April 22, 2010
For college fans, the NFL Draft extravaganza unfolding over the next three days can be as fascinating for who doesn't come off the board as for who does, or when and where they happen to go. Every spring, dozens of All-Americans, record-breakers and campus legends are passed over by the scouts, sometimes for obvious limitations -- size, speed, college system, injuries -- and sometimes for no discernible rhyme or reason at all. Not all of these former stars represent baffling oversights by the scouts, but they are the best college players at their respective positions to be left behind on draft day(s) since Mel Kiper Jr. began his plot to take over all media in 1990:
• Quarterback: Tommie Frazier, Nebraska.
The "honorable mention" list is a mile long here -- Heisman winners Charlie Ward and Jason White were snubbed by the pros, along with record-smashing spread slingers Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel last spring -- and every name on it had a better chance of making an NFL roster than Frazier, who made no pretense of pocket prowess in Nebraska's option attack. With Frazier as the engine, though, the 'Huskers steamrolled to three straight undefeated regular seasons from 1993-95, finishing off the final two with punishing, national championship-clenching wins over Miami and Florida, respectively, to punctuate a 25-game winning streak -- in fact, if not for a last-second field goal miss in the 1994 Orange Bowl, the streak would have spanned 37 games and three mythical championships in Frazier's last three seasons.
As it is, Frazier went out as the trigger man of the most thoroughly dominant team of the last two decades (the '95 'Huskers outscored opponents by 40 points per game and weren't challenged en route to their second straight title) and source of one of its most indelible moments in the 62-24 beatdown over the Gators in his final game.
• Running Back: Ken Simonton, Oregon State.
Originally recruited to USC by then-Trojan assistant Mike Riley, Simonton followed Riley to Oregon State instead, where he set the school rushing record from 1998-2001, made the cover of Sports Illustrated's summer preview issue before his senior season and fell just shy that year of becoming the first player in Pac-10 history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons on the ground. His size (5'7", 200 pounds) and disappointing finish at OSU made him a no-go in the 2001 Draft, and he's bounced between NFL practice squads and the CFL for most of the last decade.
• Running Back: Ricky Williams, Texas Tech.
Forever doomed as the other Ricky Williams in the Big 12 South, Williams outran his more famous Longhorn counterpart two years in a row in back-to-back Tech wins over Texas in 1997-98, quietly emerging as a darkhorse Heisman candidate in his own right with almost 1,800 all-purpose yards as a sophomore. His star track was derailed by a knee injury in 1999, but he returned to catch 143 total passes while still leading the team in rushing in each of new coach Mike Leach's first two seasons in 2000-01.
• Wide Receiver: Taylor Stubblefield, Purdue.
After redshirting during the Boilermakers' unlikely Rose Bowl run in Drew Brees' senior year, Stubblefield led the Big Ten's most pass-happy offense in catches four year in a row from 2001-04 and broke teammate John Standeford's NCAA record with 325 career receptions. The consummate small, slow, possession/system receiver, he wasn't even voted first-team All-Big Ten until bringing down 89 balls with 16 touchdowns as a fifth-year senior, and quickly returned to coaching following brief stints with the Panthers and Rams.
• Wide Receiver: Geoff McArthur, California.
MacArthur was almost certainly bound for the draft based on talent and production -- he was one of the symbols of the Bears' renaissance under Jeff Tedford, smashing Cal single-season records with 85 catches for 1,504 yards in 2003 and eclipsed most of the school's career records in 2004 -- but was smote by the injury gods with a freak arm fracture before the '03 Insight Bowl and a knee injury so devastating at the end of his final regular season game in 2004 that he actually asked NFL teams not to draft him the following spring, hoping to get back on the field by 2006. He's currently a graduate assistant coach at a small college in Missouri.
• Tight End: Rufus French, Ole Miss.
Somewhat overshadowed by fellow Rebels John Avery, Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn (a high school teammate), French was a first-team All-SEC pick as a sophomore and junior and the only tight end to earn major All-America honors in 1998. When he left school early for the '99 Draft, though, there were no takers.
• Tackle: Michael Muñoz, Tennessee.
Best-known as Hall-of-Famer Anthony Muñoz's kid, Michael lived up to his outsized recruiting hype as a four-year starter, freshman All-American, outstanding student and, as a senior, an All-American by the Associated Press and American Football Coaches Association in 2004. Muñoz was reportedly shocked that he wasn't selected in the '05 Draft -- he felt he'd more than adequately addressed lingering injury concerns at the combine -- and decided the snub was a sign to walk away from football rather than accept one of the many free-agent offers that came pouring in soon after.
• Tackle: Rylan Reed, Texas Tech.
Reed was ready to return to his role as a colossal minor league pitcher after beating Non-Hodkin's lymphoma in 2003, until he got word -- just days after being cleared of cancer -- that his father had been killed in a car crash. Instead of baseball, he enrolled at Texas Tech as a tight end, put up legendary numbers (including a school-record 625-pound bench press) in the weight room and eventually held down the left tackle spot for the Raiders' prolific "Air Raid" attack. In 2008, quarterback Graham Harrell was sacked 13 times in 640 pass attempts and Reed came in for All-America nods from Walter Camp and Sports Illustrated, although not for much interest from the NFL.
• Guard: Mark Dixon, Virginia.
Dixon was widely regarded as the best guard in the country and left UVA in 1993 as a consensus All-American by almost every outlet that had a vote, but was relegated to four years with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes before catching on for a solid, five-year career with the Dolphins through 2002.
• Center: Brett Romberg, Miami.
Romberg was an anchor for three of the best years in Hurricane history, allowing zero sacks for the absurdly talented 'Cane teams that ran off a 34-game win streak with a national championship from 2000-02. Future pros James Jackson, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee all delivered 1,000-yard campaigns in consecutive seasons behind Romberg and his mates, good to earn Romberg widespread All-American notice as a senior and the 2002 Rimington Trophy as the best center in the nation, but not to persuade a team to use a draft pick on him. He caught on as a free agent, though, and is still going in the NFL with his third team in seven years, the Falcons.
• Guard/Center: Dan Mozes, West Virginia.
Mozes' trajectory was similar to Romberg's, ending with overwhelming accolades in 2006, including the Rimington, after starting every game of his career for the Mountaineers' ridiculously productive spread option attack. In Mozes' last two seasons, Pat White and Steve Slaton combined to run for over 5,000 yards and 58 touchdowns, and West Virginia earned back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in school history. He landed with Vikings as a free agent before tearing his ACL and trickling to join his old coach, Rich Rodriguez, on Michigan's somewhat beleaguered strength and conditioning staff.
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Check back Thursday for the All-Undrafted Defense.