Leading up to the formation of the Bills 2010 roster, it had happened six times in the last eight years. At least one undrafted rookie made the 53-man roster entering Week 1 of the regular season. Now that the dust has seemingly settled for Chan Gailey's squad, Buffalo will take four undrafted rookies into their 16-game slate in OLB Antonio Coleman, OL Cordaro Howard and wide receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson.
"I think a lot of that credit goes to the scouting department, to pick those guys that didn't get drafted that have an excellent opportunity to make your football team," said Gailey. "They did a nice job of getting those guys in here, and then I thought our coaches got these young guys ready. They worked with them, gave them an opportunity and those guys took advantage of their opportunity. That's what it's all about."
When a new coaching staff comes in often times there is an increased need to find players beyond the draft class and free agency that need to fit their schemes, especially when they differ from what's been run in the past. That's why Buffalo signed 15 undrafteds this past spring in an effort to find as much talent as possible that looked like a fit for the Bills' offensive and defensive systems.
"Sometimes because there have been years where there has only been room to sign eight because of offseason acquisitions," said Bills Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak. "But if you get into the 15 to 20 area you have self-imposed targets. When you see a couple of guys come through from that last cluster of players on your board and then you're able to sign them it's like getting a late pick, and then they make it, it's great. We feel really good about it."
Modrak often hopes that two players from the undrafted pool can make the regular season squad. He and his scouting staff doubled that number this season with four.
Early on one of the more promising prospects appears to be David Nelson, who arguably had the strongest preseason of the undrafteds with a pair of touchdowns. He ran with the first team offense in spread formations and was consistent in gaining separation from defenders despite his 6'5" frame.
"He came in as a very good route runner and he's a smart player," said Modrak. "He'll continue to get better, of course catching the ball is a key requirement too for that position. He does that well, but he has a good sense of the field and where he is and he came in playing well and keeps getting better at it. Certainly his frame is something special because it makes it nice for the quarterback."
Fellow receiver Donald Jones was a different case study coming from Youngstown State where he wasn't facing the best in the SEC every week like Nelson. Still there were qualities to Jones' game that had Buffalo coveting his talents once the draft was over last April.
Youngstown St. played against good competition and he has those qualities you like, being big and strong and having enough speed," Modrak said. "We felt like we were fortunate to get him."
Modrak and the personnel department felt they had to get some quality numbers at receiver after Marcus Easley was the only draft choice at the position. With the team choosing to go with a youth movement they had three receivers that they really wanted to land in Jones, Nelson and Naaman Roosevelt, who was signed to the team's practice squad.
"We felt we were fortunate to get those three," he said. "It broke right for us."
For Cordaro Howard, Modrak and his staff had the fortunate resource of their head coach and offensive line coach. Both Chan Gailey and Joe D'Alessandris worked with Howard during his freshman year at Georgia Tech on a day-to-day basis.
"We sought their input," said Modrak. "Those guys knew about him and they're objective in their approach. The more good information you have about a kid and how hard they work and their assessment of his talent helps."
Howard has guard and tackle experience and proved to be one of the top seven linemen on the roster when training camp had concluded.
Antonio Coleman may have been the most difficult to project coming from a defensive end position in college where he had his hand on the ground to a 3-4 outside linebacker position.
"A productive guy that had great recommendations," said Modrak. "You knew he was strong and could run fast. You knew he had to make a conversion and you can watch him drop, but there's an instinct to it and that had yet to be determined. It looks like he's able to do those kinds of things. He's still a work in progress, but he gives you strength at the point and pass rush. He's a hard working kid just like we thought he would be, so he's going to get better."
Ever modest, Modrak is quick to point to the quantity of undrafteds signed as the reason for the high success rate. With a track record of names that include Jabari Greer, Jim Leonhard and Jason Peters, however, the Bills once again stand a good chance of getting contributions from this year's crop sooner rather than later.
"Fortunately it looks like there is a group there that has a chance to develop," he said.