Underclassmen Aren't New to the NFL Draft


General managers, scouts and coaches salivate when they look at the underclassmen eligible for this year's NFL draft. It is hardly the only time they've had a chance at some gems among college juniors and even sophomores.

Remember how Bernie Kosar got into the NFL? Brian Bosworth? Steve Walsh?

All came thanks to the supplemental draft, which is held for players who become eligible after the regular draft -- or who choose to wait and take their chances in the supplemental.

Kosar is the classic example of how to use the supplemental draft to advantage. He graduated from the University of Miami with two years of eligibility left and having led the Hurricanes to a national championship as a redshirt freshman.

A native of Boardman, Ohio, and a Cleveland Browns fan as a youngster, Kosar decided to bypass the regular draft when he saw a way for the quarterback-weak Browns to get him.

Draft rules in 1985 called for a supplemental draft in which teams picked, or passed, in the same order as the regular draft. Usually, only marginal players were involved -- the only first-round supplemental pick used before 1985 was in 1981, when New Orleans took quarterback Dave Wilson of Illinois and forfeited its top pick in 1982.

Kosar could have declared himself eligible for the regular draft. The Vikings, who picked third, even exchanged picks with Houston, which chose second, figuring it would get Kosar. Buffalo, with the top choice, already had signed Bruce Smith of Virginia Tech and could not claim Kosar.

Then the Browns traded with Buffalo for the opening selection in the supplemental draft, sending four regular choices, including Cleveland's first in 1985 and 1986, to Buffalo. Commissioner Pete Rozelle held a hearing before approving the complicated and controversial deal, over the strong objections of the Vikings.

"Bernie's kind of a homebody," said his father, Bernard. "He's been away three years, and I think he's kind of missed home. He's always been a Browns fan. Growing up, he loved them all. We always made it a family outing to go to one game a year."

Now, they can go to every game and watch Bernie lead his beloved Browns.

Kosar was not the only player available in that supplemental grab bag. He simply was the only one of any value, the only one selected--the others included a Warfield (not Paul, but Ernest, a running back from Weber State), a Griffin (not Archie, Courtney, a runner from Arizona) and a Moore (not Lenny, but Delman, a DB from Texas Tech).

By the time Bosworth became eligible in 1987, the rules were changed. Under the new system, the worst team had 28 slips in the lottery, the second-worst 27 and so on down to the champion, with one.

Seattle, with odds of 37-1 coming off a 10-6 season that was better than 16 other teams, had its slip selected. The Seahawks anxiously forfeited a 1988 first-round pick to take the controversial All-American linebacker from Oklahoma, who had been told not to come back to school by Coach Barry Switzer.

"I never even thought about Seattle," said Bosworth, who had drawn a list of teams he would be willing to join. "I've always been fond of the Raiders and the way they play. They have an attitude, and I think football is an attitude. The Raiders have a mystique about them. The Oklahoma Sooners have that same mystique about them."

"The Boz" soon had a mystique about him, especially after signing a series of 10 one-year contracts worth a total of $11 million. But, unlike Kosar, he has been a relative bust as a pro and a shoulder injury has placed his career in jeopardy.

The NFL held another supplemental draft in '87, although the league didn't necessarily want to.

Fearing a lawsuit, the league made Cris Carter of Ohio State and Charles Gladman of Pitt eligible for a supplemental draft. Carter lost his college eligibility for taking money from agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom. Gladman denied taking money but was suspended anyway for refusing to cooperate with an inquiry into the two agents.

And fearing problems with the universities that offer a free feeder system to the pros, 13 NFL teams said before the draft they would not participate.

"While we have made this decision reluctantly, it is simply not feasible for the NFL to attempt to act as the NCAA's enforcement arm in assuring college athletes' compliance with NCAA rules," league spokesman Joe Browne said.

The NFL's decision was met with criticism from many areas, not the least of which was college coaches.

"Here you have a young man who has taken money from an agent and done something to ruin his college eligibility," said Earle Bruce, then coach at Ohio State, "and he's rewarded with an NFL contract. I think the NFL has opened up a whole new can of worms with this decision."

Carter went to Philadelphia in the fourth round and Gladman was not selected and never played in the NFL.

It wasn't until last year that undergrads became acceptable in the regular draft--and only after seeking clearance from the league. Previously, just players whose classes had graduated were eligible.

Dallas was one of the first team's to take advantage of that rule, grabbing linebacker Mike Hegman in 1975.

"I have a feeling no one else knew he was eligible," Gil Brandt, then the Cowboys' VP of personnel development, said. "Obviously, I wasn't going to go around asking."

When the league finally decided it could no longer be so prohibitive in drafting procedures, it also knew the floodgates could open.

Barry Sanders was the first junior to take advantage and was picked No. 3 overall in 1989. The Heisman Trophy winner went on to a spectacular season, becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Three others--QBs Steve Walsh and Timm Rosenbach, RB Bobby Humphrey--were taken in the supplemental draft. Only Humphrey, with Denver, had much impact, while Walsh wound up costing Dallas the No. 1 selection this year.

With that pick, they could have gone for Keith McCants, Jeff George, Junior Seau or any of the 35 underclassmen accepted into this year's draft.

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