Thursday, September 1, 2011

NFL Draft's Mr. Irrelevant Still Reverberates Impact On Football Today

The NFL Draft has been a roller coaster throughout history. The first draft took place in 1936, lasting nine rounds. The rounds increased each year, reaching 22 rounds in 1939.

It reached 32 rounds in 1943, then went to 30 rounds from 1948 to 1959. When the American Football League started in 1960, the NFL found itself battling with the AFL to sign players. The NFL draft was reduced to 20 rounds, while the AFL had six years of drafts in their existence before merging.

In 1967, the draft lasted 17 rounds, which was the norm until it went to 12 rounds in 1977. It has been just seven rounds since 1993, despite the fact history has given the NFL many great players chosen late in the draft.

Chris Hanburger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year despite being drafted in the 18th round of the 1965 draft by the Washington Redskins. The Chicago Bears have drafted 29 players in the last round that have played in the NFL since 1936.

Cheta Ozougwa is the 2011 Mr. Irrelevant trying to make the Houston Texans. The undersized defensive end is trying to avoid history by having an NFL career.

Only 22 players drafted last by the NFL have played pro football. Seven have been since the league went to a seven-round draft in 1993.

The Mr. Irrelevant Award has been handed out since 1976 by Paul Salata, a former wide receiver who played two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts in the All-American Football Conference. He had 74 catches and eight touchdowns in his 23 games.

After the AAFC folded, Salata was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in an allocation draft. He decided to join the Canadian Football League instead, playing five years with the Calgary Stampeders before retiring.

Salata created the "Lowsman Trophy", which is the equivalent to the Heisman Trophy for the last person drafted. A ceremony called "Irrelevant Week" soon commences, with prizes being given to the player.

Besides a banquet, there is a roast in the players honor to joke over the fact he was drafted last. A street is named after the player that week, he gets more gifts, and several legendary athletes from various sports partake in the events.

The draft has changed a great deal in length since Salata invented the term "Mr. Irrelevant". Now unfortunately just seven rounds, the NFL had 17 rounds in 1976. There were 487 men drafted in 1976 and just 254 in 2011.

The laziness of draft participation by the NFL today is baffling, consider scouting departments are laden with employees assisted by computers that have film on virtually every player from Division 1A to Division III in the college football ranks.

The overall perception is that the modern athlete is better and college football is better these days. These facts have not propelled the NFL into adding more rounds to their draft in hopes of improving the overall quality of play by unearthing gems like so many teams have done in the past.

Danny Fortmann was drafted by the Bears in 1936, and he was the fourth from last selected. The story goes that Bears Hall of Fame owner George Halas only drafted Fortmann because he liked his name. Chicago was rewarded with a Hall of Fame player.

Fred Dreher is the first player selected last in the draft to play in the NFL. The Bears selected him in 1938, the only year he played. Dreher had three catches for 69 yards and a score that lone season.

Mort Landsberg was the last pick of the 1941 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He didn't make the Steelers, but he did play with the Philadelphia Eagles that season.

World War II beckoned, so Landsberg served the Armed Forces. After the war, he played for the Los Angeles Dons in 1947.

Stu Clarkson was drafted by the Bears in 1942. He went to serve in World War II after that year, but returned to the Bears in 1946. The linebacker stayed with the team until 1951, getting 10 interceptions and a touchdown in his career.

The Philadelphia Eagles drafted hometown hero John Schweder in 1949, but he did not make the team. Schweder joined the Baltimore Colts of the All-American Football Conference in 1950 for one season before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1951, where he lasted five years.

Clay Matthews was the fifth from last player chosen in 1949. After being selected by the Los Angeles Rams, he was cut and didn't play that year. Matthews made the San Francisco 49ers in the AAFC the next year and played four seasons.

He is the father of two sons who played in the NFL. Bruce is in the Hall of Fame and Clay Jr. played over 19 seasons. Matthews has three grandchildren playing in the NFL now in Kevin, Casey, and Clay III.

Clay Matthews III is considered one of the top linebackers in the game today, and he is the only member of the family who has earned a Super Bowl ring.

Jacque MacKinnon was not only the last person drafted last in the 1961 NFL Draft, he was the eighth from last player selected in the AFL Draft. MacKinnon eschewed the Philadelphia Eagles to join the San Diego Chargers.

MacKinnon spent most of his 10 year career as a blocking fullback who paved the way for Chargers legends like Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln, and Dickie Post as the Bolts won the AFL West five times between 1960 and 1965.

San Diego had three Hall of Famers coaching in Sid Gillman, Al Davis, and Chuck Knoll. The Chargers would win the only championship in franchise history during the 1963 season.

MacKinnon was more than a bruising blocker. He was also a deep threat as a receiver, often playing tight end. He averaged 18.8 yards on 112 career receptions, scoring 20 times. MacKinnon only carried the ball in three seasons, accumulating 86 carries and two scores at a 4.4 yards per carry average.

He was so respected in the AFL, MacKinnon made the AFL All-Star squad twice. He was the first player ever to be drafted last and accomplish this feat.

The San Diego Chargers inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 1978, three years after he passed away. He is probably the greatest "Mr. Irrelevant" in pro football history.

Bobby Brezina was drafted by the Packers in 1963, but played played one game for AFL Houston Oilers.

Homer Jones, who invented the football spike after a score, was a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the New York Giants. He still holds the NFL record for yards per catch with a 22.3 career average on 224 receptions. Jones was drafted two picks ahead of Brezina.

John Sisk Jr., whose dad once played five years for the Chicago Bears, played in three games for Bears in 1964. It was a year after he was drafted.

The 1964 Chargers drafted Frank Kinard Jr., son of Hall of Famer Frank "Bruiser" Kinard, was one of five University of Mississippi players drafted by Bolts that year. Two made the made pros, but joined the NFL instead.

Bill Curry, a future NFL and college head coach, was the second to last pick in the 1964 NFL Draft. He went to two of Pro Bowls.

Tom Carr was the last pick in the 1966 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He eventually played four games for New Orleans Saints in 1968.

The 1972 draft saw Stan White and Ted Washington selected back to back with three picks left. Both linebackers lasted 11 years

Charlie Wade was the last pick in 1974 by the Miami Dolphins. He would become a member of the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Kansas City Chiefs until 1977. Wade finished with 39 catches for 683 yards and a score, all of which was in 1974 for the Bears.

Bill Kenney is the only Mr. Irrelevant to go to a Pro Bowl for the NFL. Selected by the Miami Dolphins in 1978, he was cut and was out of the league until 1980.

He started three games for the Kansas City Chiefs that year, and was their starting quarterback for much of his eight years with them. He led the NFL in passing attempts and completions in 1983, his Pro Bowl year. Kenney finished his career with the Washington Redskins in 1989.

Kenney shared the title of Mr Irrelevant of 1978 despite being the second to last pick. Lee Washburn, a guard for the Dallas Cowboys, was the final pick who never went to training camp because of an injured back.

Drew Hill, a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, was the third to last pick in 1979.

Tyrone McGriff was the last pick in 1980, by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started 10 of 16 as a rookie, 20 as a reserve next two years. McGriff then joined United States Football League for three years before retiring. He is a member of College Football Hall of Fame.

Tim Washington, the last pick in the 1982 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, played one game each for the Niners and Chiefs that year.

John Tuggle was the last pick in 1983 by the New York Giants. The fullback started five of 16 games, while getting 17 carries for 49 yards and a score. He died of cancer three years later.

Anthony Carter was selected one pick earlier than Tuggle. The wide receiver went to three Pro Bowls after finishing three years in the USFL where he won a championship and was All-USFL twice. He still holds NFL records for 642 all-purpose yards and 221 punt return yards in one postseason game.

Only eight of the 28 last round draft picks in 1987 didn't play in the NFL. Current Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, son of Hall of Famer Don Shula, was one of the eight.

Tyrone Braxton, the second to last pick, made a Pro Bowl and won two Super Bowl rings in five attempts. Fred Stokes, picked two slots ahead of Braxton, earned a Super Bowl ring as well.

Norman Jefferson was Mr. Irrelevant that year. He played two seasons for that Packers, appearing in 14 games while returning 11 kicks and punts.

Matt Elliott was the last pick in 1992 by the Washington Redskins. After playing one year in Washington, starting two of 16 games, he was out of the league a few years. Elliott joined the Carolina Panthers in 1995 and played three years there. He started in 32 of 47 games for them.

Just six of 28 picks in the last round of the1994 draft did not play in NFL, a year after the NFL shortened their draft to just seven rounds. Pro Bowl players like Gus Frerotte and Jamal Anderson were among the 22 who did.

The Denver Broncos found two starters on the offensive line in the final round. Tom Nalen and Keith Burns helped Denver win two Super Bowls. Nalen went to five Pro Bowls.

Marty Moore was the final choice in 1994, made by the New England Patriots. Moore started 11 times over six seasons, helping the Patriots reach Super Bowl XXXI.

He joined the Cleveland Browns in 2000 and started nine games before heading back to New England the next year. Though he played three games before getting hurt, he earned a Super Bowl XXXVI ring after the Patriots won the first championship in franchise history.

Michael Reed was the Carolina Panthers Mr. Irrelevant in 1995. He appeared in three games over two seasons.

Jim Finn was the final pick in 1999, made by the Bears The fullback didn't make the Bears and sat out that year, but he joined the Indianapolis Colts in 2000 and played three years with them.

Finn joined the New York Giants in 2003 and lasted four years before injuries ended his career. He has a Super Bowl XLII ring and averaged over seven yards er attempt on 60 career carries.

Mike Green was the last pick of the 2000 draft by the Bears. He became the starting strong safety in 2002, lasting three years. Green left Chicago after 2005 and was with the Seattle Seahawks in 2007 before joining the Washington Redskins the next season and retiring at the end of the year.

Ramzee Robinson was the final pick in 2007, made by the Detroit Lions After 19 games over two seasons with Detroit, Robinson spent 2009 with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. After not playing in 2010, he is trying out for the Browns this year.

David Vobora was the last pick in 2008, selected by the Saint Louis Rams After three seasons in Saint Louis, where he started 16 of 34 games at linebacker, Vobora joined the Seattle Seahawks this year.

Ryan Succop was "Mr. Irrelevant" 2009, drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. He has been the Chiefs kicker ever since he was drafted, and has 206 points so far.

While no player picked last in NFL drafts has made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, quite a few have made a significant contribution to the game. Two made Pro Bowls, and one was inducted into his franchises Hall of Fame.

Though the shortening of the drafts to seven rounds makes the surprise of "Mr. Irrelevant" making a roster much less exciting, it is quite an accomplishment for any player to get drafted. Making the team and even seeing action on the field is a huge accomplishment as well.

Though a bigger draft would be better, training camp time is shrinking and organizations today seem much less interested in finding the next "Night Train" Lane from virtual obscurity and watching them get inducted into Canton.

The NFL future of the current group of "Mr. Irrelevant's" is unknown right now, but it is quite clear their presence today makes the game better.

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