire. You know, I have the 2011 draft bookmarked on my computer. I'd say once a month, at least, I open it up and scroll through and look at all the names, one through 254. I still do now. I just want to see all those picked ahead of me and what happened to them. Winning the Super Bowl validated my progress and validated that I can play."
This year, the most notable Combine snubs include Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who was one of the 13 underclassmen who did not go to Indianapolis. South Carolina defensive end Chaz Sutton also didn't get an invitation despite recording as many sacks as teammate Jadeveon Clowney. San Jose State wide receiver Chandler Jones was David Fales' top target, but he didn't join his teammate at the Combine. Finally, Washington quarterback Keith Price felt disrespected by his snub and vowed to work even harder to make it as an NFL starter.
The Combine remains an important event, but it's possible for players not invited to get their NFL shot with enough effort and motivation. The pro days, private workouts and training camp invitations will be even more crucial to these players going forward, as they hope to prove those scouts wrong for not inviting them.
Malcolm Smith didn't go to Indianapolis, but he did go to Disney World. We're guessing he's OK with the trade-off.