Supplemental Draft Nothing but a Crap-Shoot

The supplemental draft has earned attention for who is, or isn't, eligible this year. But with training camps open for two weeks, players already behind the 8-ball face a steeper incline than ever.

The NFL draft has often been described, particularly by the franchises with a dubious record in the lottery, as "an inexact science." Which 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.

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 former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor might be included in the supplemental pool, the interest is probably more ramped up than normal. As of this filing, however, Pryor, who was the consensus premier prep player in the country when he matriculated with the Buckeyes, had not been approved by league officials. That left five players in the supplemental lottery.

Barring a delay - there was some discussion that the uncertain status of Pryor might push the draft back by a day or two - the supplemental draft is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 1 p.m. The lottery is conducted electronically. A team that exercises a choice must forfeit its corresponding pick in the 2012 draft.

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 former Georgia tailback Caleb King, who was declared academically ineligible for the 2011 season.

RB Caleb King
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

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.

"If he does fall out (of the draft) completely, the job becomes getting him to the right team, with a need at tailback," agent Kevin Conner said on Tuesday morning. "It might help him that teams have been able to find running backs late, or as free agents ... and that the Georgia program has turned out some of those guys."

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 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 2 1/2 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. 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.

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.

"From the first day, under normal circumstances, it's an uphill battle," allowed San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks, a 2006 supplemental third-round who has beaten the odds by lasting into his sixth season. "You're fighting the odds every step of the way."

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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