The odds have been stacked against Pierre Warren since the moment he declared for the NFL draft in January.
His decision to leave Jacksonville State after his junior season has been second-guessed by some every step of the way. After going undrafted, he signed a free-agent deal with the New Orleans Saints last month. With uncertainty surrounding his spot on the roster and roster cuts going on all around him, Warren has remained optimistic.
“I know there’s still more work to do,” Warren said. “I just have to keep getting better, learning the playbook and hopefully make this team.”
He’s right to be optimistic. Recent trends suggest undrafted players are faring better than expected and having productive NFL careers.
According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, about 20 percent of the starters in the NFL in 2012 entered the league as an undrafted free agent. A Syracuse.com breakdown of 2012 NFL rosters showed 277 players who were first-round picks but 412 who weren't drafted at all.
The Saints are an organization unafraid of holding on to its undrafted players. According to NOLA.com, the Saints' final 53-man roster last season included 24 undrafted players.
One of those players was safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He was the last player to wear the No. 42 jersey before it was assigned to Warren. Wearing No. 42 means a great deal to Warren. Before Abdul-Quddus wore it, the number was made popular by one of Warren’s idols, retired Saints safety Darren Sharper.
“It is an honor to wear it,” Warren said. “He was real good at his job. He was a good safety back then. It feels good to try to live up to his standards.”
Sharper led the Saints with nine interceptions on their way to the Super Bowl XLIV crown. Warren earned the same reputation as a ball hawk while at JSU. Last season, he finished as the Gamecocks’ second leading tackler with 76 and led JSU with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
As expected, forcing a turnover has not come easy in the NFL. He has not caused one in the mini-camps, but remains confident he will. Right now, his biggest concern is learning the complex NFL playbook.
“I’m learning free safety and strong,” he said. “Trying to learn both of them is a little tough but I’m getting to it.”
His optimism suffered a blow Monday when the Saints announced they were releasing another former Gamecock A.J. Davis, who had been plagued by injuries since joining the team in 2012.
Even so, Warren already formed a bond with his remaining teammates. While saying goodbye to Davis ended the JSU reunion, Warren is far from alone in New Orleans. He befriended former Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri. After growing up an Alabama fan, Warren calls getting to compete with Sunseri “cool.”
“Vinnie is cool people,” he said. “We try to just help each other out. Even though we’re competing for the same job, we still have to both understand what we’re doing. We try to help each other out when we can.”