The NFL’s supplemental draft has been an afterthought in recent years, but three defensive backs expected to apply for eligibility this year could make it a far more interesting process.
Virginia Tech cornerback Adonis Alexander, Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal and Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant all are expected to petition the NFL for entry into the supplemental draft, which takes place on July 11, according to NFLDraftScout.com. Teams seeking defensive back help could make a late rookie addition with any of the three and have them eligible to report to training camp a few weeks later.
Beal, who turns 22 in August, was considered a possible top prospect for the 2019 draft at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. Beal was a second-team all-MAC selection in 2017 after collecting two interceptions (including an athletic red-zone pick off Jets first-round QB Sam Darnold), one forced fumble, 26 tackles, three tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups in 11 starts.
Beal originally considered entering the 2018 NFL draft but told reporters he intended to return to school to get his degree. But academic issues almost certainly would have prevented Beal from being eligible this fall, so he made the choice to enter the supplemental draft — and he could be the highest of the three selected. Broncos coach Tim Lester told Yahoo Sports that Beal was “a joy to coach,” praised his talent and work ethic and said he wished he could have coached Beal another year.
In fact, Beal is well enough regarded in the NFL that he could be the highest supplemental pick since Josh Gordon was a second-round selection in 2012. It’s also possible that all three players are selected, if they're officially granted entry, which would make this one of the more intriguing supplemental draft cycles in some time — a rare late chance for NFL teams to add talent, especially at cornerback, which often is a position of great need any time of year.
The 6-3, 207-pound Alexander, 21, played in nine games last season (starting two) with one interception, a sack, a forced fumble and five pass breakups. He has seven career INTs in 34 games (15 starts), including four picks in a promising 2015 freshman campaign. Academic issues and suspensions — one from a positive marijuana test — have clouded his on-field performance.
The 5-11, 215-pound Bryant originally considered transferring in April amid academic issues but changed course to give the NFL a shot. He once was clocked at 4.24 in the 40-yard dash with the Bulldogs and had a strong freshman season in 2015 with 63 tackles (third among all SEC freshmen), three interceptions and one run back for a score. But Bryant, who turns 23 in December, has been inconsistent since and reportedly questioned his own love for the game following the loss of his father to a motorcycle accident in 2016.
There is no question that Alexander and Bryant have the athletic makeup to entice NFL teams, but can they convince them they’re committed and reliable enough to warrant a supplemental pick? Any of the players who gain entry to the supplemental draft but are not picked are then immediately granted free-agent status and can sign with any team.
Among teams that failed to draft either a corner or a safety high in the 2018 draft — or not at all — that might consider using a supplemental pick include the Cardinals, Bills, Bears, Cowboys, Texans (they took safety Justin Reid in Round 3), Colts, Jaguars (they took safety Ronnie Harrison in Round 3), Chiefs, Rams, Saints, Giants, Jets, Raiders (they took corner Nick Nelson, who is missing the team’s offseason program with a knee injury, in Round 4), 49ers (who took safety Tarvarius Moore in Round 3), Seahawks, Titans (who made a league-low four selections) and Washington (which took safety Troy Apke in Round 4).
There also are teams that currently own additional 2019 picks through trades that could be compelled to use one or more of them early, including the Packers (who own the Saints’ first-rounder), Eagles (who own the Ravens’ second-rounder), Patriots (who own the Bears’ second-rounder and Lions’ third-rounder), Chiefs (who own the Rams’ second-rounder), Colts (who own the Jets’ second-rounder), Texans (who own the Seahawks’ second-rounder) and Browns (who own the Patriots’ own third-rounder).
The Cincinnati Bengals just drafted safety Jessie Bates III in Round 2 and two cornerbacks in Round 5: Illinois State’s Davontae Harris and Darius Phillips, Beal’s college teammate at Western Michigan. But the Bengals also have carried the reputation of a team that will ignore character concerns to secure talent.
The supplemental draft was created in 1977 as a second-chance outlet for players whose statuses with their respective college teams had changed following the end of that year’s draft cycle — such as academic issues, arrests or suspensions — to gain entry into the NFL.
The supplemental draft is conducted through email, with teams lumped into three clusters based on their records the previous season with the draft order not made public. Teams submit any eligible players they are willing to select and a corresponding round; the NFL then goes round by round, one through seven, to see which (if any) players are picked. If a club opts to use, say, a fourth-round pick on one of the players, it then will lose its fourth-round pick the following year, in 2019.
It has provided some notable selections over the years, including future Hall of Famer Cris Carter, who was a fourth-round supplemental pick in 1987. That same year, the far more ballyhooed supplemental choice was Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, whose NFL career flamed out after a few years after various setbacks.
In the past several seasons, however, there have been few notable entries to tempt NFL teams. The Cleveland Browns used the second-round supplemental pick on Gordon, the ex-Baylor receiver who had been dismissed from the school and transferred to Utah before entering the NFL.
The pick paid off initially with Gordon’s promising rookie season in 2012 and his incredible 2013 first-team All Pro season when he led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,646 despite playing only 14 games. But off-field issues followed him into the NFL, including multiple league suspensions, and resulted in him missing more than 1,000 days of action prior to him regaining active NFL status and returning to the Browns last season.
The last player picked in the supplemental draft was Clemson OT Isaiah Battle, a fifth-rounder of the St. Louis Rams in 2015. Yet to see the field for an NFL game, he has bounced around to three teams and now is on the roster of the Seattle Seahawks. Only three players have been picked since 2010 — Battle, Gordon and then-QB Terrelle Pryor, who remains in the league with the New York Jets as a receiver.
There have been multiple players selected in a single supplemental draft only three times in the past 20 years: 2010 (seventh-rounders Josh Brent and Harvey Unga), 2007 (fourth-rounder Paul Oliver and fifth-rounder Jared Gaither) and 1998 (second-rounders Jamaal Williams and Mike Wahle, both of whom became Pro Bowlers). The last time three players were selected in a single supplemental draft was 1989 and the last first-round supplemental pick was Giants QB Dave Brown in 1992.