KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — They play quarterback and wide receiver, tight end and offensive line. They can be found on both sides of the ball, first on the depth chart and last.
There are 16 of them on the Kansas City Chiefs this season, and what they all have in common in this: They starred in college, went through the entire draft without anybody willing to take a shot on them, and then managed to scratch and claw their way into the NFL anyway.
They’re undrafted free agents. The unwanted who managed to become indispensable.
“You’ve got a variety of positions there,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I guess the common denominator is execution of what they were asked to do. It didn’t matter the position.”
Chase Daniel has hung around for six years in the NFL as a backup quarterback after going undrafted out of Missouri. Three of the eight linebackers on the Chiefs roster — Josh Mauga, Josh Martin and Frank Zombo — took a similar path, as did four of the 10 defensive backs that they will carry into their season opener on Sunday against Tennessee.
Mauga is among four undrafted players who will start against the Titans, and Ron Parker could easily be added to the list if the Chiefs start off with an extra defensive back on the field.
That’s not including veteran long-snapper Thomas Gafford or kicker Cairo Santos, who beat out incumbent Ryan Succop for the job during a tense competition throughout training camp. Santos is one of three undrafted free agents who made the Chiefs just this season, giving the franchise 12 consecutive years with at least one. Only the Colts have a longer run at 16 seasons.
Safety Daniel Sorensen and wide receiver Albert Wilson are the other newcomers.
Both of them have made the most of circumstances.
In the case of Sorensen, Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry missed a good chunk of training camp with a troublesome heel. Sorensen wound up playing with the first-team defense due to a perilous lack of depth, and he showed enough promise that Reid had little choice but to keep him around.
“I mean, you try to prepare for the worst and assume you still have to work and prove yourself,” Sorensen said. “That was kind of my mindset. I was never thinking that I had made it until someone makes that decision for you.”
Wilson knew there would be an extra spot at wide receiver with Dwayne Bowe suspended for the season opener. Whether he sticks around after Week 1 remains to be seen.
“Albert’s done a great job. For an undrafted rookie receiver to come in and not just mentally grasp it — we move him around and he really physically is gifted, and he’s made a lot of plays,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “He’s certainly shown some things on the practice field.”
The life of an undrafted free agent is often a tenuous one, though. They tend to be the guys who are clutching their roster spot by a finger, their general manager and coach always looking for a better option. One missed tackle, one blown assignment and their career could be over.
“At one point in time, everybody was making plays and everybody was having a good camp,” said Wilson, who helped his cause by returning punts and kicks. “It just goes back to when everybody is being as good as they are. The little details are what keep me on track.”
They are what have allowed Chiefs defensive tackle Mike DeVito, undrafted out of Maine, to stick in the NFL for the past eight seasons. For starting safety Husain Abdullah, undrafted out of Washington State, to hang around for six. And for a guy like Santos, who grew up playing soccer in Brazil, to get a shot at kicking in the NFL.
“There was never a moment I felt, ‘OK, I have to win this job,’” he said. “Until that phone call Saturday, I didn’t really think it was really my job. I’m just really honored and blessed to get this opportunity and to keep working to win some games.”
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