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02-05-2011, 07:33 AM
The undrafted combatants of Super Bowl XLV
Cold, Hard Football Facts for February 4, 2011
http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Articles/11_3658_The_undrafted_combatants_of_Super_Bowl_XLV .html
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts 8th Round Draft Choice

There are 17 former first-round picks from the NFL draft on the active roster for this Sunday’s big game, and they will all have impact. Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Troy Polamalu – they’ll all have a lot to say about who the next world champion of football will be.

But so too will the guys who never heard their name called from a podium by an NFL bigwig. Both the Steelers and Packers have built their teams with a nice mix of blue-chippers and unsigned types, and the ability to find undrafted gems is a real strength in both cities.

Here’s our list of the eleven undrafted players that will be counted on for key contributions Sunday. We start with some guys who are injury replacements (and will probably wind up back on the bench in the future) to solid starters, Pro Bowlers and even a former Defensive Player of the Year.

11. Doug Legursky, C, Pittsburgh
It looks like Legursky will be playing for Maurkice Pouncey this Sunday. But he's already had to fill in at tackle, guard and center this year and seems destined to be on the field.

Not bad for a guy who was born in Germany, grew up in West Virginia, and wasn’t one of the 40 linemen chosen in the 2008 draft. He was signed by Pittsburgh, then cut not once but twice. No one else picked him up, but when the Steelers dropped a lineman in October, he was signed to the practice squad -- and now, he’ll likely be snapping the ball to a future Hall of Fame QB in the biggest game of the season.

10. Chris Hoke, DL, Pittsburgh
He’s got two Super Bowl rings, but it was tough to see a big future for Chris Hoke as an unheralded 25-year-old prospect in the 2001 draft. A BYU product, he spent two years on a mission for the church, and was as fringe a player as you can be – for three years, he was inactive on the Steelers’ roster or practice squad.

He made his name filling in for injured Casey Hampton in 2004, and earned a four-year contract in 2007 that will take him through today’s game – likely his last as a pro. He’s played sparingly this year, and is 35 in the spring. But for a guy who was barely on draft radars a decade ago, he’ll leave the game having made $10 million and possibly three Super Bowl titles. Not bad.

9. Tom Crabtree, TE, Green Bay
Not only was Crabtree not drafted in 2009, he didn’t even sign a rookie free agent deal until late May – a month after the “prized” rookies that weren’t picked have been scooped up. Cut by the Chiefs, he hooked on with Green Bay on a futures contract, but things didn’t look good heading into 2010. He was behind all-world TE Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee on the depth chart, and the Packers drafted Andrew Quarless as well in the fifth round.

So, who was it that scored the Packers’ first touchdown of the 2010 playoffs? Crabtree, who is Green Bay’s main blocking tight end.

8. Tim Masthay, P, Green Bay
Not being drafted as a kicker or punter is no surprise – only four or five are picked every year, and well more than half of the specialists league-wide are free agents.

But Masthay’s trip to the NFL is even more unlikely than most. He’s the son of a college chemistry department chairman and an executive director at Habitat for Humanity, but was so in tune with the kicking game that he was the kicker, punter AND special teams coach for his high school team.

Still, after three seasons with a net average under 40 yards a punt at Kentucky, he wasn’t on any NFL team’s radar. Then, as a senior in 2008, his average went to 45.2 a kick while also handling kickoffs. He landed with the Colts, but they went with Pat McAfee and the Packers signed him to a reserve-futures deal around this time last year.

Stepping into the starting role in 2010, Masthay has mirrored his college improvement, going from early-season liability to late-season stud – landing five punts inside the 20 and taking Devin Hester out of the game in the NFC title game was one of the keys to victory.

7. Ramon Foster, RG, Pittsburgh
It’s pretty much a given that your No. 7 offensive lineman coming into training camp will be getting a chance to play at some point in the season, and so it was with Foster.

The Steelers’ original line of Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey, Trai Essex and Flozell Adams could be down to just two come Super Bowl Sunday, but of all the subs Foster has probably been the best.

He had a slow transition to the starting lineup, but the former Tennessee starter has been excellent over the Steelers’ closing stretch and will likely see a lot of the Steeler running game coming behind him and Adams on the right side.

6. John Kuhn, RB/FB, Green Bay
Kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhn! Nothing like a blocky, undrafted white fullback from the University of Nowhere (Shippensburg, actually) to get the Green Bay crowd fired up.

Kuhn actually was Steelers property first, and is one of the few Packers with a Super Bowl ring as part of the Pittsburgh practice squad in 2005. He played a few snaps for the Steelers before getting cut and catching on with Green Bay, where he became an “overnight hero” this year at 28 with eight total touchdowns.

5. Sam Shields, DB, Green Bay
Start with the fact that Sam Shields is a great name for a football player, especially a defensive back. Add in a career at a big-time university (Da U) and a 4.33 clocking in the 40 at the combine, and you have a bonus baby, right?

Nope. Shields was passed over in the 2010 draft despite his speed, having played just a season at DB for Miami after a career spent at receiver. But it didn’t take long for him to make an impact with Green Bay, first as a special teams gunner and kick returner in camp, then as a very good nickel cornerback. He’s combined with Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson to give the Packers the best nickel defense in the league – one they played almost exclusively against the Bears in the NFC title game.

4. Ryan Clark, S, Pittsburgh
Clark signed with the 2002 Giants after a good-not-great senior year at LSU, and worked his way into a contract with the Redskins after a year on the practice squad and a year playing in the secondary.

But it wasn’t until he signed with the Steelers and switched from strong safety to free safety that he really emerged as one of the better players in the game – he’s had a series of medical issues, but he’s an asset when he’s in the lineup.

He and Troy Polamalu enable the Steelers to have a smothering pass defense despite average cornerbacks, and when they’re both healthy they are one of best duos in the league.

3. Tramon Williams, CB, Green Bay
No position has as many players drafted as cornerback, yet Williams failed to be even one of the 46 CBs picked in 2006. He was a walkon at Louisiana Tech that started only his last two years, and the Houston Texans cut him in preseason.

Oh, how the secondary-starved Texans would love to turn back time on this one.

Williams spent his first year in Green Bay as a returner, theny worked his way up the CB depth chart all the way to his Pro Bowl berth in 2010. He’s got 15 INTs in his three years as a key contributor, got a new longterm deal from Green Bay in season and will eventually be the No. 1 CB ahead of Charles Woodson (if he isn’t already).

2. Cullen Jenkins, DE, Green Bay
Jenkins is probably the most underrated player on the field this weekend, largely because of the position he plays. A 3-4 defense asks its ends to be tweeners, to stop the run like a tackle but also collapse the pocket in the pass rush. Jenkins did both with great success, and his seven sacks trailed only Justin Smith among 3-4 ends.

It was hard to see Jenkins making it to such heights back in the summer of 2003, when he was waived in the first cuts by the Packers after going undrafted out of Central Michigan. But the Packers saw something in Jenkins, the brother of Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins, and after a season in NFL Europe he started seeing time with the varsity.

Jenkins has struggled with injuries, but when he’s on the field he’s the silent anchor of one of the league’s best front-sevens over the past five seasons.

1. James Harrison, OLB. Pittsburgh
The failure to draft Harrison seems to be an indictment of scouts. How can a player who is arguably the league’s best defender over the past four seasons have gone completely undrafted?

The answer lies more in the Steelers’ ability to nurture players than any misunderstanding of Harrison’s talent. Harrison could have played for a major D-1 school, but off-field incidents and the same bad-ass attitude we see today weren’t so attractive in a teenager.

So Harrison played for Kent State and tore up the MAC – he sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times in a game his senior year. Apparently, while looking at film of their future QB, the Steelers also saw something they liked in a 6-foot-nothing pass rusher and signed Harrison.

Harrison still couldn’t pull it together on the field, was cut several times and signed by Baltimore briefly. But he finally hooked on with the Steelers for good in 2004,paid even more dues as a backup, then became the star of the linebacking corps in 2007.

Since 2007, Harrison has averaged 11.5 sacks, 6.3 forced fumbles and 94.5 tackles a season. Not bad for a guy that was available to anyone with the patience and ability to deal with a unique player – one of the reasons that the Steelers keep finding themselves in Super Bowls while other teams fall short.