April 28, 2011
An annual homage to the best college players of the last 20 years who didn't make the scouts' cut. Part One: The All-Undrafted Offense.
For college fans, the NFL Draft extravaganza unfolding over the next four days is often 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 — too small, too slow, played in the wrong system, got hurt — 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 since Mel Kiper Jr. began his plot to take over all media in 1990.
• Quarterback: TOMMIE FRAZIER, Nebraska. The "honorable mention" list here is a mile long — Heisman winners Charlie Ward and Jason White were snubbed by the pros, along with record-smashing spread slingers Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel two — 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 Cornhuskers steamrolled to three straight undefeated regular seasons from 1993-95, finishing off the latter two with punishing, national championship-clenching wins over Miami and Florida, respectively.
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, the punctuation on a two-year, 25-game winning streak. In the end, only a last-second field goal miss in the 1994 Orange Bowl kept Nebraska from three straight perfect seasons.
• 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-foot-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: TREVOR COBB, Rice. His name doesn't waft up from the dust of the old Southwest Conference like Doak Walker, Earl Campbell or Eric Dickerson, but when the league cracked up in 1996, no player in the entire 75-year existence of the SWC had produced more all-purpose yards than Cobb from 1989 to 1992. His 1,692-yard season on the ground in 1991 earned him All-America nods and the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the country as a junior, and helped him go out the following year as the eighth-leading rusher in Division I history.
• 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, eventually breaking teammate John Standeford's NCAA record with 325 career receptions. The consummate small, slow, possession/system receiver, Stubblefield 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 free-agent stints with the Panthers and Rams.
• Wide Receiver: DANARIO ALEXANDER, Missouri. Alexander bided his time as a steady possession receiver behind all-purpose star Jeremy Maclin in 2007-08, but made the best of his turn as the Tigers' offensive headliner as a senior: His 1,781 yards in 2009 led the nation and earned him multiple All-America nods after a spectacular November to close the regular season. The pros were initially scared off when Alexander couldn't pass a physical before the draft — he underwent four surgeries on his right knee alone at Mizzou — but it didn't take him long to catch as a productive rookie on with the St. Louis Rams.
• 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 almostevery 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 enough 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 bounced through the league for seven years before being released by the Falcons last September.
• 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 for over 5,000 yards and 58 touchdowns on the ground, and West Virginia earned back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in school history.
Mozes landed with Vikings as a free agent before tearing his ACL and rejoining his old mentors, head coach Rich Rodriguez and strength coach Mike Barwis, on Michigan's beleaguered strength and conditioning staff in 2009; with that gig up in smoke, he's currently the advertising director for Barwis' private training company, The Barwis Method.
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Later today: The All-Undrafted Defense.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.