Every year, hundreds of players are overcome with unbridled joy as they hear their name called during the NFL Draft.
Some of these players take it all in from the comfort of their living room surrounded by family and friends. Others decide to attend the draft in person. Those who journey from the Green Room to the stage to shake hands with Commissioner Roger Goodell and don their new team’s logo for the first time likely will never forget doing so.
Former South Carolina defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth did not experience any of this. After the 2018 NFL draft ended, the New Orleans Saints signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Just because Stallworth never heard his name called during the draft did not mean he would never get his chance. Neither the player nor organization knew it at the time of their agreement, but the rookie out of South Carolina would see many meaningful snaps in his first season.
The NFL is all about taking advantage of opportunities and delivering results. When Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins tore his Achilles tendon in a playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Stallworth was presented with an opportunity.
Going unselected during the draft’s seven rounds did not mean Stallworth would not make Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott the victim of his first career sack or come up with his first fumble recovery on NFL turf against the Giants in week four. Nor did it mean he would not find himself fielding questions from reporters ahead of an NFC Championship matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.
In addition to Stallworth, many other players serve as reminders that opportunity and work ethic can factor into their success regardless of whether an organization was willing to spend a draft pick on them.
Former University of Colorado Boulder running back Phillip Lindsay, like Stallworth, was not one of the 256 players selected in last year’s draft. Regardless, Lindsay went ahead and rushed for 1,037 yards for the Denver Broncos — good enough for ninth in the NFL.
Similarly to Stallworth, Lindsay went from undrafted to playoff starter in less than ten months.
Stallworth’s college teammate Skai Moore was in the same boat when the draft ended last April. He then inked a deal with the Indianapolis Colts, who promoted him from the practice squad to the active roster by November.
Former South Carolina players Patrick DiMarco and Elliott Fry also went undrafted. DiMarco, now with the Buffalo Bills, appeared in Super Bowl LI with the Atlanta Falcons and will begin his eighth NFL season in 2019.
Fry, on the other hand, recently signed his first NFL contract with the Chicago Bears despite wrapping up his college kicking career in 2016.
Regardless of how the upcoming draft goes for former South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel and the other draft eligible players who played their home games at Williams-Brice Stadium, they all must remember that draft night is only the beginning.