The Largo, Fla. native met with the media before Saturday's annual Grove Bowl game with glowing optimism. There was early chatter involving the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.
An uneventful Thursday wasn't what he expected. Other decorated running backs where flying off the board, from Clemson's C.J. Spiller to Fresno State's Ryan Matthews. The likelihood of hearing his name only grew slimmer as the final picks were handed to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Then the calendar turned to Friday. And it only took four picks into the second round before the 5-foot-8, 172-pound speedster was off to Kansas City to join quarterback Matt Cassell and the Chiefs.
"I'm glad to be a Kansas City Chief, and I'm glad to be back in red; Ole Miss red and now Kansas City Chief red," McCluster, the 36th overall pick, said. "Mini-camp starts Thursday, and the coaches said to be ready to work. You know I'll be ready."
McCluster dazzled as a running back over his senior year with the Rebels. He became the first player in SEC history to amass 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
His 286-yard, four-touchdown performance against Tennessee is sure to be talked about for years to come, especially a 71-yard scamper where he shimmied past a host of Volunteers towards the students seated in the south end zone.
Now he joins a Volunteer he terrorized in their only meeting: standout safety Eric Berry, the fifth overall pick by Kansas City.
"I'm really excited for Dexter," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "Kansas City has gotten an excellent person who will be outstanding in the weight room, on the practice field, in the locker room and on gameday. This is a special young man who inspires his teammates to achieve at a high level."
The Chiefs, who were 4-12 last season, expect McCluster to make an immediate impact. Mel Kiper Jr., a draft specialist for ESPN, called McCluster "a situational running back" and "certainly a slot receiver."
He's also drawn comparisons to Wes Welker, who Kansas City General Manager Scott Pioli knows well from his days in the front office with the New England Patriots.
However he's used, McCluster feels he's up for the challenge.
"I can play multiple roles – running back, slot receiver and return man. It helps me out," McCluster said last week. "Give me the chance and I'm going to get the job done."
John Jerry, meet South Beach:
John Jerry was no stranger to the NFL Draft process. As a junior in 2008, he watched as his brother, Peria, celebrated a first-round selection from the Atlanta Falcons.
When Jerry returned to Ole Miss for his senior season, his goal was to improve in all areas of his game. He wanted to be a dominant offensive lineman, with an ability to move inside and or out, depending on the need of a prospective professional organization.
Apparently the hard work paid off. Jerry was selected in the third round (73rd overall) by the Miami Dolphins Friday.
"Man, this is just incredible," Jerry said. "I'm just soaking everything in right now because there's so much excitement. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to take my game to the NFL."
Jerry started 46 games over his four seasons at Ole Miss, and was a two-time All-SEC honoree. He blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers, including Benjarvus Green-Ellis and fellow draftee Dexter McCluster.
He was a first team All-American in 2009.
"I told Bill Parcells that Miami was fortunate to get John in the third round," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "They are getting an excellent football player. The Dolphins coaches had John in the Senior Bowl and loved his personality, tremendous work ethic and his great feet."
Jerry, who hails from nearby Batesville, marks the 10th Ole Miss offensive lineman drafted in the last 11 years.
"Just meeting everyone with the Dolphins was great," Jerry said. "To learn from someone like Bill Parcells should be great for my career."
Lewis joins McCluster in KC:
McCluster won't be the only former Rebel donning Kansas City red this fall, as former Ole Miss free safety Kendrick Lewis was selected by the Chiefs in the fifth round (136th overall) Sunday.
Lewis, a converted wide receiver, was a three-year starter in the defensive backfield. He accumulated 226 tackles over his career, with six interceptions. Lewis marked the third Ole Miss player taken in this weekend's NFL Draft.
"Kansas City is a good situation for Kendrick," Nutt said. "He will be able to contribute on all special teams and is also a physical safety. Kansas City got a really good player."
Lewis was a second team All-SEC honoree as a senior, when he ranked 10th in the SEC in passes defended (0.92 pg) and 20th in tackles (6.5 pg). He led the Rebels in tackles (84), interceptions (2), forced fumbles (3) and blocked kicks (2) while helping the team rank 11th in the NCAA in pass efficiency defense (101.5 eff.), 15th in pass defense (174.4 ypg) and 21st in total defense (314.7 ypg).
Hardy finally off the board:
Former Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy entered his senior year as a potential first-round pick.
The Memphis, Tenn. native with undeniable talent had battled injury and inconsistency throughout his career, but seemed to be turning a corner. He was fully healthy and reenergized, as the promise of the NFL was a soon-to-be reality.
However, he was never able to get back to his breakout sophomore form. He was named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America second team and was a First Team All-SEC selection that year.
Two years later, the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder is a sixth round pick, taken by the Carolina Panthers 175th overall in this weekend's NFL Draft.
Hardy joins TE Kris Mangum (1997) as the only former Rebels drafted by the Panthers, although Ole Miss All-American TE Wesley Walls enjoyed seven successful seasons in Carolina that included five Pro Bowl appearances.
"Carolina has gotten a heck of a value pick in Greg," Nutt said. "He is a great pass rusher who, no doubt, would have gone much higher had it not been for injury and surgery. I am so happy for Greg. He is going to an outstanding franchise."
Todd McShay, a draft specialist for ESPN, said Hardy needs to become a "more complete player" and display "more consistent effort."
Snead, Eason sign unrestricted free agent contracts:
After seeing the seven-round NFL Draft come to a close without being chosen, former Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead and running back Cordera Eason signed unrestricted free agent contracts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.
Snead completed 191-of-351 passes for 2,632 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior last season. He also had 20 interception, with his decision-making in question by many NFL scouts. As the seventh round drew towards its conclusion Saturday, Kiper Jr. and McShay, each of ESPN, agreed Snead made a poor decision by declaring early.
Kiper said Snead's stock "plummeted" over a disappointing junior season, while McShay made the case that the Stephenville, Texas native would have had to compete for his starting job if he had returned to Ole Miss.