ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Despite the year-round scouting and evaluations that are done on the college football ranks, sometimes future stars go unnoticed and undrafted.
Luckily for the Broncos, they have a pretty good track record of scooping up those diamonds in the rough as an undrafted free agent has made the team's opening-day roster in each of the past nine seasons.
"It's just the way the system is," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who made the team as a college free agent in 2011. "It's easy for someone to fall through the cracks, and that was just my situation."
The Broncos currently have 40 players on their roster that entered the NFL as college free agents just like Harris did.
Three of those – Harris, safety Mike Adams and linebacker Wesley Woodyard -- were regular starters on the Denver defense a year ago. The trio combined to start 42 games and make 255 tackles with nine sacks, six interceptions and 26 pass breakups.
On the offensive side, Wes Welker has turned his initial start as a college free agent into a potential Hall-of-Fame career, having made the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons.
After this year's draft, Denver added 16 college free agents to the roster.
Woodyard said he enjoys acting as a role model and a living example that even if all 32 teams pass on someone during the draft, that player can still have a productive NFL career.
"Yeah, I did," Woodyard said when asked if he addressed going undrafted with this year's CFAs. "They actually didn't know I was undrafted until I told them. They were surprised. I was like, 'Yeah, this is where you could be at one day if you continue to fight for your goal and set dreams, you can reach them.' They were excited to see that a fellow undrafted player has a chance to be out there on the field."
Woodyard said that keeping the chip on his shoulder that accompanied being an undrafted player has helped continue to motivate him throughout his career.
"Just remember where you came from," Woodyard said. "That hungry attitude, that'll never leave me. Undrafted, looking at my past, I remember that every day I wake up getting out of bed. Time to go to work. What makes it easier for me is that I love the game of football."
Harris echoed those sentiments and said that no matter how long he plays in the NFL, he will always remember that nobody thought he had the talent to succeed at the highest level.
"That's who I am," Harris said. "I can't change who I am. I've always been a hungry player, always been a guy that always fights for the team. Once that chip is off, that's not Chris Harris out there."