Hub Arkush: Undrafted rookie free agents can make a difference

Florida State running back James Wilder is a player who might end up as an undrafted rookie free agent in the Bears' training camp. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Florida State running back James Wilder is a player who might end up as an undrafted rookie free agent in the Bears' training camp. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

I’ve got really disappointing news for all you Chicago Bears fans out there. General manager Phil Emery could eat, sleep and breathe with the media, 24/7 between now and Thursday evening on May 8 when he participates in the first round of the 2014 NFL College Draft, and he’s still not going to tell us who the Bears hope to take.

I know you’re all dying to know right now what’s next as Emery reconstructs the Bears but let’s face it guys, if he tells us everybody will know and that will severely limit what he’s able to do come draft day and probably screw it up completely.

What he can do, and what he did Thursday morning was spend a pleasant 40-plus minutes with the media and talk draft philosophy, draft history, draft theory and detail all the research he and his staff have done as they do their best to way overprepare for this draft.

Did you know that since 2006, the year Jay Cutler was drafted, almost every quarterback to become a significant starter has been drafted in the first three rounds, most in the first round?

Did you know Cutler was the only quarterback drafted in ’06 who is still making a difference today?

Did you know that roughly 40 percent of the players on NFL rosters at the end of the 2013 season were originally undrafted rookie free agents?

Of course the majority of those on average 21 UDRFA’s per team make up the bottom 40 percent of those rosters, and they’re primarily backups, players who don’t dress on Sundays and practice squanders but still, I wouldn’t have guessed the number was that high.

Michael Ford, Taylor Boggs, James Brown, Tracy Robertson, Jerry Franklin, Demontre Hurst, Anthony Walters and C.J. Wilson were on the Bears roster last year and all were originally undrafted rookie free agents.

None started or got meaningful playing time, but Brown started his rookie season as a UDRFA and still has significant promise, and Ford is interesting too for a team with no one currently slotted to back up Matt Forte.

Emery talked about the importance of identifying who you expect these players to be and making sure you’re in position to sign the guys you like the best the minute the draft is over.

Of course the Bears didn’t tell us who any of these guys will be, either, but I can tell you who a few could be.

Knowing the Bears' needs, I’ll be surprised if they draft a quarterback, and I’ll be surprised if Georgia’s Aaron Murray doesn’t get taken in the later rounds. But he might not, and it would be fascinating to see what coach Marc Trestman could do with him.

Florida State’s James Wilder is half an inch taller and 15 pounds heavier than Forte and could look very good in Bourbonnais if he doesn’t cost you a draft choice. His dad is the guy with the same name who had a great 10-year NFL career, particularly in Tampa before moving on to Detroit and Washington. Wilder is a classic underachiever with some very exciting measurables, possibly the prototypical URFA.

I will be surprised if the Bears don’t draft a tight end, possibly as high as the third or fourth round (remember where Emery reached for Evan Rodriguez in his first draft). Whether they do or not, if Crockett Gillmore from Colorado State isn’t gone in seven rounds he’ll be a priority free agent you’d love to get a look at. He’s 6-foot-5 7/8, 260 with huge hands and a massive wingspan. He won't take the top off a defense but he can catch and can block.

Of course you all want safeties, safeties and more safeties, so remember the name Kenny Ladler. You know the Bears love those Vanderbilt guys, and all that will keep him from getting drafted is lack of stopwatch speed.

But he can play and who knows, maybe he’ll even get a shot in Chicago?

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and Write to him at

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