North Carolina State's Richard Washington is one of seven young men hoping to be selected in Thursday's NFL Supplemental Draft
We used to call it the "invisible draft," but these days nothing the National Football League does escapes media scrutiny.
Such is the case of the NFL's annual supplemental draft, which will be conducted this Thursday. There are several reasons why the little cousin of April's big draft has mostly escaped notice, the most notable being that it doesn't always exist.
That is, the league conducts a supplemental draft about three months after the main event only if there are young men who need to be drafted. If, between April's draft and training camp, there are no players who declare their intention to join the NFL inmediatemente, there is no reason to hold a selection meeting between the 32 teams.
There will be a supplemental draft this year, though, and it has drawn more than a little attention. It could be one of the most active summer drafts in years, and it includes at least one high-profile prospect. Last year, five players declared for the supplemental draft and one, USC defensive end Manuel Wright, was selected. The Miami Dolphins took Wright in the fifth round, but he had very little impact as a rookie.
This year, seven players have declared, led by Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Like Wright, he is the type of prospect that probably would have interested teams on the first day of the draft had he been available in April. The other six young men who are hoping to entice an NFL team to give up a draft pick in the middle of summer are Connecticut offensive linemen Craig Berry, Iowa State defensive end Jason Berryman, Texas fullback Ahmad Hall, Texas defensive tackle Marco Martin, North Carolina State running back/wide receiver Richard Washington and linebacker David Dixon, most recently of Hutchinson Community College.
Any team interested in one or more of those prospects has to weigh its interest against the value it places in the 2007 draft. To make a selection in the supplemental draft, a club has to give up the corresponding pick in the following spring's selection meeting. That's why the Dolphins were skipped in the fifth round this past April.
The order of the supplemental draft resembles the one used in April and is still based primarily on the previous season's win-loss records. However, it also involves a lottery system similar to that of the NBA, with the teams first grouped into three categories: Those with six or fewer wins the previous year, those with more than six wins but no playoff berth and those who made the playoffs.
The July draft is not conducted linearly like the one in April, however.
For the better part of the last three decades, the NFL conducted its supplemental draft via a conference call. Most of the time, that involved one team after another saying, "Pass." Last year, the league conducted the draft on-line for the first time, making it easier for teams to skip their turns and hold onto their picks for the following spring. For each round, every team electronically and simultaneously sends in their intentions to draft or not draft a player in that round. If more than one team tries to nab the same player in the same round, the team highest in the selection order gets its man.
The method is new, but the midsummer draft is anything but. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have even gotten involved on occasion. In 1987, the Bucs gave up their third-round pick in '88 to get Miami nose tackle Dan Sileo. That didn't prove to be a pick well spent, as Sileo played in only 10 games as a Buccaneer.
Across the league, some of the most famous supplemental draft picks include quarterback Bernie Kosar, quarterback Steve Walsh and linebacker Brian Bosworth. The Kosar pick in the summer of 1985, which cost Cleveland a first-round pick in 1986, actually turned into a twist of fate for the Buccaneers. The Browns owned the Buffalo Bills' first-round pick for '86 and used that one to nab Kosar; had they not, they would have picked first overall in the 1986 draft, as Buffalo finished with the league's worst record in 1985. With that pick already off the board, the Buccaneers slid into the top spot in 1986 and used it on Auburn running back Bo Jackson, who refused to come to Tampa and chose to play baseball instead.
Bernie Kosar one year, Manuel Wright the next. Some years, there are no players on the list at all. The value available in the supplemental draft fluctuates wildly, mostly because it is rarely a player's Plan A. Often a young man ends up in the supplemental draft due to unforeseen circumstances that arise between mid-April and June.
The most common reason: Some sort of issue at the player's 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.
That's why even those players who don't have high hopes of being selected in the supplemental draft still declare their eligibility. If they aren't drafted, they can subsequently be signed as free agents. That was the path that former Buccaneers fullback Darian Barnes took to the NFL in 2002. Barnes was one of four players to declare for the supplemental draft that year, but none were chosen. He later signed on with the New York Giants as a free agent and ended up in Tampa that fall. Barnes played in 20 games before being traded to Dallas in the spring of 2004.
So, are the Bucs potential players in this week's draft, or will all of their e-mails have "No thanks" in the subject lines? You won't see the answer broadcast live on ESPN – the supplemental draft still isn't that big – but you will know by Thursday afternoon. With seven applicants, including a linebacker named Brooks, this year's draft is certainly worth following.