The NFL will hold its (almost) annual Supplemental Draft on Thursday, and one way or another half-dozen former college players will get a chance to pursue their professional careers.
It's quite possible that none of the six players available in this year's Supplemental Draft will be selected; however, simply by declaring themselves eligible they will be available to be signed by NFL teams as free agents in the weeks that follow. The six players who have declared for the draft are UNLV defensive end James Boyd, UNLV defensive tackle Nate Holloway, Central Florida defensive end Toby Jackson, Purdue wide receiver O.J. Ross and South Alabama defensive back Damond Smith.
These days, the Supplemental Draft does attract some media coverage, basically because anything involving the NFL draws attention, and it happens to come during the league's least active time of the year, just before training camps begin. Of course, there is no guarantee there will even be a Supplemental Draft every summer; if no players declare, then there is no need for it. That happened as recently as 2008.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have only dipped into the supplemental pool once, when they took University of Miami defensive tackle Dan Sileo in the summer of 1987. It was not a successful move for the team, as Sileo's NFL career consisted of just 10 games during that '87 campaign. Somewhat more recently, the Buccaneers ended up with fullback Darian Barnes, a Supplemental Draft entry in 2002. Barnes wasn't drafted, but he signed as a free agent with the New York Giants and was later picked up by the Buccaneers when the Giants released him. Barnes was a member of the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl championship team and appeared in 20 games total over the 2002-03 seasons.
The most famous Supplemental Draft incident came in 1985, when University of Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar ended up with the Cleveland Browns, his preferred destination. Kosar's agent helped engineer a trade of the top Supplemental Draft pick from Buffalo to Cleveland, after which Kosar declared himself eligible. That turn of events angered several other teams and directly led to a change in the way the Supplemental Draft is conducted. (It also indirectly affected the Buccaneers, who ended up picking first in the 1986 draft because Cleveland's would-be first-overall pick was forfeited; the Bucs took Auburn running back Bo Jackson, who refused to come to Tampa and chose to play baseball instead.)
Prior to the Kosar controversy, the order for the Supplemental Draft was exactly the same as the order for the proper NFL Draft held a couple months earlier. Now, it's more like the NBA Draft, with a weighted lottery system that determines the order of the picks in three groups of teams: those with six or fewer wins the year before; those with more than six wins but no playoff berth the year before; and those in the playoffs the year before. That lottery is conducted right before the draft, so the order is not yet set. The Buccaneers, who finished 7-9 last season, will be slotted somewhere in the range of picks 11-19.
If the Bucs do happen to be interested in any of this year's available players, they won't actually have to sit through a pick-by-pick draft, waiting for their turn. A team participates in the Supplemental Draft by submitting a "bid" of a certain-round pick to the league. For instance, a team could bid a third-round pick on Ross, the Purdue receiver. If no other team submits a bid of a first or second-round pick, or a third-round pick that is higher than the order, that first team would be awarded Ross. That team would then forfeit its third-round pick in next year's regular draft.
If, on the other hand, Tampa Bay passes for the 26th straight summer, they may have a lot of company. Though at least one player has been taken in each of the last eight Supplemental Drafts (skipping 2008 when, again, there was no draft conducted), analysts do not consider this year's group of available players particularly strong. There could be some interest in the two relatively similar receivers in the draft. Ross (5-10, 188) caught 56 passes for 454 yards and two scores last fall for the Boilermakers while Houston's Peace (5-11, 190) was good for 54 catches, 603 yards and two touchdowns.
In addition to weighing the value of a pick in the current Supplemental Draft against that of a pick in next year's main draft, any teams interested in one of the available prospects must also consider the circumstances that led to that player's decision to declare his eligibility.
The most common reason a player declares is that some sort of issue at his school, often academic, has made him ineligible for the upcoming college season. When that occurs, a college player who believes he has an NFL future will often decide to go straight to the professional ranks. The supplemental draft is there to save players such as these from waiting almost a whole year and missing an entire NFL season. Occasionally, it can make a significant impact on a team's season, too.
Last summer, for instance, the Browns were willing to give up a second-round pick to nab Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon ended up starting for Cleveland as a rookie and putting up good numbers – 50 catches for 805 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and five touchdowns. That second-round pick was the highest any team had been willing to part with in a supplemental draft since 1998, when the Chargers used a second-rounder to get Oklahoma State defensive tackle Jamal Williams. That one turned out well, too, as Williams made three Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro three times.
There have been eight players who entered the league as first-round picks in the Supplemental Draft, most of them quarterbacks and most during the 1980s. That list started with Illinois quarterback Dave Wilson (to New Orleans) in 1981 and then continued with Kosar in 1985. It also includes colorful Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth (to Seattle) in 1987, Miami quarterback Steve Walsh (to Dallas) in 1989, Washington State quarterback Timm Rosenbach (to Phoenix) in 1989, Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey (to Denver) in 1989, Syracuse wide receiver Rob Moore (to the N.Y. Jets) in 1990 and Duke quarterback Dave Brown (to the N.Y. Giants) in 1992.
Kosar, Humphrey and Moore are among the supplemental picks that worked out well for their teams, as was Navy offensive lineman Mike Wahle to Green Bay in 1998. Perhaps the most successful player to come out of the Supplemental Draft in league history, however, is Cris Carter, the former Ohio State receiver who started out with the Eagles but became a star in Minnesota. Carter will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this month.
This year's Supplemental Draft will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET on Thursday and will be conducted online, as it has been since the mid-2000s. You may not hear much about it, especially if all 32 teams choose to pass on the available players. Still, it will be an important day for those six young men, as it will be, in essence, the start of their professional opportunities.