Georgia’s Tae Crowder, eight free agents seek NFL relevance

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Tae Crowder was drafted. Now the truly hard work begins.

The popular Georgia linebacker got his 15 minutes of fame Saturday night when he received the distinction of becoming “Mr. Irrelevant” for the 2020 NFL draft. Since 1976, that label has been reserved for the player who is the last pick of the draft, now reduced to seven rounds. It’s considered a term of endearment.

Crowder, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior, was selected by the New York Giants with the last pick, No. 255 overall. In New York, he’ll join teammate Andrew Thomas, who was the Giants’ first pick of the draft, fourth overall.

But while Crowder’s last-pick distinction brought him some special attention, the odds of sustained success remain long for players taken so late in the draft. Not only is it especially difficult to make the roster, it’s even harder to stick in the league for a significant length of time.

» List of players from Georgia colleges, high schools taken in NFL draft

However, there are several success stories from the Mr. Irrelevants of days gone by.

One of the more successful came from before the last draftee was known by that name. Jacque McKinnon, a tight end out of Colgate, was taken with the final pick in 1961. McKinnon would go on to play in 118 professional games, and he made the Pro Bowl twice.

More recently, South Carolina place-kicker Ryan Succop had great success after becoming Mr. Irrelevant in 2009. While Succop’s status for the 2020 season is unknown – he was released by the Tennessee Titans in March – he has played in 11 NFL seasons since the Kansas City Chiefs took that flyer on him with the 256th pick. In that time, he has made 236 field goals and scored 1,046 points in the NFL.

For what it’s worth, Georgia has produced only one other Mr. Irrelevant. Defensive tackle Donald Chumley was the last player picked in 1985 – No. 336 overall, as it was was a 12-round draft at the time – by the San Francisco 49ers.

Chumley did not make the 49ers roster and played only one season with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL. But he went on to become a head coach at Savannah Christian, where his team won a Class A state championship in 2011.

In the meantime, in addition to the seven Georgia players who had the honor of going in the NFL draft, another eight had signed free-agent deals as of Sunday afternoon. They are:

PK Rodrigo Blankenship, Indianapolis Colts. The Lou Groza Award winner and Georgia's all-time leading scorer expected to be drafted in the late rounds. Instead, he'll have to make a roster the way most NFL kickers do.

WR Lawrence Cager, New York Jets. Cager quickly established himself as Georgia's best receiver last season after transferring from Miami, only to have his season cut short first by a chronic shoulder injury, and then by a broken ankle. Still, the 6-5, 220-pound Maryland resident finished second on the team with 33 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns.

DT Tyler Clark, Cincinnati Bengals. Clark never became the star many envisioned after his dominant performance against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl in 2017. But the Americus product played in 54 games and helped Georgia win 44 games in four seasons and could help an NFL team do the same.

RB Brian Herrien, Cleveland Browns. Herrien, a last-minute 3-star signee in 2016, ended up playing in 52 games over four seasons and was a key player both as a special-teams regular and offensive backup. He'll be reunited in Cleveland with good buddy Nick Chubb.

DB Tyrique McGhee, Los Angeles Rams. This 5-10, 187-pound senior probably is under-appreciated for his many contributions over four seasons. The Bulldogs missed him as injuries kept him sidelined for five games and limited him to mostly backup roles in 2019. But he was a major contributor in Georgia's playoff run of 2017 and, now healthy, could earn as special-teams role.

FS J.R. Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars. His omission from the draft was the biggest surprise of the eligible Georgia players. One of four permanent captains for the Bulldogs and the son of a 12-year NFL veteran (WR Jake Reed), Reed is a good bet to make an NFL roster, as many teams are in need of competent help in the defensive backfield and on special teams.

WR Tyler Simmons, Houston Texans. Don't go to sleep on Simmons, who was one of the Bulldogs' fastest players and one of their more reliable special-teams contributors. He played in 48 games at Georgia and was called for a controversial offside penalty when he blocked an Alabama punt in the College Football Playoff Championship game in 2018.

TE Eli Wolf, Baltimore Ravens. The 6-4, 240-pound graduate transfer from Tennessee led Georgia tight ends with 13 catches and is a valuable lead blocker.