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Archive for Saturday, April 28, 2012

Free agency best bet for KU’s NFL hopefuls

April 28, 2012

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Although most of the former Kansas University football players eligible for this year’s NFL Draft will go undrafted and be scooped up via free-agent deals in the days that follow, the group had one of the best advisers around heading into pre-draft workouts.

“I spent more time (with them) on the front end, not the back end,” said first-year KU coach Charlie Weis, who walked NFL sidelines for nearly two decades. “Prior to interviews (with NFL scouts), I sat down with all of them and said, ‘You don’t know me, but you know that I have connections. I can’t really respond to anyone about you, because I don’t really know you, but what I can tell you is, this is what’s going to happen.’ And I explained to them how it works.”

Of all the Jayhawks hoping to hear their names called this weekend, linebacker Steven Johnson has the best shot of being drafted. The 6-foot, 239-pound linebacker led the Jayhawks in tackles in each of the past two seasons and, in February, participated at the invite-only NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

“He could get drafted late,” read Johnson’s Combine bio. “But stands a shot to make a roster as an immediate special teams contributor. He is a strong player who gets a lot of production by keeping blockers off him and understanding where they’re coming from, a trait highly attractive to coaches of 3-4 schemes. He will have to be drafted within a particular scheme that fits his needs in order to find success early.

A recent mock draft released by ESPN.com’s Todd McShay, which covered all seven rounds and 246 picks, did not include Johnson or fellow NFL hopefuls tight end Tim Biere, offensive linemen Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes or cornerback Isiah Barfield.

That, Weis said, does not mean Johnson or the rest of the group won’t make an NFL team.

“They think he is a nice, solid inside linebacker,” said Weis, asked what his NFL friends told him about Johnson. “I think he will have a good chance of being on somebody’s team … and, as a player, that is all you ask for. Unless you are getting taken high in the first round, money in this league is not made when you first sign, money is made on your second contract. That is common knowledge.”

Last year, former KU defensive back Chris Harris watched all three days of the NFL Draft but did not expect to be selected. He wasn’t, as the 32 NFL teams drafted 254 players instead of him. Harris used that as motivation and wound up starting for the Denver Broncos and finishing in the top five among all rookies in tackles.

Weis said Harris’ path was an example of an undrafted player doing it the right way.

“Sometimes a player will take $2,000 to sign as an unrestricted free agent after the draft with some team that he has no chance of making, versus going to another team for nothing, that they have a chance of making,” Weis said. “When you make the team, that is when you make some money, not when someone gives you $2,000 to sign. I tried to explain to them the thought process and how the whole thing works.”

The draft, which began with the first round Thursday night and rounds two and three Friday, will wrap today, with rounds four through seven.

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