The NFL will be holding its 2011 Supplemental Draft next Wednesday. This year’s Supplemental Draft is notable because Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor may or may not be eligible. (As of this writing, he is not.) Even if the NFL doesn’t clear Pryor, a team might take a chance on Georgia running back Caleb King (“might” being the operative word), who is academically ineligible to play in Athens in 2011.
Unlike the regular draft, where teams pick a player whenever their turn comes up, teams in the Supplemental Draft bid on players using their draft picks for the following season. For example, say the Cleveland Browns decide that Terrelle Pryor would make a nice back-up to Colt McCoy and bid their third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Then, say that the Cincinnati Bengals decide to out-Ohio their division rivals and bid a second-round pick on Pryor. The Bengals would get Pryor and lose their second-round pick in the 2012 draft. The Browns would move on as if nothing had happened.
The NFL established the Supplemental Draft in 1977 for the benefit of players who, for one reason or another, didn’t register for the regular draft. Once upon a time, players could only enter the NFL Draft if they had graduated from college or had exhausted their college eligibility. Several players who graduated early, but not in time to register for the regular draft, entered the Supplemental Draft. Nowadays most players who enter the Supplemental Draft have been declared ineligible for their senior seasons, usually for academic or behavioral issues.
Since its inception in 1977, 40 players have been taken in the Supplemental Draft. Only a handful have made meaningful contributions to NFL franchises. The 40 Supplemental Draft selections have 16 Pro Bowl appearances between them. Cris Carter is responsible for half of those.
Here are the 12 best players ever taken in the Supplemental Draft.
12. Brian Bosworth—Oklahoma, 1987
After being twice named a First-Team All American at Oklahoma, Brian Bosworth was a rock star in 1987. One local radio station recorded a parody of “La Bamba” (Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba”, released in conjunction with the movie of the same name, was very popular at the time) called “La Bosworth” that I cannot find anywhere on the Internet; this is the first time the Internet has let me down. “The Boz” started making Right Guard commercials as soon as he went pro.
Boz graduated one-year early, allowing him to enter the Supplemental Draft. Prior to the draft, he sent letters to several teams saying that he wouldn’t report to training camp if they drafted him. The Seattle Seahawks, who were not one of those teams, took Bosworth with a first-round pick. He played well in 12 games his rookie season, but not well enough to live up to his $11 million contract, the highest ever for an NFL rookie at that time. His most memorable moment from that rookie campaign was probably getting run over by Bo Jackson on Monday Night Football.
A shoulder injury forced Boz to retire in 1989 after barely two years in the league. Once he was out of football, Bosworth decided to do this:
11. Jared Gaither—Maryland, 2007
Offensive tackle—Ravens (2007–2010); Chiefs (2011)
Jared Gaither, who was born and raised in Maryland and played college ball for the Terrapins, didn’t have far to go when the Ravens drafted him with a fifth-round pick in the 2007 Supplemental Draft. In his second year in Baltimore, Gaither became a full-time starter, but a back injury sidelined him for the 2010 season. Yesterday he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
10. Steve Walsh—Miami (FL), 1989
Quarterback—Cowboys (1989–1990); Saints (1990–1993); Bears (1994–1995); Rams (1996); Buccaneers (1997–1998); Colts (1999)
Steve Walsh, who had led The U to a national championship as a sophomore, skipped the 1989 draft and entered the Supplemental Draft because his agent thought it would be a good idea. (Back then, you didn’t have to have a good reason.)
The Cowboys used a first-round pick to take Walsh, who would spend his first two years in the league backing up Troy Aikman (whom the Cowboys had selected with the first pick in the regular draft). Walsh played 11 seasons in the NFL, mostly as a backup. He started 11 games for the Bears in 1994 and 7 for the Saints in 1992. For his career, he started 22 games and compiled a passer rating of 66.4 (with a 54.1% completion percentage, 40 touchdowns, and 50 interceptions).
9. Dave Brown—Duke, 1992
Quarterback—Giants (1992–1997); Cardinals (1998–2001)
Duke QB Dave Brown graduated one year early, as Duke athletes are prone to do. Having missed out on the 1992 NFL Draft, he entered the Supplemental Draft. The Giants used a first-round pick to take Brown as a backup quarterback (which was an odd move for a team with two Super Bowl-winning QBs on its roster).
In his third season, following Phil Simms’s retirement, Brown won the starting job and led the Giants to a 9–7 record. He lost his starting job in 1997 and finished his career as a backup for the Cardinals. Brown’s career statistics aren’t great, but for the purposes of this list they were significantly better than Steve Walsh’s.
8. Tito Wooten—Northeast Louisiana, 1994
Defensive back—Giants (1994–1998); Colts (1999)
The Giants used a fourth-round pick in 1994 to take safety Tito Wooten out of Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe). Wooten began his career with the Giants as a special teams player but cracked the starting lineup in his third season. In 1997 he had a break-out year, running back 5 interceptions for a total of 146 yards.
Colts coach Jim Mora suspended Wooten in the middle of the 1999 season for missing a bed check and not showing up at the team hotel until 5 a.m. The Colts waived Wooten in the off-season, and he never returned to the NFL.
7. Darren Mickell—Florida, 1992
Defensive tackle—Chiefs (1992–1995); Saints (1996–1999); Chargers (2000); Raiders (2001)
In the summer of 1992, Florida coach Steve Spurrier kicked Darren Mickell off of the team for undisclosed violations of team rules. Unable to play his final season with the Gators, Mickell became eligible for the Supplemental Draft, where Kansas City took him with a second-round pick. Mickell was never a star, but he played 10 seasons in the NFL, starting 61 games for the Chiefs, Saints, and Chargers.
6. Bobby Humphrey—Alabama, 1989
Running back—Broncos (1989–1992); Dolphins (1992–1993)
Afraid that injuries might end his football career before he had a chance to sign an NFL contract, Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey decided not to return to Tuscaloosa as a fifth-year senior, opting instead to enter the Supplemental Draft. The Broncos used a first-round pick on Humphrey, and it paid off. In his rookie season, Humphrey rushed for more than 1,100 yards and was Denver’s leading rusher in Super Bowl XXIV. (Granted, the Broncos lost that game to the 49ers 55–10.) Humphrey’s sophomore campaign was even better: He rushed for 1,202 yards and earned his only trip to the Pro Bowl.
In 1991 Humphrey held out for a new contract. The decision cost him almost the entire season. (He rushed for 33 yards on 11 attempts in 4 games that year.) In 1992, the Broncos traded Humphrey to the Dolphins. He started one game and scored two touchdowns in 1992. He was out of the league following the 1993 season.
5. Mike Wahle—Navy, 1998
Guard—Packers (1998–2004); Panthers (2005–2007); Seahawks (2008)
Offensive lineman Mike Wahle forfeited his final year of eligibility at Navy when he tested positive for steroids. (He was excused from his service obligation after reaching a financial agreement with the Naval Academy.) In 11 NFL seasons, Wahle started 138 games. In 2005 he was named to the All-Pro Team and selected for the Pro Bowl.
4. Rob Moore—Syracuse, 1990
Wide receiver—Jets (1990–1994); Cardinals (1995–2001)
Rob Moore had one year of eligibility remaining at Syracuse in 1990, but he managed to graduate in three years. Having missed the deadline for the 1990 NFL Draft, he declared for the Supplemental Draft. The Jets nabbed him with a first-round pick. In 12 NFL seasons, Moore gained more than 9,000 yards receiving and was named to two Pro Bowls.
3. Bernie Kosar—Miami (FL), 1985
Quarterback—Browns (1985–1993); Cowboys (1993); Dolphins (1994–1996)
In 1985 University of Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar would have been eligible for the regular draft, despite having played only two years of college ball. Back then, the three-year rule didn’t apply; players had to complete college, either by graduating or by exhausting their eligibility. Kosar was on schedule to graduate the summer following his sophomore year.
Kosar, who was from Ohio, wanted to play for the Browns. And the Browns badly needed a quarterback. So Kosar and the Browns gamed the system. The Browns traded for Buffalo’s 1986 first-round pick, a pick they could use in the 1985 Supplemental Draft. (The Bills had the first pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft.) Kosar, still a sophomore in college, waited until after the 1985 Draft to formally declare his intentions to play in the NFL. (He had informally declared his intentions on several occasions.) Kosar got his wish, much to the chagrin of all the teams that had planned on taking him in the regular draft.
In the late 1980s Kosar thrice led the Browns to the AFC Championship Game, and in 1987 the Associated Press named him to the All-Pro team. But Kosar didn’t last long after Bill Belichick came to Cleveland. Kosar spent his final years in the league as a back-up for Troy Aikman and Dan Marino.
2. Jamal Williams—Oklahoma State, 1998
Nose tackle—Chargers (1998–2009); Broncos (2010)
Jamal Williams had planned to return for his senior season at Oklahoma State but could not, because he was declared academically ineligible. Williams’s academic struggles were a blessing for the San Diego Chargers, who took him with a second-round pick in the Supplemental Draft.
In his 12 seasons as a Charger, Williams started 122 games, played in three Pro Bowls, and was named to three All-Pro teams. In 2009 the Chargers selected Williams as a member of their 50th Anniversary Team.
1. Cris Carter—Ohio State, 1987
Wide receiver—Eagles (1987–1989); Vikings (1990—2001); Dolphins (2002)
If and when the Selection Committee decides to stop keeping him waiting for no good reason, Cris Carter will become the first player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to have come into the NFL through the Supplemental Draft.
Carter didn’t enter the regular draft following his junior season at Ohio State, but he did sign with an agent. He tried to keep the signing a secret, but the secret got out. (It always does.) Carter was ruled ineligible for his senior season and entered the Supplemental Draft. Philadelphia took him with a 4th round pick.
Drug and alcohol abuse cut short Carter’s tenure with the Eagles. Coach Buddy Ryan cut him after three seasons. Carter rehabilitated his life and his career in Minnesota, where he would be named to 8 consecutive Pro Bowl squads. Carter ranks in the top 10 all time in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Josh Tinley is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/joshtinley or send him an e-mail.