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It's not always where you start

For three days, the football world was singularly focused on one thing and one thing only. The 2016 NFL Draft. For team personnel, it was about evaluating the players available and who fits best. For the players, it was the mystery of where they would be drafted, and the adrenaline rush after they were. And for the fans, well it was all about the excitement of three days of football frenzy.

When the cameras were turned off, when network coverage ended, the work of building the roster didn't stop, though.

Even before the NFL Draft ends teams start thinking about signing undrafted players to rookie free agent contracts. Sometimes they are names that ring a bell, ones who might have been on draft boards but just didn't fit a need. Others can be lesser known players, some from small schools who just need an opportunity.

The odds can sometimes be stacked against them, the challenge of making it tougher than those in front of them who were drafted, but as history as shown, undrafted rookie free agents can do more than make a team. They can make an impact.

Just ask Donnie Shell, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1974 and 14 years later retired as one of the best safeties ever to play for the Steelers.

"It was awesome to have the opportunity to come up like I did as an undrafted free agent and for them to give me an opportunity, a chance," said Shell. "It was special. That was all I was looking for. Coach (Chuck) Noll was that type of coach. He was looking for people that were self-motivated and wanted to do well and do well for the team."

Shell admits there were challenges, but encourages those coming in today as undrafted rookie free agents to just do what they do best…play football.

"It's very challenging," said Shell, who played at South Carolina State, the same school as third-round draft pick Javon Hargrave. "You weren't drafted and you see all these draft choices and they seem to be getting all of the attention. That's one thing I liked about Coach Noll. He didn't care. He didn't care what round you were taken in, he didn't care if you were first round, last round or free agent. Are you self-motivated, can you help the team win, and are you a good team member. That is what mattered."

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