The supplemental draft is the oasis in the NFL’s driest period of the year.
At a time before training camp and preseason games, and when players aren’t being signed in free agency, there exists the supplemental draft. The concept is interesting. If a player loses his collegiate eligibility after the draft in April, they can apply for the supplemental draft. It’s also a talking point and a way for the NFL to stay in the sports conscious.
However, some in the NFL aren’t big fans of a special July draft.
“You all (the media) make too much of this thing,” one AFC scout told me. “These guys are in the supplemental for a reason and it usually ain’t good.”
This year’s supplemental draft features six players — Virginia Tech defensive back Adonis Alexander, Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal, Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant, Oregon State linebacker Bright Ogwoegbu, and Grand Valley State running back Martayveus Carter.
The heyday for the supplemental draft was from 1981 to 1992 when eight first-round picks were given up for players. In the past five seasons, however, the only player that has been picked in the supplemental draft has been offensive tackle Isaiah Battle by the Rams in 2015.
“They changed the rules so they have a lottery now,” former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi said on The Ringer’s GM Street podcast. “Nobody knows where they’re picking until the day of the draft. ... It takes away some of the steam.”
The supplemental draft is the NFL’s version of a silent auction. The league’s 32 teams get ordered via a lottery and make a bid on a player. If a team places the highest bid they’re awarded the player and lose the corresponding pick in the next year’s regular draft.
In 2012 the Browns used a second-round pick on Josh Gordon, the highest bid on a player since 1998. The incredibly talented Gordon was in the supplemental draft after failing drug tests at Baylor. When Gordon has been on the field, he’s been one of the best receivers in the NFL. But his issues with drugs have persisted and he’s only played in 10 games since 2014.
“There isn’t a player as talented as Gordon this year,” the AFC scout said. “Guys will get picked this year, just don’t expect them to be as good as Josh on the field.”
The highest bid is expected to be placed on Beal, who is just under 6’1 and 178 pounds. In three seasons at Western Michigan, Beal had 96 tackles, 21 passes defensed, and two interceptions.
At his pro day, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 and 4.55 seconds and had a 37-inch vertical jump. It was attended by every team in the NFL. Browns general manager John Dorsey and Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst even made the trip to Kalamazoo to check Beal out.
He’s in the supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible.
“From a size and athleticism standpoint, you love Beal,” one NFC front office person said. “Off the field, he doesn’t have the same problems as some of the kids this year. But if he has trouble in school, will that follow him to the league?”
The scout emphasized that at Western Michigan Beal had an unrefined backpedal and that his footwork needs coaching. But with teams already done with rookie minicamp, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, players in the supplemental draft have to play catchup.
“We have to decide whether or not (Beal) can get up to speed fast enough to make an impact this season,” the NFC executive said. “If not, we may as well hold our pick until 2019.”
The expectation is that a selection will also be used on Alexander. For the Hokies, the 6’2 Alexander started 14 games and played in 33 total, finishing with 126 tackles, 24 passes defensed and seven interceptions.
Like Beal, though, he wasn’t eligible academically this fall. To add onto the academics, Alexander was also suspended for the team’s season opener in 2016 after being charged with possession of marijuana. He also sat out two games of the 2017 season for a violation of team rules.
“There’s always a problem with a guy,” Lombardi said. “He cant stay in school, whether it’s academically or socially, and I think those are what make it really difficult for guys to have great careers coming out of the supplemental draft.”
Of the three other players in the supplemental draft, Bryant is the most likely to warrant a selection. He started 25 games at Mississippi State and had 157 tackles, 12 passes defensed and five interceptions. Fourteen teams were at his pro day, where he ran a 4.45 and 4.52 in the 40.
Bryant was ruled ineligible academically and was arrested on New Year’s Day of 2017 for driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of an open container.
The AFC scout said he was hesitant on Bryant getting picked because of the slow market on safeties in free agency this offseason.
“In this league, where you can quickly hit the salary cap and trades don’t happen much, draft picks are so valuable,” the NFC executive said. “Giving them up in July is dangerous.”