For every youngster who dreams of one day playing in the National Football league, the odds are incredibly long. You’ve all heard the “1% of 1%” high school-to-college-to-pro stats before. But the truth is, even players who manage to have a storied career at the collegiate level are far from guaranteed a spot in the NFL.
Take this year, for example. Out of the thousands of seniors (and almost 100 underclassmen) who were eligible to be drafted by NFL teams in May, only 256 got that celebrated phone call. And just being drafted does not ensure that you will ever play in a regular season contest.
Of course, football fans know that the draft isn’t always an accurate predictor of NFL success. Witness the long list of first-round draft busts (Todd Marinovich, D.J. Dozier, Lawrence Phillips, Ryan Leaf) and undrafted stars (Antonio Gates, Priest Holmes, Jeff Saturday, Arian Foster) and you’ll agree that the draft is really a bunch of (very) educated guesswork by NFL scouts.
Today, we will focus on the latter category in the 2014 draft. Most of these college standouts knew that their chances of being drafted were even money at best. But after getting snubbed, many of them signed free-agent contracts for an opportunity to compete for a job at an NFL camp this summer. They may work their way to stardom – or they will bounce around the league for a few years, working in preseason camps and sitting on practice squads, until they decide to hang up their spikes and get on with their lives.
But there are a few who have (slightly) better-than-average chances of getting to suit up for a preseason game come August. Here are the top ten players who posted brilliant college careers but still failed to hear Roger Goodell announce their names.
10. Cairo Santos, Kicker – Tulane
Signed with: Kansas City
Okay, Okay. It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of kickers that get drafted every year. And there were only two taken in this year’s draft (Arkansas’ Zack Hocker by the Redskins and Boston College’s Nate Freese by the Lions), and they went back-to-back in the last round. Still, you would think that if any kicker would get picked in the draft, it would be a friggin’ Lou Groza award winner! The Brazilian-born Santos won the award in 2012 when he went a perfect 21-for-21 in field goals, which included a Green Wave record 57-yarder and nine others of 40 yards or more. He did miss seven of 23 in 2013 during Tulane’s final year in the Superdome, but you would think a domed-NFL team would have taken a chance on his leg.
9. Dion Bailey, Safety – Southern Cal
Signed with: Seattle
Bailey might have suffered from “square peg in a round hole” syndrome that affects many college players. At 6’0″, 201 pounds, he’s a bit large for a safety and small for a linebacker. Bailey was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year playing strong side linebacker for the Trojans, and didn’t move to the secondary until last season, where he excelled as a nickel back. He left school with a year of eligibility remaining, and even though he was projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, scouts may have been turned off by his average speed. But he could make some noise in the nickel package and on special teams for the Seahawks.
8. Anthony Johnson, Defensive Tackle – LSU
Signed with: Miami
Here’s an example of the unpredictability of high school ranking systems. Johnson was the consensus #1 defensive tackle at Walker High School in 2010. He made noise as a true freshman and sophomore for the Tigers before moving into the starting lineup full-time last season and recording 35 tackles – nine for a loss – and one sack. Johnson decided to forego his senior season and was projected as high as a second round draft pick. But his technique, inconsistency, and lack of experience made the 6’2″, 308-pound lineman a “project” in the eyes of many scouts, and his performance at the NFL combine was less than stellar.
7. Loucheiz Purifoy, Cornerback – Florida
Signed with : Indianapolis
Purifoy’s athleticism and fluidity turned heads in the SEC and was a key part of Florida’s “No Fly Zone” secondary this past season. He finished his junior year with seven passes defensed, two interceptions, two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a blocked punt. Though he was projected as a mid-round pick, Purifoy also bombed at the combine with below-average speed and the worst bench-press score among DBs. It didn’t help that he was suspended for the first game last year after being arrested the previous February for marijuana possession charges (which were later dismissed). Purifoy does have a chance to make the Colts’ roster as a backup return man/special teams gunner.
6. Anthony Steen, Guard – Alabama
Signed with: Arizona
Just looking at Steen, you might not picture him as an NFL-caliber offensive lineman with his short arms and “dumpy” frame. But his scrappiness on the field is a reason why he appeared in 51 Crimson Tide games in his four years there, and even dominated the aforementioned Johnson in games against LSU. Steen is also a 500-pound bench presser with good positioning and leverage. But he has suffered a couple of concussions and had to miss the combine because of his recovery from surgical repair of a partially torn left labrum. Steen could be a great fit in a zone-blocking offensive scheme.
5. Isaiah Crowell, Running Back – Alabama State
Signed with: Cleveland
Crowell’s off-the-field troubles came back to haunt him come draft time. He originally signed with Georgia and was the Freshman of the Year in the SEC in 2010. But during the summer after his sophomore season, Crowell was arrested on three weapons charges, two of which were felonies. Though the charges were later dropped, Crowell was dismissed from the Bulldog squad and transferred to FCS Alabama State. He was the SWAC Newcomer of the Year in 2012 and was productive last year, gaining over 1100 yards despite an ankle injury. But although Crowell has great vision and quickness, he doesn’t excel in yards after contact, receiving, or pass protecting. And he has also been tagged with the “immature” label, which may have been the reason his phone didn’t ring during the draft.
4. Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver – Rutgers
Signed with: New Orleans
An underclassmen who skipped out on his senior year, and then went undrafted. See a pattern on this list? After redshirting a year, Coleman played in every game during his three seasons in a Scarlet Knights uniform, scoring on one out of every five receptions during his career. How did he manage that? He’s 6’6″, 225 pounds and can post up defensive backs easily. Despite his size, Coleman doesn’t have good speed or athleticism, and could use some improvement in pass-catching and route running. Still, it’s easy to see that with a little work, Coleman could become a threat in an NFL West Coast offense, especially in the red zone.
3. Jackson Jeffcoat, Defensive End – Texas
Signed with: Seattle
Given his surname, the son of standout Dallas Cowboy defensive end Jim Jeffcoat has had high expectations throughout his life. And he seemed to fulfill them last season when he won the Ted Hendricks Award for the nation’s top defensive end. Jeffcoat posted 82 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and an astounding 13 sacks for the Longhorns during his senior year. But his overall college career was plagued with injuries, as he sprained his ankle and tore the pectoral muscles in both of his arms. His total recovery time stunted his physical development, and he doesn’t have the strength and lower-body power that he could have had. Plus, his desire has been questioned at times. But Jeffcoat has the tools to eventually flourish in an already-loaded Seahawk defense.
2. Jordan Lynch, Quarterback – Northern Illinois
Signed with: Chicago
Given Bears’ fans love-hate relationship with Jay Cutler, Lynch and Jordan Palmer will probably be fan favorites in 2014. At Northern Illinois, Lynch put up gaudy numbers which included more than 10,000 combined rushing and passing yards, most of which came in two years’ time. Lynch was 24-4 as a starter and won the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2012, becoming the first FBS quarterback to pass for over 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,500 in the same season. Though he is a dogged competitor, Lynch is short for a QB (just six feet) and was used to run-pass options, moving pockets, and quick reads when playing for the Huskies. He’ll have to make a major adjustment to his skill set if he wants to adapt to NFL football.
1. Connor Shaw, Quarterback – South Carolina
Signed with: Cleveland
He’s the classic intangible-rich, talent-lacking QB who excelled in college but may not be suited for Sundays. Shaw was 27-5 as a starter for the Gamecocks with an unmatched work ethic and a son-of-a-coach’s understanding of the game. He posted a miraculous 24-1 TD-to-INT ratio his senior year and has consistently played through pain. But like Lynch, Shaw is undersized and played in a “gimmicky” offense in college; plus, his ball speed is very slow and his knee-injury history impacts his perceived durability. The good news is, he has the inner strength to persevere and perhaps earn a roster spot; the bad news is, he’ll be battling for one of those spots with a guy named Johnny Manziel.