Skip to main content
Raider Nation, Stand Up - View Schedule - Presented by Allegiant
8th Round_2560x1440

Pain. Confusion. Determination.

These were the emotions evoked as Isaiah Pola-Mao, Robert Spillane and Jakobi Meyers reflected on their experience of going undrafted. While each of the three had separate journeys to where they are now, they've all endured the same hurdles.'s Levi Edwards tells the tale of how these three undrafted players are climbing their way up the NFL mountain.

"The big thing for me is to never get complacent no matter what happens."

Every day is a job interview

Isaiah Pola-Mao was close to leaving football before he entered the draft process.

He tries not to think about it too much, but he was given a second-round draft grade by scouts and analysts following his junior year at USC. In 2019 and 2020, he totaled over 100 total tackles, three fumble recoveries and five interceptions, earning an AP All-Pac-12 Second Team selection.

He decided to return to USC for his senior season to stamp an exclamation mark on his college career.

However, the exclamation mark turned into a question mark.

USC fired its head coach two games into the season, and turmoil and uncertainty followed. The Trojans finished with a 4-8 record, their worst in 20 years.

"Coming off statistically one of my worst years was a blow," Pola-Mao said. "Confidence-wise, emotionally, coming off a season like that to go straight into the league was a huge blow.

"I wasn't prepared mentally for all of that. People were looking up to me; I was a captain on defense, and I just wasn't all there. I wasn't ready for that."

As Pola-Mao contemplated giving up football for good, he leaned on his wife as well as his uncle, Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu, to redirect him back to his dreams. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder buckled down and prepared for the NFL Draft.

Pola-Mao patiently waited for his name to be called for three days. He prayed for the best but expected the eventual outcome.

"I felt like in my heart I could've been drafted just based off believing in myself. But even when I didn't get the call at the end of the day, I still cried," he said. "Even though I knew I wasn't going to get drafted, it still hurt."

Shortly after the draft concluded, he received a call from Tom McMahon, the Raiders special teams coordinator. He offered Pola-Mao a chance to compete for a role on the roster as a UDFA.

It was also a full-circle moment for the safety. The Raiders were the first football team he played for as a child in Pop Warner.

"I said, 'All right, the Raiders is where I'm going' and honestly, it's what I wanted at the end of the day too."

Day by day, Pola Mao started to make an impression on the roster. However, imposter syndrome hovered over him, haunted by a traumatic senior season that made him question his abilities.

But once he stepped on the field for the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition game to kick off the 2022 preseason, the doubt slipped away.

He ended the preseason with 10 total tackles, including three in the preseason opener in Canton, Ohio. As each game passed, the confidence rapidly grew. Along the way, advice from the coaching staff played on repeat in his mind.

"They said the same thing every day. 'Every day is a job interview. Every day you've got to clock in and show why you want to be here. Every day you've got to take somebody's job.' I came in with that mindset of, 'I'm here to win a job, I'm here to work, I'm here to prove myself every day.'"

On the last day before final cuts, he kept the same optimistic view he had on draft night.

He prayed for the best and he expected the eventual outcome – becoming one of four undrafted players to make the 53-man roster in 2022.

His hard work led to his role growing the next season, appearing in all 17 games while nabbing seven tackles and an interception. He also re-signed with the team this offseason.

Yet, his undrafted story is far from finished.

"Now that I have a couple seasons and a little bit of experience under my belt, the confidence is there," he said. "But the big thing for me is to never get complacent no matter what happens. Make a good play, bad play, whatever – move on. It's always on to the next for me."

"When given the opportunity, you have to immediately show you’re ready."

Football is all I've ever done and all I ever wanted to do.

A couple weeks ago, Robert Spillane returned to his alma mater of Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, to give a commencement speech to the Class of 2024.

The moment put a lot of things into perspective for the NFL linebacker. Admittingly not someone who does a lot of public speaking, he was initially conflicted over what he should tell the young students that roamed the same hallways as him.

"Should I tell them about proper tackling techniques? Should I tell them about Cover 4 defense? Or should I tell them about my life?" Spillane said.

He settled on telling the tale of how he broke into the league.

After switching from running back to linebacker, he became a standout at Western Michigan University. He totaled over 300 total tackles, 10 sacks and four interceptions in his collegiate career.

"I thought I was going to be a drafted player," he reflected. "Then the draft comes, it goes by, and I get no calls."

Initially, his phone didn't ring with any UDFA offers either. He ended up getting a call from Rick Spielman, the Minnesota Vikings general manager at the time, who extended a rookie minicamp invitation to Spillane.

"Those three days go by, and I got one rep in three days during rookie minicamp," the linebacker said. "I go home and I'm like, 'Damn, my NFL journey is over before it even started.' I'm sitting at the house like, 'What the hell do I do next? Where do I go?' Football is all I've ever done and all I ever wanted to do."

The following week, he got a call from the Tennessee Titans. Another linebacker was injured in the first half of rookie minicamp, and Spillane was given 48 hours to jump on a plane from Illinois.

In his mind, this was his last opportunity for a shot at the NFL.

Instead of waiting to arrive for the start of practice, he went to the Titans facility at 5 a.m. and stopped by linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie's office.

"I told him, 'I need this opportunity, I need to be a part of this team. Teach me the defense now. What can I do to be a part of this team?'"

His initiative and hard-work mentality paid off. He was signed to the 90-man active roster going into Training Camp but was one of the final cuts for the 53-man roster.

He signed to the team's practice squad with the intent of "busting my ass doing everything that I can" to be elevated. Eight weeks into the 2018 season, his name was called.

What was supposed to be a full-circle NFL dream coming true shortly turned into another setback. He was injured in the first practice after being signed to the active roster and was eventually released by the Titans.

He spent the next five months living with his parents, waiting on his phone to ring. He received tryouts from the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers but didn't land a place on a roster.

A self-described "irate" Spillane called the Steelers scout to vouch for himself. His passionate phone call surprisingly played a major factor in what was to come.

"They called me two days later offering me to be a part of the team," he said. "They said part of the reason I got the offer is because I asserted myself. They loved that I called, and I was angry at them. They actually appreciated that.

"I go on Pittsburgh, was on their practice squad and got activated halfway through my second year there. First game I'm active, I made three special teams tackles and I was never on practice squad again. When given the opportunity, you have to immediately show you're ready."

“Jakobi just always had that dog in him."

Pay attention and be available

The first time AJ Cole saw Jakobi Meyers switch to wide receiver, he knew the right decision was made.

Cole was already familiar with Meyers' game, as they played for rival high schools in Georgia. Meyers was recruited to NC State to play quarterback but transitioned to wide receiver after redshirting his freshman year.

"It just clicked," said Cole, Meyers' college and NFL teammate. "I don't even know if he was wearing receiver gloves yet, but he was just nice from the get-go.

"Jakobi just always had that dog in him. He's the guy you want catching the ball over the middle and you know he's going to come down with it. He's been that guy since literally the first snap he played receiver."

The dog was unleashed in 2017 as Meyers became the No. 1 receiver for the Wolfpack, totaling five touchdowns. He upped the ante his senior year, breaking NC State's single-season receptions record with 92 catches for 1,047 yards.

A variety of NFL teams were impressed with Meyers' collegiate body of work and his showing at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.

"I thought everything went smooth," Meyers said, reflecting on his pre-draft process. "If I'm being completely honestly, I thought I would end up getting drafted just by how everything went. I wasn't the fastest, but I showed I was smart enough, that I had enough game. I thought everything was going good."

According to his agent and several scouts, he was a shoo-in to hear his name called in the mid-rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Until he wasn't.

"My head was all over the place," Meyers said. "I'm getting calls on Day 2 [of the draft] saying, 'If you don't get drafted, then we want you.' That messes with you a little bit. I was confident that I was getting drafted. Now it's, 'What you if you don't get drafted?'"

After the draft, he received a call from the New England Patriots and was 15 minutes to make a decision or the offer was off the table.

"I was shocked when he didn't get drafted," Cole said. "I thought he was pretty much a lock. I didn't really understand why, he had the production in college. But when he got picked up in New England it was like, 'OK, that makes sense.'"

Meyers' path as an undrafted rookie was rare compared to the normal experience. Despite joining a loaded receiver room consisting of Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett, Meyers was getting first-team reps by the end of Training Camp.

"It didn't necessarily start like that, but it got to that really quick," he said. "My first day of practice, I got no reps. My second day, I got one. The way I ended up making it is I paid attention to everything. I watched every position so I would just be able to pop right in and fill the gap.

"Being able to pay attention and be available – that's really what got me first-team reps."

Meyers was one of two UDFAs to make the Patriots 53-man roster that season. The next season, he led the team in targets, catches and receiving yards.

He continues to find success with the Silver and Black, recording a career-high eight touchdowns in 2023. He also became the second Raider in franchise history with a passing and receiving touchdown in the same game.

But even with the accolades and statistics, the pain of being doubted and underestimated fuels him more today than it did back in 2019.

"I know what it's like to be loved one day and hated the next day. I've been the person who was passed over," said Meyers. "Out of a healthy respect for knowing what that feels like, I know I don't want to go back. I like the life that I've built now, and I'm willing to do anything that it takes to keep it that way."

View photos of current players on the Raiders' roster who began their careers as undrafted free agents.

back to top

Related Content

Latest Content