Northern Iowa DT Xavier Williams (middle) chose the Cardinals over multiple other suitors after going undrafted
Xavier Williams was resigned to his fate earlier than most. As the fifth round of the NFL draft wound down on May 2, the defensive tackle out of Northern Iowa began considering his post-draft options.
Even though two rounds remained, Williams had a gut feeling he wasn't going to get selected, and wanted to get a jump-start on the next step – finding a home as an undrafted rookie free agent.
"It's a pretty miserable time," Williams said. "It's pretty sickening watching the picks going down, like, 'Aww, there's 20 picks left. Aww, there's five picks left.' I started getting in contact with my agent, seeing what the plan was."
The NFL Draft is a slow burn, a made-for-TV event spread over three days and more than a dozen hours. But for the players who aren't selected, the ensuing hour is chaotic.
Williams had multiple suitors, so instead of having a team draft him, the tables were now turned. Coaches made their best recruiting pitches, as Williams was forced to weigh a variety of factors – signing bonus, depth chart, coaching staff, style of play – before making a quick decision, since spots on the 90-man rosters around the league filled quickly.
"That was even more nerveracking than not getting drafted," said Williams, who signed with the Cardinals last week. "Agents tell you, 'Don't think about who else they need (or) who they're bringing in.' Everybody's going to think about it. I'm kind of a football geek in that way, so I already knew all the D-tackles on the teams, who is where.
"Everybody wants to know, 'He was supposed to be drafted in the third round and now he's going there. They want me to come too and they're getting three other guys.' All that stuff runs through your head. My biggest thing was, I just wanted somebody that wanted me and somebody that was going to give me a chance."
The Cardinals lost starting nose tackle Dan Williams in free agency, and while they added Corey Peters, Williams will try to beat out Alameda Ta'amu for the backup spot.
The depth chart math is a little hazier for offensive tackle Rob Crisp, another player projected to go in the late rounds that ended up undrafted. The Cardinals return starters Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie as well as backup Bradley Sowell, and they spent their first-round pick on D.J. Humphries.
However, Crisp felt a kinship with General Manager Steve Keim, who, like Crisp, played collegiately at North Carolina State.
"I was looking at the teams that showed me interest before the draft," Crisp said. "I remember having lunch with Steve Keim. He came down to Raleigh, North Carolina, and just being that he went
to N.C. State and played offensive line there, that began to run through my head. If I came, he'd have my best interest at heart. Of course I'd have to come in and work my butt off, but at the same time, we had that relationship."
Montana outside linebacker Zack Wagenmann had a good chance at getting drafted until he broke his foot in a pre-draft workout with an NFL team. He said he was realistic about the process and had a plan in place once he wasn't selected.
"You try to take all the different variables, add them all together and see what's going to be the best situation," Wagenmann said. "It's a business, so you want to make a business decision. My goal is to make a 53-man roster, and I weighed all the different options. I liked the fit here. I got a chance to meet with the coaches and liked meeting with them. The program, it's a great football team, a playoff football team, a Super Bowl football team this year, and I wanted to be a part of that success."
Wagenmann did his research beforehand, and after watching to see how the draft unfolded, was ready to pounce once the Cardinals – a team in need of pass-rushers – offered him a contract.
"It happened, really, just minutes after the draft," said Wagenmann, who is rehabbing and about three weeks from getting out of his walking boot. "I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do."
The undrafted free agents received paltry signing bonuses compared to their drafted counterparts, and they won't get the benefit of the doubt when cuts are made in training camp. The hope is that, after a thorough analysis of the right fit for their skill-set, they made the right choice, and that this offseason opportunity leads to something more.
"Everybody wants to get drafted," Crisp said. "You spend hours and hours watching the NFL draft and it doesn't happen. At the same time, I kind of had an idea. I prepared for the worst, and I wouldn't even say it's the worst because I am on an NFL team. It was a little discouraging, but I'm on a team and I'm making the most of it. I'm loving every minute of it today."
Images of the 14 undrafted rookie free agents the Cardinals signed on Tuesday