Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie was named the Pro Football Writers of America's Executive of the Year for 2016. A deserving honor, albeit more of a cumulative one, for the work he has done to build the Raiders from perennial cellar dweller the past 14 years to a 12-4 playoff team.
Even before the team was able to break out of its slump which saw the team go 11-37 over his first three seasons at the helm, the fans have credited him with being able to discover gems who went undrafted. The praise he receives is almost that of legend around these parts.
With that in mind, I set about seeing just how true it is that McKenzie is some kind of standard bearer for finding undrafted free agents, not knowing what I would find.
I combed through each team's original undrafted free agents on the roster last season to see who has had the most success of late on the undrafted free agent market and who has not.
Here are the results of my findings based on numbers from last season. I will henceforth in this piece refer to each team's original undrafted free agents as UDFA's
No team had more success last season with their UDFA's than the Seattle Seahawks. They had the second most UDFA's on the roster (18), the fourth most games played (148), and 71 starts last season by UDFA's which was by far the most in the NFL - the next most was 48 by the Texans.
The Seahawks' total does not include Michael Bennett who was originally signed by the Seahawks but cut in his rookie season and played four seasons in Tampa before returning to Seattle four seasons ago.
Where the Raiders rank depends on what criteria you use. They had 13 undrafted free agents on the roster last season who appeared in 118 games with 20 starts. The start total doesn't count Marquette King as he is a punter and special teamers aren't credited with starts.
If you go by sheer number of UDFA's on the roster last season, the Raiders were 7th in the league. If you go by games played, they were 10th.
Unfortunately, if you go by starts, the Raiders were 24th in the league. And starts are probably the most important of the measures. Plenty of UDFA's can appear in 16 games and never see a snap on offense or defense.
By that same token, starting a lot of undrafted free agents doesn't mean much if the team is terrible. Take the San Diego Chargers, for instance. They had the 7th most UDFA starts last season (36) and the second most games played (155). But much of that had to do with being plagued by injuries. And they finished with 5 wins on the season.
That's also why crediting McKenzie with uncovering UDFA gems when the team was 3-13 or 4-12 didn't make sense. The Raiders were 0-10 to begin the 2014 season. An entire team of UDFA's could have done that. Dressing a CFL team could have done that.
So, for these rankings, let's look at the 16 teams with winning records to see where the Raiders stand in terms of UDFA starts.
Focusing on the winning teams has the Raiders in the bottom five in UDFA starts, sixth in games played, and tied for third with total UDFA's.
Here are the rest of the teams in order of UDFA starts:
If you're looking for some correlation between UDFA success and team success, there are signs of it, but it isn't entirely consistent. The top six teams in terms of UDFA starts all had winning records, including the Patriots. While 7 of the bottom 11 did not.
And, obviously, for those thinking they would find some proof that McKenzie is among the best at finding undrafted gems, there wasn't any definitive proof of that either. Though there have been some good ones who have offered some valuable contributions to the team.