COLUMN: Undrafted Sooners have longer road to pro success
If you have ever read a column of mine, there is a good chance you know I like Sam Bradford. A lot.
But this column is not about Bradford.
On Thursday, OU dominated the first round of the NFL draft, and during the ensuing days, a few more former Sooners came off the board. And while I am pulling for all those guys to have success at the next level, the guys that were left at the end of Saturday are more intriguing to me.
Several former Sooners signed free agent contracts with NFL teams after not being drafted during the three-day event. Among them are defensive end Auston English, defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger and running back Chris Brown.
Those three players faced different difficulties in their time at OU that caused them to fall off NFL teams’ draft boards, but they all, at one point, seemed to have the talent to play at the next level.
As a sophomore, English was thought to be a future top-10 pick. After being named to the All-Big 12 team in 2007, his future looked bright. English was praised for his rare combination of strength and speed and his tenacity on the field. That season, English was hands down the most feared end in the conference, recording 36 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and nine sacks.
However, starting at the end of that season, English had injury issues. Ankle injuries and other problems continued to spring up, and he never regained his initial burst. Then, when he finally looked ready to get back on track in 2009, English finished the season sidelined again with another injury.
Granger has dealt with his share of injuries, too. When Granger came to OU along with fellow tackle Gerald McCoy, most people thought Granger was the better player, and his early production on the field reflected that. In 2006 Granger had 20 tackles (four for a loss) and backed that up with 35 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, and 3.5 sacks in 2007.
However, starting in 2008, Granger began dealing with a recurring back injury. As a tackle, Granger felt pressure on his back every time he engaged with an offensive lineman, so it was difficult for him to return to action. He finally saw the field again briefly at the end of the 2009 season.
Lastly there is Brown, who was overshadowed and underappreciated during his OU career. Unlike English and Granger, Brown stayed healthy his entire career and was always ready to carry the load when another back went down.
Through his four years, Brown rushed for 2,923 yards and 42 touchdowns. Despite always splitting time with another back, whether it was Adrian Peterson, Allen Patrick or DeMarco Murray, Brown was consistently productive.
All of these players, some for more sustained periods than others, showed flashes of the talent necessary to play on Sundays. This weekend, they signed contracts that will give them that opportunity.
I want all the former Sooners to succeed, including those who were drafted this weekend. But if those drafted players fail to make it in the league, they at least have that first big contract. For those other guys, like English, Granger and Brown, I hope their luck turns around and they get a real opportunity to see the field in the NFL.