Supplemental draft picks face long odds

Ahmad Brooks could be on his way to something big with the 49ers this season as he steps into the starting lineup at outside linebacker, but he is among a rare breed of supplemental draft picks that are making it in the NFL. The league has postponed this year's supplemental lottery, scheduled for Wednesday, while it continues to review the petition of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Pryor is considered the top prospect who has applied for the supplemental phase this year. He is expected to get middle-round consideration, even though his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has publicly suggested Pryor will be chosen in the first round. No quarterback has been taken in the supplemental draft since 1992, when the New York Giants chose Dave Brown in the first round.

The NFL draft has often been described as an "inexact science," particularly by the franchises with a dubious record in the lottery. That pretty much makes the supplemental draft, given its inglorious history, a laboratory experiment gone bad.

In the 34 years of the supplemental draft, which began in 1977 to address special-needs cases, there have been 40 players selected.

But only about a handful of them – like wide receiver Cris Carter, quarterback Bernie Kosar, defensive tackle Jamal Williams, wide receiver Rob Moore, and guard Mike Wahle – have paid a dividend on the choices invested in them.

Brooks is currently paying dividends for the 49ers, who seriously considered drafting him when he entered the supplemental draft in the summer of 2006 after leaving the University of Virginia.

But the Cincinnati Bengals got to Brooks first, selecting him in the third round of the supplemental phase. He spent two seasons with the Bengals – starting seven games at inside linebacker – before the 49ers picked him up off waivers in 2008.

He didn't play one snap that season and was actually waived by the 49ers in November before being re-signed and getting his shot with the team in 2009, when Brooks appeared in 14 games and produced a career-high six sacks and four forced fumbles, tying a team record for a linebacker.

Brooks had five sacks last season – when he recorded his first start with San Francisco on Dec. 5 at Green Bay – and has been running with the first defensive unit throughout 49ers training camp this summer.

But Brooks is the exception. Most supplemental picks never make it into a starting lineup, and some never even make it onto the field.

"From the first day, under normal circumstances, it's an uphill battle," Brooks said. "You're fighting the odds every step of the way."

If the regular-phase draft is a crap-shoot, the supplemental draft is more like rolling the dice uphill. It's a game of blackjack, a spin of the roulette wheel, and Russian Roulette all rolled into one.

"There's always going to be an issue, usually one of maturity, with the guys in it," said one league personnel director whose team exercised a supplemental selection in the last 10 years. "If you had to hang a (punctuation mark) on the guys who are in the supplemental, it would be one big question mark. The very fact they're even in the thing raises questions about judgment, or discipline, or whatever. But every so often, you get a guy who's had the light-bulb go on, so he might be worth a gamble."

In any year, especially given the lopsided results, the supplemental draft generates a disproportionate share of interest. This year, with the possibility that Pryor might be included in the supplemental pool, the interest is probably more ramped up than normal.

Pryor, who was the consensus premier prep player in the country when he matriculated with the Buckeyes, still has not been approved by the league because his situation doesn't fit the typical cases for players allowed into the supplemental draft. Pryor willingly left the Ohio State program with eligibility remaining and the league may not want to set the precedent for players skipping the April draft. Pryor was facing a five-game suspension at the beginning of the season, but would have been eligible to return after that.

In three seasons at Ohio State, Pryor completed 477 of 783 passes for 6,177 yards, with 57 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. He also rushed 436 times for 2,164 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The NFL may not delay the supplemental phase very long while it reviews Pryor's petition. The lottery is conducted electronically. A team that exercises a choice must forfeit its corresponding pick in the 2012 draft.

The players who have been granted entry into the draft so far are Georgia running back Caleb King, Northern Illinois safety Tracy Wilson, North Carolina defensive end Michael McAdoo and small-school prospects cornerback Torez Jones (Western Carolina) and safety Tracy Wilson (Northern Illinois). King, who was declared academically ineligible, had a Monday workout on the Georgia campus before.

According to scouts, at least three of the prospects were "rejects," players who might not even be signed as undrafted free agents. Arguably, the most notable prospect in the draft might be King, the former Georgia tailback.

A part-time starter for the Bulldogs in his three seasons in Athens, King rushed for 1,271 yards and a 5.0-yard average in his college career. His "Pro Day" workout Monday on campus drew representatives from seven or eight franchises and a scout from one of the national combine services. King did relatively well in the workout, was timed at between the mid- to high-4.5's, and could be drafted or at least signed as a free agent.

On the flip side, the last two tailbacks chosen in the supplemental draft have been disappointments. The Chicago Bears chose BYU's Harvey Unga in the seventh round last summer and he spent his rookie year on injured reserve. In 2003, Houston used a second-round choice on Georgia Tech's Tony Hollings, and he lasted three seasons with the Texans and started one game. Hollings' last season in an NFL camp was 2007.

King met recently with Detroit officials. At least two other teams told The Sports Xchange that they had screened videotape of him and had somewhat positive reviews.

Still, merely landing a spot in the supplemental draft means beating the odds. And actually succeeding is the longest of long shots.

Of the 40 players selected between 1997-2010 in the summertime draft, 10 never played in a single regular-season game and 18 never started a contest. Only four ever made a Pro Bowl appearance. Just five carved out careers that included 100 appearances.

The average career span for the 40 supplemental picks is 41.3 games, essentially 2½ seasons. None has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame, although Carter figures to someday be in the Canton shrine.

Typical of the supplemental picks was defensive tackle Manny Wright, chosen by Miami in the fifth round in 2005. Regarded as a potential talent, a big-bodied lineman with alleged quickness but a documented bout with depression, Wright's NFL resume consisted of nine games and three tackles in three seasons with two teams. Perhaps his most notable (or maybe notorious) moment came his rookie season, when then-Dolphins coach Nick Saban reduced Wright to tears during a training camp practice session.

Not since 1998, when Williams (San Diego) and Wahle (Green Bay) both were chosen in the second round, has the supplemental draft produced any consistently productive players, Brooks notwithstanding.

There have been only two years in which more than two players were chosen –the all-time record is five prospects in 1989 – and there was only one player taken 11 times, in addition to the nine years in which there were none taken.

Hollings was the last prospect chosen above the third round.

Compounding the situation this year is that the supplemental draft, typically held about 10 days before the start of training camps, is being conducted two weeks after camps have opened.

In any year, the supplemental players get a later start than the prospects chosen in the regular-phase draft. But this year, coaches are trying to ready their teams in a compressed environment and there may be even less time, and fewer "reps," for late arrivals.

And, with the supplemental phase being pushed back, those potential arrivals will now be even later, and that much farther behind in their hope to beat the odds.

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