Guide to the NFL supplemental draft: Why it matters this year

The NFL’s 12-month dominance of the sports calendar is nearly complete. Its mid-July supplemental draft, usually a snoozer, will be more than worth your attention this year.

Five players are eligible for the Wednesday draft, including one — Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal — who could be selected within the first three rounds. If so, he’ll be the first player selected in the supplemental draft since 2015 and the highest since the Cleveland Browns used a second-round pick on receiver Josh Gordon in 2012.

It has been a minute, so let’s review how this draft works. We’ll also lean on Steve Muench, who spends the year scouting college players for ESPN, for insight into Beal and other players under consideration.

What’s the purpose of this thing?

The supplemental draft accounts for players who did not declare for the traditional spring draft but are eligible to enter the NFL; they are at least three years removed from high school. Usually their college circumstances have changed in some way since the January declaration window, be it NCAA discipline or academic troubles, or both. Such players can petition for supplemental draft eligibility.

I’ve never seen this broadcasted. Where do they stage it?

On this great big thing called the internet. During one of the few quiet periods of the year, no one wants — or needs — to travel to a central location. Instead, the NFL provides teams with a list of eligible players. A modified bidding process then takes place.

At 1 p.m. ET on the day of the draft, teams are notified that the first round has started. Teams then have 10 minutes to respond if they wish to draft a player in that round. The league compiles the responses, if any, and awards the player to the team with the highest priority. All 32 teams are notified electronically of the selection, and the process repeats for each round.

How is the priority determined?

With a weighted lottery based on the April draft order. Teams learn the supplemental draft order shortly before it begins.

Are teams given a separate set of supplemental draft picks?

Nope. If a team wins its bid, it forfeits the corresponding draft choice for the following spring’s draft. For example, a team that uses its third-round pick in the 2018 supplemental draft would lose its third-round pick in the April 2019 draft. And a team that doesn’t own a 2019 third-round pick can’t participate in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft.

Got it. Let’s get to the players. What’s so great about Beal?

He is a big (6-foot-1) corner who ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash during a recent workout and has demonstrated high-end ability to cover on the outside. “I think he’s going to be a starter within three years for whatever team drafts him,” Muench said, “and a really good starter at that. You have someone with that frame and those skills, and that’s what teams look for.” Muench gave Beal, who was ruled academically ineligible this spring, a second-round grade in terms of talent.

Who are the other notable guys?

Virginia Tech cornerback Adonis Alexander and Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant are names to know.

Let’s start with Alexander. What about him — other than his great name?

Alexander had some early media momentum as a 2019 first-round pick. He certainly looks the part, with the kind of 6-foot-3 frame that scouts increasingly have been tasked with finding. But opinions are mixed now after a poor workout that included only nine reps of 225 pounds. “So you know there isn’t great upper-body strength there,” Muench said. “When you watch him play, you see some speed concerns. He does not recover well. He is a good tackler though. He is a challenge for people going through the evaluation process. To me, he’s a versatile defensive back who can help out on special teams. Do you take a guy like that in the supplemental draft? I don’t know.”

OK, moving on to Bryant …

Muench gave Bryant a fourth-round grade, putting him on the fringe of being selected in the supplemental draft. He ran a 4.49 in a recent workout and, Muench says, tracks the ball well. He is, however, on the smaller side (5-foot-11) for a safety. “You watch the tape and you definitely see a guy who flashes,” Muench said. “His tape is pretty good.” Teams will need to do their homework on Bryant’s background, which includes an absence from spring practice because of academic issues and a January 2017 drunken-driving arrest.

That’s three. Who are the two other players?

Your math is excellent. The remainder of the list includes Oregon State linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu and Grand Valley State running back Marty Carter.

Ugwoegbu, according to Muench, almost certainly is too small to be under serious consideration for a supplemental draft pick. According to multiple reports, he weighed in at 205 pounds during a June workout and ran a 4.95 40. “We value tape over everything else,” Muench said, “but the reality is this is still a height, weight and speed exercise. He’ll have a tough time overcoming those numbers. If you’re running a [4.95] at 205 pounds, what are you running if you bulk up to an NFL linebacker’s weight?”

Carter was a late addition to the eligibility list. Per Muench: “He’s an efficient runner with above-average patience and vision in addition to a good feel for cutback lanes and good open-field instincts. … He has the potential to develop into a reliable checkdown in the passing game, but he hasn’t proven to be a big-play threat after the catch at this point.”

So you’re talking about one and probably two players likely to be drafted? And the rest is a toss-up? Is this really worth getting excited about?

Old-timers like me remember when the supplemental draft was pretty dramatic. Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter was a fourth-round supplemental pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987. For a number of years, teams like the Cleveland Browns (Bernie Kosar in 1985), Phoenix Cardinals (Timm Rosenbach in 1989) and the New York Giants (Dave Brown in 1992) tried and sometimes succeeded in finding their starting quarterbacks through this draft. It’s an oldie but (occasional) goodie. – NFL