Undrafted free agents should turn to Falcons' Taylor Gabriel for inspiration

Since he went undrafted in 2014, Taylor Gabriel has made the most of his NFL opportunities. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If the 21 undrafted players who agreed to free-agent contracts with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday need inspiration, they can go chat with new teammate Taylor Gabriel.

The 5-foot-8-inch, 165-pound wide receiver was in the same predicament following the 2014 draft, when he was overlooked coming out of Texas' Abilene Christian University. Gabriel didn't even watch the draft that year as fourth-overall pick Sammy Watkins (Buffalo) was the first receiver of the board and 244th pick Jeremy Gallon (New England) was the last. Gallon went on to play in the Arena League.

"I was just very anxious and just didn't know where I was going to get picked up or if I was going to get picked up," Gabriel said. "I didn't get any calls the last day (of the draft). I got calls like the next day."

Gabriel eventually received inquiries from the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, and the Falcons.

"It wasn't an undrafted contract, it was more of a tryout basis," Gabriel said of those calls. "I had to chose where I was going to try out. And I just felt like (Cleveland) would give me the best opportunity to show my talents."

As the story went, Gabriel impressed the Browns enough to not only stick, but evolve into a big contributor as a rookie with 36 catches for 621 yards and a touchdown. Gabriel spent two seasons in Cleveland before being released, a move the Browns said they regretted. Then he was claimed by the Falcons off waivers before last season to reunite with his former offensive coordinator in Cleveland, current San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan.

Now "Turbo Taylor" has become a household name with his blazing speed and video game-like moves. He tied All-Pro Julio Jones for the team lead with six touchdown receptions last season and added another score on the ground. Gabriel averaged 42.7 yards per touchdown reception.

The Falcons placed the second-round tender on Gabriel as a restricted free agent, which they knew would keep teams from trying to swoop in and sign him to an offer sheet. Gabriel eventually signed the one-year tender worth $2.746 million for the 2017 season.

"I felt like I just got drafted in the second round," Gabriel said. "I'm not undrafted anymore. I just feel like I'm blessed to even have this opportunity."

Although Gabriel did not sign his tender immediately, he did arrive for the start of offseason workouts and signed an injury waiver.

"On the contract aspect, that's really not my job," Gabriel said. "That's what I have agents for. That's something they have to deal with and something they have to see eye to eye on. But contracts and second-rounder tenders and me showing up on time, that's nothing that I had to second-guess. It was more for the brotherhood, and the thing we have going with the Falcons, and I love being a Falcon."

If he continues to produce like he did last season, Gabriel will find himself with a richer, longer-term deal sooner than later -- just like undrafted teammate Ryan Schraeder did last year with a five-year, $33 million extension. The next phase for Gabriel is just continuing to be an asset.

"A lot of people don't know my history and if they knew my history, they'd know my rookie year I actually had more receiving yards," Gabriel said. "I did end my rookie year third in the league in yards per catch. So last year wasn't my first year having a great season. It's not like it's something I haven't done on multiple occasions. I know my talents and I know what I can do, because I did it the past three years of just being consistent."

As for his message to the incoming undrafted players, it's simple.

"It doesn't matter what path you take," Gabriel said. "It's when you get the opportunity, make sure you take advantage of it."