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Beating the Odds: Bills' 18 undrafted players feel special bond

Buffalo Bills first-year defensive end Eddie Yarbrough never will forget the feeling of being passed over when the NFL Draft ended in 2016.

"It was an uppercut from Mike Tyson to the gut," Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough and 17 other Buffalo Bills players this season beat the odds by making an NFL roster without being drafted.

"As me and my guy Ryan Davis say, 'We're from the mud,' " said Yarbrough. "We didn't get that luxury of coming into the league where we can make six, seven, eight mistakes but because we were drafted and they've got money invested in us they're going to keep us. We have a little more pressure on us."

"We got it out the mud," said Davis, the backup Bills defensive end in his NFL sixth season. "We're coming from the dirt. Undrafted guys like us, you've gotta grind."

It's a great accomplishment to make an NFL roster. Only 1.5 percent of all college players do it, according to the NCAA. It's especially significant as an undrafted player.

Twenty-nine percent of all of the NFL players on the Opening Day 53-man rosters were undrafted, according to a News analysis. Only 13.8 percent of NFL starters are undrafted.

Among the most prominent undrafted NFL players are San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, Seattle Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, a hero of Super Bowl XLIX. Most NFL undrafteds are role players and core special teamers.

The Bills' undrafted starters are linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Ramon Humber and fullback Patrick DiMarco, plus third cornerback Leonard Johnson.

Most of the Bills' "unchosen 18" identify as being "undrafted guys," no matter how long they have survived.

"I take pride in it for sure," said guard Ryan Groy, in his fourth year. "It's something that gave me a big chip on my shoulder, and I use it to my advantage."

"That's every day with me," Davis said. "I also take that mentality every year into camp. I'm fighting for my position, fighting for my career."

Even Alexander, a two-time Pro Bowler in his 11th year, still embraces the perspective.

"That's where my foundation is built," Alexander says. "No matter if you just signed a new deal or you're in the last year of your old deal, no matter what your numbers are, you're always coming to camp in that undrafted, I've-been-cut-a-couple-of-times mindset."

Most of the undrafted Bills thought they were going to be drafted.

"I had two teams call me the day before the draft and say if you're still around in the fifth round we're going to take you," said Yarbrough, who starred at Wyoming. "I had a great pro day. I weighed 263, ran a 4.69, benched 225 29 times. I had one of the best workout days of my life. My senior year I had the most sacks I ever had in my college career and I was first-team all-conference two years in a row."

"I was hearing rounds three through five, realistically four through six," Davis said. "I got a call from a team in the fourth round. If we're not going to take somebody here, we're going to take you there, they said. It never came through. There's no hard feelings, but you want to see your name go across the ticker."

Perhaps as a result, virtually all the Bills undrafteds said they felt like they belonged early in their first NFL season.

"Early in my first training camp I made a play, and I thought this is just the same football I've been playing since I was 5 years old," said Bills running back Joe Banyard, now a fifth-year veteran.

Groy recalls his first play of his first game, for Chicago during the 2014 season.

"It was halfway through the Cowboys game, and I got beat on a third and long," said Groy, who caused then-Bears QB Jay Cutler to take a hit.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh,' " Groy said. "Jay came to the sidelines and put his arm around me and said, 'You're going to play in this league for a long time. Don't worry about it. You're good to go.' That was pretty cool."

DiMarco recalls his debut with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 of the 2012 season. He had spent the first 10 weeks on the practice squad.

"My first play against the Carolina Panthers, I popped a linebacker pretty good, put him on his back," DiMarco said. "That was kind of a weight off my shoulders. OK, I can do this."

Eleven of the Bills' 18 undrafteds are at least five-year veterans. Along with Alexander, Humber, Johnson, DiMarco, Davis and Banyard, the others are: Mike Tolbert, Stephen Hauschka, Colt Anderson, Andre Holmes and Cedric Thornton. That makes them even more of a rarity. Just a third of the undrafted players in the league have made it to their fifth season.

"I don't ever try to get a big head," Banyard said. "I don't ever think I've made it so I continue to work, always."

"Nobody can tell me I didn't grind to be in this locker room and wear the NFL shield on my chest," Davis said. "I had help along the way but I had to go to training camp and do it. It's a great amount of pride."

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