Shaun Draughn's career was at a low point in 2013.
The previously undrafted running back had just been released by the Baltimore Ravens due to an ankle injury. After already being let go by two other teams, Draughn began to consider life after football.
"I thought that nobody was going to want a hurt, undrafted free agent," Draughn said. "I didn't really have any game experience or playing time. I was in Maryland with my family, and I knew I had to make ends meet.
"That was a period in my life when I had to start thinking about what's next."
Draughn turned to real estate, something he'd always been interested in, but didn't expect to pursue so young.
He purchased relevant books and attended seminars in an effort to teach himself about the industry. Draughn discovered mentors along the way and even opened his own real estate investment company, Highly Favored Solutions, LLC.
But more phone calls and tryouts from NFL franchises allowed Draughn to put those plans on hold.
Some of those workouts turned into contracts, but they never evolved into a chance to shine.
"I just waited my turn," Draughn said. "I had conversations with my position coaches on different teams. I'd say, 'Coach, all I need is the opportunity.'"
The former North Carolina Tar Heel has been signed and subsequently waived by seven teams since entering the NFL in 2011. He played professionally for Washington, Kansas City, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Chicago, San Diego and Cleveland.
"It's been up and down to say the least," Draughn said. "There've definitely been a couple of humbling experiences and lessons learned. It's tested my faith and made me a better person."
Draughn, who has taken his terminations in stride, said that he has no ill will towards any team that cut ties with him. On the contrary, the 27-year-old was grateful for those opportunities – no matter how brief.
"They put food on the table for my family," Draughn said. "They only made me a better player while I was there so it just added to the story."
During Draughn's time with those seven franchises, the ball-carrier rarely had a role on gamedays.
Draughn's busiest season came in 2012 with the Chiefs, when he ran the ball 59 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns. That same year, the running back also tallied 24 receptions for 158 yards.
With the six other teams, Draughn only received 16 carries for 31 yards, while serving mostly as a special teams player. At each stop, he got the all-too-familiar call that his services were no longer needed.
Draughn relied heavily on his faith while moving his family from city to city. His wife, Shonda, often packed up their belongings on her own and moved their two children to a new location.
"It's like anything in life, you have to take a licking and keep on ticking," Draughn said. "(The NFL) is a business, but it just made me stronger."
Draughn's quest for NFL continuity continued on Nov. 2, when a successful workout for the San Francisco 49ers resulted in a spot on the team's 53-man roster.
Upon his arrival to the Bay Area, the running back told running backs coach Tom Rathman the same thing he told his previous position coaches – that all he needed was a chance to prove himself.
"He told me, 'A lot of guys who sit in that chair say the same thing,'" Draughn said.
The journeyman running back wasn't deterred.
"I told coach, 'I don't talk much, but if you give me the opportunity, the sky's the limit,'" Draughn said.
The running back knew he'd have a role in his first game with the 49ers, a Week 9 home game against the Atlanta Falcons. San Francisco's starting running back, Pierre Garçon, was out with a foot injury and no other ball-carrier on the team was a sure bet to lead the team in touches.
Fellow free-agent addition Pierre Thomas and practice-squad call-up Kendall Gaskins were the other two runners vying for the starting job.
Draughn turned out to be the guy to earn that role. Jim Tomsula told the journeyman running back during warmups that he'd be the starting running back that game.
Through his first two contests with the 49ers (the win against the Falcons and a Week 11 loss to the Seattle Seahawks), Draughn has set single-game career highs in nearly every notable stat category: 16 carries, 58 rushing yards and a long run of 30 yards against the Falcons as well as eight catches for 40 receiving yards against the Seahawks.
It took some time, but Draughn is back to doing what he loves.
"You're a grown man playing a kid's game," he said. "That's what it is. I love football. I've been playing since the fourth grade, and I've been having fun ever since. To get the opportunity is just an extra boost."
That doesn't change how fleeting an NFL career can be.
The health of Hyde's foot for the rest of the season will have an impact on whether or not Draughn remains San Francisco's starter. The often-vicious nature of professional football hasn't stopped him yet and won't anytime soon.
"I'm going to do everything I can to show the organization, show the fans and show my teammates that I'm here to work and do what it takes to win," Draughn said.