Every year, the last player selected in the NFL draft earns the title of Mr. Irrelevant, a label that packages a fundamental insult as a mild schoolyard taunt directed at the last kid picked at recess: Congratulations, after years of striving and sacrificing, you’ve achieved a commendable level of professional obsolescence! This year’s avatar of futility is Louisville tight end Gerald Christian, who realized his life’s dream when the Cardinals drafted him with the 256th and final pick, and who took the ensuing mockery in stride: “I’m hearing now I get to go be in a parade and all type of stuff,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy it.” The list of 255 players taken ahead of Christian included a punter, arguably the worst starting quarterback in the Big Ten, and a long-snapper from the Naval Academy who will likely have to fulfill a five-year military commitment before he ever sees the field.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, Christian was one of the chosen few: For every player actually drafted over the weekend, a hopeful waited in vain for a call that never came, forming a substratum of prospects so irrelevant in the NFL’s eyes that they could only aspire to Christian’s tag. At least Christian and the long-snapper from Navy were, you know, chosen. The overlooked will see their pro careers begin in the indifferent backwater of undrafted free agency, which is also where the vast majority of them will end. The hatchling who survives training camp to become the next Malcolm Butler will inevitably leave casualties in his wake.
In that sense, for college football fans, the draft is often as interesting (and occasionally bewildering) because of the players who don’t make the cut as because of the ones who do. From the pool of players that this year’s drafters deemed expendable, we’ve singled out 10 college headliners who hardly appeared to be destined for the scrap heap based on their decorated amateur careers. They are the 2015 Undrafted All-Stars.
Cody Prewitt, DB, Ole Miss
Status: Prewitt signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans.
While prepping for this piece, I put together a sort of reverse mock draft of 76 candidates who were either unlikely to be drafted or were on the bubble, and every other player featured in this article comes from that initial group. But it never occurred to me to include Prewitt, a two-time All-SEC pick1 whose combination of size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds), experience (41 starts), and production (247 tackles, 12 interceptions) as a captain of the no. 1 scoring defense in the nation in 2014 seemed to mark him as one of the safest defensive backs in the entire class despite concerns over his speed.
Before the draft, Prewitt delivered a solid week at the Senior Bowl and was considered a likely midround pick who could have conceivably gone as high as Round 2. Instead, he watched as 13 other safeties went off the board, half of whom carried an equal or lower grade according to NFL.com. Prewitt never caused so much as a ripple off the field at Ole Miss, but short of personal issues that have yet to come to light, no 2015 draft snub makes less sense.
Reese Dismukes, OL, Auburn
Status: Dismukes signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Like Prewitt, Dismukes found his niche early and thrived there, ultimately logging 50 starts at center and earning back-to-back All-SEC nods in 2013 and ’14. As a senior, he was honored as a consensus All-American and the winner of the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s best center. Dismukes’s position coach called him “the smartest offensive lineman I have ever coached, by far.” Even scouting reports that dissed Dismukes’s athleticism went out of their way to acknowledge him as a leader in the locker room, where he served as a team captain the past two years.
Given all of that, it’s hard to know how seriously to take late-breaking rumors that Dismukes’s stock fell in part because of questions about his ability to be a good teammate “to all segments of the locker room,” or even what, exactly, that wording was meant to imply. But the murmurs turned out to be prescient, with Dismukes slipping from his forecasted mid- to late-round slot to free agency. Now, the Steelers stand to benefit.
Zach Vigil, LB, Utah State
Status: Vigil signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins.
Barely anyone east of the Rockies has noticed, but Utah State has evolved from a perennial doormat into a perennial defensive power: In the past three years, the Aggies have finished atop their conference (the WAC in 2012, the Mountain West in 2013 and 2014) in scoring defense and among the top dozen teams nationally. Not coincidentally, they’re also one of only 14 teams that have won at least 30 games over that span, easily the best run in school history.
If any individual player embodies that trajectory, it’s Vigil, a former walk-on turned heat-seeking tackle machine whose alleged lack of speed and instincts didn’t stop him from racking up more than 100 tackles in each of those campaigns, or from setting a school record for career tackles for loss, with 43.5. As a senior, he finished second nationally in tackles, turned a pair of turnovers into touchdowns, and was voted MWC Defensive Player of the Year. If scouts cared half as much about celebratory postgame musketry as they should, Vigil would have been a no-brainer. As it is, he’s no stranger to playing his way out of obscurity.
Mike Hull, LB, Penn State
Status: Hull signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins.
Physically, the 6-foot, 237-pound Hull never stood much chance of being mistaken for the next Paul Posluszny, NaVorro Bowman, or Sean Lee in shorts. On the field, though, his results were indistinguishable from those of his more touted Penn State predecessors: Hull racked up a whopping 140 tackles last year en route to a first-team All-Big Ten nod from conference coaches, sharing all-conference honors with fourth-round draftees Jake Ryan (Michigan/Packers) and Damien Wilson (Minnesota/Cowboys). Penn State led the league in yards and points allowed and somehow ranked second nationally in yards per carry allowed with Hull and his extremely short arms holding down the middle.
Then again, it wasn’t exactly a banner draft for Big Ten linebackers, with Ryan and Wilson turning out to be the only ones taken. If those two prove good enough to make it onto a regular-season roster, there’s no reason to think Hull won’t be.
Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama
Status: DePriest signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens.
The nature of this list dictates that most of the guys on it will fall into the category of scrappy overachievers, but everything about DePriest’s résumé betrays his blue-chip pedigree: He was a five-star recruit in high school, a three-year starter at Alabama, and a first-team All-SEC pick as a senior, a combination that might fairly be expected to yield the Platonic ideal of an NFL prospect.
Instead, scouts came away deeply unimpressed with DePriest’s speed and his limited range in space. He skipped combine workouts because of injury and turned in a subpar time at Alabama’s pro day, where one scout described him as “fat and messy,” adding, “I was hoping [DePriest] would be a Vontaze Burfict guy, a guy who didn’t run fast but wound up being a good player.” Considering that Burfict was also ignored after a disastrous performance in predraft workouts, maybe DePriest still can. He certainly wound up in the right city to try: Former Bama running mates C.J. Mosley and Courtney Upshaw are already entrenched in Baltimore.
Jacoby Glenn, CB, Central Florida
Status: Glenn signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears.
A few weeks ago, I endorsed Glenn as a late-round sleeper, arguing that his production as a two-time all-conference pick in the American Athletic Conference, where Glenn was also the co–defensive player of the year in 2014, more than compensated for his lack of ideal size or speed. Shockingly, NFL teams ignored my advice, picked Glenn’s far-less-decorated AAC counterpart Byron Jones in the first round, and left Glenn to twist in the wind while 33 other cornerbacks came off the board.
Given how it turned out, it’s tempting to scoff at Glenn’s decision to leave UCF with two years of eligibility remaining, years he’ll now spend trying to defy the odds on the league margins. Frankly, though, if teams weren’t impressed enough with his existing body of work to overlook his physical limitations, another two years of All-AAC-ing would have been much less likely to sway them than an eye-opening turn in a minicamp.
Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State
Status: Drummond signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans.
Draft-day snubs are getting to be something of a Michigan State tradition: Last year, hyper-productive, All–Big Ten linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough were the ones left on the board; this year, it was Drummond, a ball-hawking three-year starter who capped his MSU career in 2014 with a first-team All-Big Ten pick according to conference coaches and a first-team All-American nod according to the Football Writers Association of America. Like Prewitt, Drummond was projected to be a midround pick in a relatively weak safety class but fell through the cracks for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious.
It seems impossible that the leading tackler on one of the stingiest defenses in the nation was overlooked because of doubts about his ability to tackle — or that he won’t be able to correct that mischaracterization if given half a shot.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Status: Marshall signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Marshall never stood a chance of being taken seriously as a potential pro passer, and at this point, there’s little reason to suspect that his bid to catch on as a cornerback will turn out any better. Still, for two years his specific skills behind center were a match made in heaven for Gus Malzahn’s option-friendly Auburn offense. Marshall probably never received as much credit as he deserved for his perfectly adequate arm, or even for leading the Tigers within seconds of a national championship in 2013, just one year after the last-place debacle that preceded his and Malzahn’s arrival. Altogether, Marshall accounted for 57 total touchdowns in 2013 and ’14, a school record for a two-year span.
More to the point, he was a genuinely exciting player who filled an essential role in two of the most immortal endings the sport has ever seen — on consecutive weekends! — and for that he will live forever, whether or not the Jaguars succeed in turning him into the next Denard Robinson.
Michael Dyer, RB, Louisville
Dyer is already well into the depressing “what could have been” phase of his career, a stigma he’s had to endure since being booted from Auburn a little more than three years ago. So much time has passed since then that it’s easy to overlook just how much potential he really had up to that point. In his first year on the Plains, Dyer lived up to his five-star recruiting hype by smashing Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record and taking home MVP honors in Auburn’s BCS championship win over Oregon; as a sophomore, he picked up a first-team All-SEC nod after racking up more than 1,200 yards rushing in 12 games.
By contrast, he never looked like the same player at Louisville,2 where he seemed to lack the explosiveness he exhibited at Auburn and was reduced to being a part-time role player. Still, if Dyer can get into a camp and practice at 100 percent, providing any glimpse of his old self will make him difficult to dismiss as just another body.
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Dyer briefly enrolled at Arkansas State and Arkansas Baptist, but he never played a down for either team.
Cato’s career at Marshall was often defined by unfair comparisons to his childhood peer from Miami, Teddy Bridgewater, and to Thundering Herd illuminati Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington. But on paper, Cato actually measured up just fine: With the offense all to himself for the past four years, Cato obliterated the benchmarks set by Leftwich and Pennington for career passing yards (14,079) and passing touchdowns (131), and he headlined a 13-1 campaign in 2014 that holds up against any season in Marshall’s turn-of-the-century heyday.
But unlike his decorated predecessors, both of whom went in the first round after finishing in the top six in Heisman voting as seniors, Cato never quite broke into the national consciousness, and he was flat-out ignored by the NFL because of his guy-off-the-street frame: He wasn’t invited to the combine, and at his pro day, he measured just 6-feet, 178 pounds. Cato has skills that could translate to the pro game, but his inability to latch onto an NFL franchise is the latest sobering reminder that when projecting to the next level, no numbers mean quite as much as the ones on the scale.
Honorable Mention: Alabama QB Blake Sims (TBD); Baylor WR Antwan Goodley (Cowboys); East Carolina QB Shane Carden (Bears); Houston WR Deontay Greenberry (Cowboys); Indiana WR Shane Wynn (Falcons); Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller (Chargers); Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace (Chiefs); Stanford LB A.J. Tarpley (Bills); TCU S Chris Hackett (Buccaneers); Virginia S Anthony Harris (Vikings); Washington State QB Connor Halliday (Redskins); Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch (TBD).