We’ve spent this week, and a little last week, discussing how players slide through the draft or otherwise get overlooked by NFL teams. It’s probably a good time for me to tell my two stories about the times I was guilty of exactly the same thing.

In both cases, the stories involve running backs. All I can say in my defense is that running backs are harder to evaluate than one might think, and there’s plenty of evidence of that around the league. That said, both were just plain ‘ol mistakes, and I have to own them.

  • The first one I missed was in late December of 2006, when I was working with a game in Houston called the Inta Juice North-South All-Star Classic. I was a volunteer helping populate the rosters, and this was in the early days of ITL. Our game was in mid-January, and we thought we had a pretty complete roster; at the time I didn’t realize how much turnover there is in the last two weeks before a game, when players’ commitments start to waiver and some agents get cold feet realizing this is their last chance to pull a kid if they get a better offer. Anyway, we got a call from an agent I didn’t know plugging a kid from the University of Illinois. I demurred. At the time, I had heard of Pierre Thomas, but didn’t know much about him. We were excited about our roster of rushers that included future NFL legends Alvin Banks (JMU), Cory Anderson (Tennessee), Germaine Race (Pittsburg St.), Quinton Smith (Rice) and Abdulan Kuuan (Grambling). Pierre went on to become an integral part of one of the most explosive offenses in the league and helped his team — my favorite team, no less — win a Super Bowl.
  • The second one I missed was a year later, in early January of 2007, when I was Executive Director of the 2008 Hula Bowl. I got a call from Joel Turner of North Myrtle Beach, SC-based Turner Sports; Joel is one of the true wizards of finding under-the-radar NFL talent. He was pitching a rusher from Coastal Carolina that he had just signed. Joel always calls late in the process to promote players because, unlike a lot of agents, he doesn’t rush to get a kid into a game so the kid can turn around and hire another representative. This time I was no volunteer, so I had no one else to blame for passing on Mike Tolbert, who is now with the Panthers after a successful early career with the Chargers. I guess Tolbert profiled as a fullback (we already had two) and came from a barely established school, so it was easier to stick with the guys we had, like Ohio’s Kalvin McRae, Oregon State’s Yvenson Benard and Minnesota’s Amir Pinnix. Oh well. At least we got Chadron State’s Danny Woodhead right, and another running back, Toledo’s Jalen Parmalee, is still active.

There are probably dozens of other players I was offered in my days running games but turned down. However, these are the ones I still remember like it was yesterday. But hey, as I’ve said many times in this space, no one bats 1.000 and this is an inexact science.