None of the newly-signed college college free agents by the Falcons need to look very far for inspiration, if it's even needed. While they went undrafted in this year's NFL Draft, their potential to land a role with the team is not completely a lost cause.
One of the icons of Falcons football, linebacker Jessie Tuggle, went undrafted in 1987. The five-time Pro Bowler was the heart and soul of Atlanta's defense for over a decade and his No. 58 was retired by the franchise in 2002. Tuggle represents the epitome of the hard-working undrafted player, a player whose odds are stacked against him, but continues to give a roster-deserving effort each day during training camp.
College free agents play against a stacked deck, but there are plenty of stories of players making it through cut after cut and even some who have gone on to have Hall of Fame careers. This list of the top 25 undrafted free agents over the last 25 years shows the kind of talent that can be found among the college free agent ranks. Tuggle is No. 12 on the list.
Last season the Falcons had three starters at various points during the season that were college free agents. Tackle Tyson Clabo, cornerback Brent Grimes and fullback Mike Cox all were brought into the NFL undrafted. In total, Atlanta had nine former undrafted players that played starting or reserve roles for the team
While Grimes is the most notable undrafted player for Atlanta, tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith have quietly turned themselves into key reserves after joining the team as undrafted free agents. Smith bounced from a few teams during the 2009 offseason and preseason. He joined the Falcons in October of '09 and has gone on to become a key part of the special teams unit. Palmer joined the club after the draft in 2010 and has remained on the 53-man roster since, evolving into the key backup and blocking tight end behind Tony Gonzalez.
Long snapper Joe Zelenka has had a 13-year career after entering the NFL undrafted in 1999 out of Wake Forest. He was brought to the Falcons in 2009 and has remained with the team since.
Backup quarterback John Parker Wilson joined the team in 2009 after being undrafted out of Alabama. He's served as the team's third-string QB.
Two players from last year's college free agent class went on to make the team or the practice squad. Wide receiver Kevin Cone was named to the practice squad after training camp and made his way to the active roster for the last game of the season. Cornerback Darrin Walls was one of the surprise additions to the 53-man roster out of training camp last year. After a strong performance, he made the team and eventually was active for the final five games of the season, earning one interception in the season finale.
There are stories like these all over the NFL, but with an offseason and training camp where the focus is on competition, many of these new undrafted free agents may have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of players like Cone or Walls.
Could Chad Faulcon be the next Jessie Tuggle or Cody Pearcy be the next Wes Welker? Only time will tell.