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NFL supplemental draft prospects face long odds

The SportsXchange

Should any of the eight prospects available in Thursday's supplemental draft be chosen, they already will have defied the laws of probability.

They face much steeper odds, though, when it comes to having a productive NFL career.

"It's a catch-up game all the way," said Chicago running back Harvey Unga, taken by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2010 supplemental draft, but yet to appear in a game because of injuries and personal reasons. "No matter how good a learner you are, you have to work so hard to get caught up."

Any player chosen Thursday will have missed all of his new team's offseason OTAs and minicamps and will have less than three weeks to get up to speed, mentally and physically, before the start of training camp.

The task of earning a spot on an NFL roster, even with the benefit of offseason work, is plenty challenging enough. Taking the supplemental route is considerably more daunting for prospects.

It's a crash course and most players, well, crash.

"It's hard, because you're kind of like the kid who starts classes a month or two (into the semester)," acknowledged former tailback Tony Hollings, selected by Houston in the second round in 2003. "You're behind from Day One."

Hollings, a former Georgia Tech standout, is the highest-chosen player taken in the supplemental draft since 1999, and his brief and nondescript history in the league kind of mirrors the resumes of many supplemental prospects. Hollings appeared in 23 regular-season games for the Texans in three seasons (2003-2005) and started just one contest. He logged 23 rushes for 102 yards and never scored a touchdown. He never played a snap after '05 in the NFL, was released by the New York Jets in camp in 2007 and kicked around Europe with three different teams before retiring.

The cautionary tales of players such as Unga and Hollings, regarded as two of the more attractive prospects in the supplemental drafts of the past several years, are prime examples of the general lack of intrigue in a lottery essentially designed for "special case" players -- those who lost or forfeited their college eligibility for various reasons. Even at the most fallow time of the year for the league, news-wise, the supplemental draft generates barely a blip, certainly nothing compared to the rapt attention paid the regular-phase draft in April.

And there's a reason: Ten of the 41 players chosen in the supplemental draft since its inception in 1977, when the Seattle Seahawks tabbed Notre Dame running back Al Hunter with a fourth-round choice, never played a regular-season snap. Nineteen either never did (before their retirements) or never have started in a regular-season contest. The most recent four players selected in the supplemental draft -- defensive linemen Jeremy Jarmon (Washington, third round, 2009) and Josh Brent (Dallas, seventh, 2010), Unga, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Oakland, third, 2011) -- have accumulated one start among them.

Pryor, the former Ohio State standout, is one of the more compelling prospects from the supplemental draft in recent seasons. He certainly wasn't helped by the lockout last season and appeared in just one game for the Raiders. But even with exposure to minicamps and OTAs this spring, Pryor will be no better than the top backup for the Raiders.

Clearly, even in the best of circumstances, supplemental players are well behind the learning curve. And as noted above, there are various reasons, few of them good and many of them off-field factors, for inclusion in the supplemental draft.

The eight prospects for the Thursday lottery are: Boise State defensive back Quaylon Ewing, Utah wide receiver Josh Gordon, running back Adam Harris of Syracuse, tackle Adrian Haughton of Iowa State, Carson-Newman linebacker Larry Lumpkin, Georgia defensive end Montez Robinson, wide receiver Houston Tuminello of McMurray and running back Ed Wesley of TCU.

Of the eight players, Gordon, Wesley and Lumpkin appear to have received the most attention. Gordon worked out for the representatives of 21 franchises on Tuesday, and seems to be generating some buzz. But there are character red flags around Gordon, who two years ago caught 42 passes at Baylor as one of Robert Griffin III's favorite targets, but who was suspended from the Baylor squad for allegedly failing a marijuana test, then transferred to Utah, where he never played at all before he entered the supplemental.

Gordon possesses NFL-level size, and decent speed, but sustained a quad injury in his Tuesday audition. There have been rumblings that some receiver-needy club might invest as high as a second-round choice in Gordon. But only 11 of the 41 men taken in the history of the supplemental draft were chosen higher than the third round, and five of them were quarterbacks.

Said a veteran area scout from one team, when speaking of the supplemental draft in general: "You have to do your due diligence on these guys but, given the lack of success rate, it's kind of a (boondoggle). To be truthful, it's a pain."

Pain, not pleasure, has been the experience of most teams that venture into the supplemental draft, where they must forfeit a choice in the corresponding round in which they select a player, in the following year's supplemental draft.

The average player from the supplemental drafts has logged 42.1 appearances and 26.0 starts. Even eliminating the 10 prospects chosen since 1999, to make the games-played numbers a bit more relevant, the averages are only 46.3 appearances and 30.6 starts.

Just five players taken in the supplemental draft carved out careers of 100 games ore more. Wide receiver Cris Carter, chosen by Philadelphia in the fourth round in 1987, is the lone supplemental player to play 200 or more games. Carter is the lone supplemental player to be a Hall of Fame finalist. The supplemental draft has produced just six Pro Bowl players, Carter accounts for half of the 16 berths in the all-star game, and only wide receiver Rob Moore (Jets, first round, 1990), and nose tackle Jamal Williams (Chargers, second round, 1998), are the lone supplemental picks beyond Carter to have appeared in multiple Pro Bowl contests.

There hasn't been a Pro Bowl player who entered the league as a supplemental pick since Williams and offensive lineman Mike Wahle (Green Bay, second round, 1998).

There have been some supplemental picks who panned out, such as Carter; Williams; Wahle; Moore; quarterbacks Bernie Kosar, Dave Wilson and Dave Brown; offensive tackle Jared Gaither; linebacker Ahmad Brooks; defensive lineman Darren Mickell; and running back Bobby Humphrey. But more often than not, there are busts such as linebacker Brian Bosworth, defensive tackle Manuel Wright, and quarterback Timm Rosenbach.

Only twice, in 1987 and '89, were there more than two players taken in the draft. In the past 10 years, there were only two instances with more than one player. For 1989, when a record five players were chosen in the supplemental, including the quarterbacks Rosenbach and Steve Walsh, two of the prospects never played a single down in the league.

So the risk, it seems, is far greater than the reward. And while the dismal history has not dissuaded players from entering the summer draft, is usually has curtailed clubs from participating, and that figures to be the case on Thursday as well.

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Draft time:
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