April 27, 2011

Holy Mozes: From All-American to undrafted

West Virginia's Dan Mozes capped his college career as one of the most decorated centers of the past decade. Mozes, a four-year starter, earned All-America honors in each of his last two seasons and won the Rimington Trophy given annually to the nation's top center.

None of those accolades meant anything on draft weekend, which annually turns into a humbling experience for a few of the nation's most celebrated players.

Mozes, at about 6 feet 2 and 285 pounds, lacked the size most NFL teams want at center. He also spent most of his college career working in a zone blocking scheme ignored by most NFL offenses.

So the most outstanding center of the 2006 season wasn't selected at all in the 2007 NFL draft.

"It was pretty heartbreaking that evening whenever the time came and I realized the draft was over," Mozes recalled. "Teams were calling me for the free-agent market, but just hearing my name [during the draft] would have meant something in itself. It didn't matter if it was the seventh round."

Mozes' case isn't as unusual as you might think. Recent draft history shows that an All-America career doesn't guarantee anything. In fact, over 13 percent of the first- and second-team Associated Press All-America selections from 2005-09 weren't drafted at all. That total doesn't take into account the 11 All-Americans from 2007-09 who remain in college or who won't be eligible for draft consideration until this week.

A couple of them weren't drafted by choice.

Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija was a second-team All-America selection in 2005 and '06, but the two-sport athlete withdrew his name from draft consideration to pursue a career as a pro baseball pitcher. Samardzija is in his fourth season as a right-handed reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

Illinois guard Martin O'Donnell earned first-team All-America honors in 2007 while helping his team earn a Rose Bowl bid, but he chose to end his playing career after completing his college eligibility.

"I felt my body was just kind of breaking down in general," said O'Donnell, who now works as a fundraiser for the University of Illinois library. "It was the cumulative effect of a bunch of nagging injuries. That was part of it. Part of it also was knowing at the time about the effect football can have if you stay in it too long. At that point, I was engaged. Now I'm married. I wanted to be active throughout my life and be able to play with my kids.

UNDRAFTED ALL-AMERICANS
Here's a list of first-team and second-team Associated Press All-America selections from 2005-09 who went undrafted. They're listed by the year in which they made their All-America teams. This list doesn't include the 11 All-Americans from 2007-09 who remain in college or who won't be eligible for draft consideration until this week.
2005
CB Dion Byrum, Ohio U.: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL, though he did appear on a few practice squads. Played arena football for the Orlando Predators and Colorado Crush.
C Dan Mozes, West Virginia: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.
WR Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame: Second-team selection. Chose not to enter the draft to pursue a pro baseball career. He's a reliever for the Chicago Cubs.
K Alexis Serna, Oregon State: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL. Played for CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 2008-10.

2006
DE Mkristo Bruce, Washington State: Second-team selection. Played for the Jacksonville Jaguars and for the Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers in 2008.
K Art Carmody, Louisville: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL. Played arena football for the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings of af2.
G T.J. Downing, Ohio State: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.
DE Justin Hickman, UCLA: Second-team selection. Plays for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
LB Ameer Ismail, Western Michigan: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.
C Dan Mozes, West Virginia: First-team selection and Rimington Trophy winner. Never played in the NFL.
WR Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame: Second-team selection. Chose not to enter the draft to pursue a pro baseball career. He's a reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

2007
DT Terrill Byrd, Cincinnati: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.
QB Chase Daniel, Missouri: Second-team selection. Signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2009 and remains with the team.
G Robert Felton, Arkansas: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL, though he did appear on a couple of practice squads.
LB Ali Highsmith, LSU: Second-team selection. Played for the Arizona Cardinals in 2008-09.
LB J Leman, Illinois: Second-team selection. Played for the United Football League's Florida Tuskers in 2010 and signed with the San Diego Chargers' practice squad in December.
DT James McClinton, Kansas: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL. Was a member of the Arena Football League's Chicago Rush in 2010.
G Martin O'Donnell, Illinois: First-team selection. Didn't enter the NFL draft.
G Anthony Parker, Tennessee: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.
FS Jamie Silva, Boston College: First-team selection and Jim Thorpe Award finalist. Played for the Indianapolis Colts from 2008-09 and was placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in the summer of 2010. Currently a restricted free agent.
K Austin Starr, Indiana: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.

2008
G Brandon Carter, Texas Tech: Second-team selection. Plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
P T.J. Conley, Idaho: Second-team selection. Plays for the New York Jets.
K Graham Gano, Florida State: First-team selection and winner of the Lou Groza Award. Plays for the Washington Redskins.
CB Trimane Goddard, North Carolina: Second-team selection. Never played in the NFL.
DT Mitch King, Iowa: Second-team selection. Played four games for the Indianapolis Colts last season. Spent the rest of the season on the practice squads of the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints. Remains a part of the Saints' roster.
K Louie Sakoda, Utah: First-team selection. Plays for the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.

2009
WR Danario Alexander, Missouri: Second-team selection. Plays for the St. Louis Rams.
OT Chris Marinelli, Stanford: Second-team selection. Hasn't played in the NFL.
K Leigh Tiffin, Alabama: First-team selection. Hasn't played in the NFL.

"Another part of it also was that at some point, you kind of have to move on with your life. I just kind of felt it was a good opportunity to see what was next."

But the majority of undrafted All-Americans wanted to play professionally. The problem was that NFL teams didn't necessarily believe their college success would translate to the pro ranks.

Sometimes they weren't big enough. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel finished fourth in the 2007 Heisman balloting, but scouts criticized his lack of height and arm strength.

Sometimes they weren't fast enough. Safety Jamie Silva recorded 115 tackles for Boston College in 2007 and was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation's top defensive back, but he hurt his pro prospects by running the 40-yard dash in 4.79 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Sometimes they just had bad luck. Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander led the nation with 1,781 receiving yards and was a second-team AP All-America selection in 2009, but he injured his left knee during Senior Bowl practices. Illinois linebacker J Leman earned second-team All-America honors in 2007, but he suffered an ankle injury in the Rose Bowl and couldn't compete in drills at the Combine.

"Before the injury I was probably a mid- to late-round [pick]," Leman said. "Probably the highest would have been the fourth round. ... Once I got hurt, I couldn't run and couldn't show what I could do."

What All-Americans could join the fraternity this season?

Arizona State's Weber was a first-team All-America kicker and a Lou Groza Award winner as a freshman in 2007, but he wasn't quite as effective the rest of his career and could go undrafted. TCU's Tejay Johnson was a Thorpe Award finalist and a first-team All-America free safety last season, but he wasn't invited to the Combine. TCU's Jake Kirkpatrick, a second-team All-American and the winner of the Rimington as the nation's best center, also didn't get a Combine invitation.

Stanford center Chase Beeler was a first-team All-American, but his frame (6-2/273) makes him undersized by NFL standards. Ohio State's Justin Boren was a second-team All-America guard last season, but he is rated as just the No. 17 guard in the 2011 draft class by nfldraftscout.com, which mentioned that he "has poor agility and is stiff moving laterally."

All those guys might do well to follow Mozes' advice.

"You hope for the best, but you expect the worst," Mozes said. "That's why I say be ready for anything. I hoped to get drafted in the third round, but I expected to be a free agent. And you've got to roll with it. You can't say, 'I didn't get drafted because of this,' or, 'I should have done this,' or, 'They didn't like me because of this.' You have to come in with a chip on your shoulder."

Mozes never got much of a chance to prove he deserved to be drafted. After signing a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings, Moses tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in preseason camp.

But a number of undrafted All-Americans have managed to hang around in the NFL.

Daniel is the second-team quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. He was joined in the Super Bowl two seasons ago by Silva, a backup free safety and special-teams performer for the AFC champion Indianapolis Colts; he saw a decent amount of playing time in 2009 before tearing his ACL last year.

The most notable success story among the undrafted All-Americans last year came from Alexander. The rookie was promoted to the St. Louis Rams' active roster in mid-October and caught 20 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown. Alexander caught four passes for 95 yards in a victory over the Denver Broncos, and he had six receptions for 99 yards in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Alexander's case should encourage any All-American who doesn't hear his name called this week.

"It ain't over until it's over, man," said Leman, who joined the San Diego Chargers' practice squad in December. "I'm evidence of that. Just because you aren't drafted doesn't mean you can't make a career out of it. ... As long as your play on the field speaks for itself and your film speaks for itself, you can have a job somewhere.

"It might not happen the way you envisioned it, but if you keep the faith and continue to work hard and continue to do the things that got you where you are, you will find a way to succeed at this level."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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