The NFL Supplemental Draft: How Does It Work?

Each year, there is an elaborate underground pipeline for incoming NFL talent that is well hidden inside the tunnels of the football off-season. There is very little media coverage for this event as it is a mere blip on the radar screen for even the most rabid NFL fans. In the past, teams have utilized this pipeline to acquire Pro-Bowl talent. Players like Bernie Kosar, Rob Moore, Jamal Williams, and even Hall of Fame receiver Chris Carter were all acquired through this method. This underground pipeline is more commonly referred to as the supplemental draft.

Like the common NFL draft, players in the supplemental draft must be at least three years removed from their graduating high-school class. However, there are some distinct differences between the two drafts. College athletes who have missed the deadline to declare for the common NFL draft are eligible for the supplemental draft. In addition, the pool of available players in the supplemental draft is usually less than 10, compared to well over 300 available players in the common NFL draft.

In order to acquire players in the supplemental draft process, teams submit the name(s) of the player(s) they are interested in drafting, along with the round of draft pick they would like to use on the player. The team with the highest bid is awarded the rights to the player and must forfeit next year’s pick in the corresponding round of the common NFL draft.

However, these players sometimes come with more baggage than the usual prospects. In certain cases, these players had no intention of turning pro in the first place, but have been either suspended by their university, ruled academically ineligible for the up-coming season, or even dismissed from their college team for repeated rules violations. As a result of these extenuating circumstances, players that fall into this category are just looking for a place to continue playing football. Terrelle Pryor in 2011 and Josh Gordon in 2012 are the most recent examples of players who declared for the supplemental draft due to suspensions they would have received had they returned to college. Pryor was eventually selected by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the supplemental draft while Gordon was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round.

Like last year’s supplemental draft, this year’s draft came and went without anybody being selected. In fact, the aforementioned Josh Gordon was the last player selected in a supplemental draft. Gordon’s extremely sketchy track record which includes a recent DWI arrest likely has NFL executives reluctant to pull the trigger on another supplemental pick. Commissioner Goddell’s hard-line stance on enforcing a code of personal conduct for NFL players has lessened the reward for teams to take chances on high-risk players.

The lack of activity in recent supplemental drafts also speaks to the less than stellar crop of talent that has been available the past two seasons. I believe that if there was a Gordon-type potential All-Pro talent available in the last two years, some team would have rolled the dice on a player like that no matter what demons were lurking in his past.

If NFL history has taught us anything, it is that the supplemental draft is nothing to sneeze at. Hall of Famers, Pro-Bowlers, and very capable role players have all been selected in this process. Even though the supplemental draft has essentially been on a two-year hiatus, there is always going to be talented players that slip through the cracks for whatever reason. As a result, the supplemental draft is still a great underground pipeline for teams to acquire talent in my opinion.