Jamal Williams is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL -- if not the best.
Watch him play and you'll see him put on a clinic. He explodes off the line, stays low, uses his hands as blunt weapons and constantly looks for weak spots to exploit. He commands a double-team on almost every play, but still managed to record 32 tackles and fours sacks last season while opening up things for the team's ends and linebackers.
Although he's listed at 348 pounds and has a belly that reveals a fondness for beer and/or fried foods, he never quits on a play and has a put-me-in-coach attitude. He's a great player and would make any team better. But he's a rarity in another way — he was a supplemental draft pick that worked out.
The supplemental draft is a shadowy event held by the NFL some time after the draft to allocate players who weren't eligible for the regular draft, but either can't or don't want to play another year of college ball. Teams then tell the NFL what round they would select the player in and the highest bid gets the player. Should two or more teams give the same bid for a player, the team with the worst record the previous season (as indicated by the order of the April draft) gets the player.
There's a catch, though. The team awarded the player forfeits a pick equivalent to its bid in the next regular draft.
Players in the supplemental draft rarely work out, but teams keep trying. Often, teams desperate for a player, especially a quarterback, will roll the dice.
In recent years quarterbacks Steve Walsh (Cowboys), Timm Rosenbach (Cardinals) and Dave Brown (Giants) have cost their teams first- or second-round draft picks and have hardly set the league on fire.
More recently, the running back-starved Texans bet a second-round pick on Tony Hollings in 2003. Despite speed, strength, moves and vision, injuries have limited him to just 149 yards on 49 carries and the third (or maybe even fourth) spot among Houston running backs.
The best prospect this year is USC defensive tackle Manuel Wright, who may cost as much as a second-round pick. His value reflects a premium on players at his position and his potential because he has not played enough for scouts to make a proper evaluation. A closer look at the players available this year shows that there are more questions about them than there are certainties. Any of them could prove to be a find, but none has had big-time production or consistency and only Wright will attract "first day" attention:
USC DT Manuel Wright (6056/307/4.88)
2004 stats: 11 TK, 12 AT, 6-17 TFL, 2-10 SK, 2 PBU. 2–20-1 FR
The Trojans' plan was for Wright to key a defensive line that lost Mike Patterson (Eagles) and Shaun Cody (Lions) to the draft, but it didn't work out that way. Wright asked for and received eligibility for the supplemental draft, allegedly because of poor marks. A legitimate prospect who will likely cost a second- or third-round pick, Wright was expected to be a first-rounder had he stayed in school. Although he started only two games last year (when Cody was shifted to end), he played well enough to merit All-Pac-10 honorable mention. A high-motor player with a big-time first step, Wright gets consistent penetration but needs to work on his tackling skills. Although not always the most aware guy on the field, Wright has the closing speed to make up for momentary lapses.
Physically, there are no questions with Wright — he belongs on an NFL roster, and probably as starter before long — but teams will gage their investment on their opinion of his character and determination. As of press time, the Miami Dolphins, who own the second priority right in the supplemental draft, are actively scouting and wooing Wright.
Clemson WR Roscoe Crosby (6017/218/4.48)
2004 stats: none
If you look at game tape of Crosby, you'll see a raw player who flashes some unbelievable athletic abilities, especially when it comes to agility and body control. The problem is that the game tape will be at least four years old. Because of an elbow injury, a flirtation with professional baseball and a tragic car accident that left him physically unharmed but killed his three best friends, Crosby hasn't played college football since 2001. Back then, he was rated the second-best freshman recruit behind Kevin Jones, who is now Detroit's starting halfback.
Crosby certainly has the natural talent to be a player, even a star in the NFL, but his problems and lack of production are disturbing. At a recent workout, Crosby ran all the drills and looked good catching passes from former NFL quarterback Shaun King, but his agent disappointed the 17 scouts in attendance by stopping the show due to hot weather. Crosby's upside is through the roof, but he's a huge gamble. He's the kind of prospect that can make a personnel man's reputation or have him looking for a new job.
Texas Tech CB Ivory McCann (5080/168/4.29)
2004 stats: none
A high school track phenomenon who was heavily recruited and joined the Red Raiders as a halfback, McCann switched to cornerback when his coaches decided he was too small to take the pounding a runner gets. He did some nice work as a kick returner (averaging 27.6 yards a pop) but little else. An ill-fated attempt to transfer to Grambling left him out of football for a few seasons, but a recent workout indicated he still has awesome speed.
At this point, McCann is still just a tiny track guy who has yet to prove he's a football player. But guys with 4.29 speed don't come around very often and he could be worth stashing away in hopes he could emerge as a return specialist or perhaps a slot receiver.
Mississippi RB Vashon Pearson (5110/205/4.49)
2004 stats: 158-807-3 RUSH, 7-88-0 REC
After he was declared ineligible for academic problems, Pearson was going to take a year off to improve his grades until his coach told him that he wouldn't hold a spot for him at the top of the depth chart, so he's available. A strong, quick guy with surprising strength for his size, Pearson made the bulk of his yards between the tackles. He doesn't have the elusiveness or vision to take it outside very well and lacks a second gear in the open field. But he is a natural receiver who understands the passing game and can pick up blitzes.
He has been tried as a kick returner, but without great success. A similar prospect to the Colts' Ran Carthon, he could make an NFL team as an extra back specializing in short-yardage and a special-teams tackler.
UNLV CB Charles Ealy (5106/209/4.45)
2004 stats: 25 TK, 6 AT, 1 PBU, 1 FF
Kicked off the Rebels over academic issues, Ealy is a great athlete with some college starting experience -- but hasn't really shown himself to be a top prospect. From what I've seen of him, he can hit and tackle but is a bit straight line-ish and lacking in a complete understanding of zones and coverages. He looks stocky for a cornerback to me, so his future could be at safety if he develops a better comprehension of the game.
Despite his classroom problems, he's been called a smart kid (24 on the Wonderlic) but has had some disciplinary problems. Right now he's little more than a special teams/developmental guy with little chance of being drafted unless he totally blows scouts away at his workout July 8th.
Toledo DE Jerome Walker (6054/255/4.80)
2004 stats: none
This kid is all projection. After playing just a few meaningful snaps in 2003 (eight tackles and five pressures), he was penciled in as a starting end for 2004, but missed the season after he was declared academically ineligible. He dedicated the year to school, but has since left.
Scouts say he's a fine athlete with great natural talent, but it's hard to see Walker getting much attention from the pros unless he proves himself in the CFL or Arena League first.
There's one other prospect out there who won't cost a pick. Michael Tolbert finished his degree early and has been declared a free agent by the NFL office. He can negotiate with any team.
Baylor LB Michael Tolbert (5110/240/4.69)
2004 stats: 40 TK, 13 AT, 7-23 TFL, 2-14 SK, 1 PBU
Here's an oddity — instead of having classroom problems, Tolbert is a bright kid who graduated early with a real degree. A good athlete who has had a few eye-opening games as both inside and outside linebacker in Baylor's 4-2-5 scheme, Tolbert has been plagued by injuries and hasn't been able to play for very long or with much consistency.
A text-book hitter who's better moving forward or in pursuit than in coverage, Tolbert would be a much more interesting prospect if it weren't for how often he needs the trainer.
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