Commentary

Harvey Unga hoping to buck trend

Supplemental draft picks have largely struggled, but former BYU back is optimistic

Originally Published: July 13, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Harvey UngaChristopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireFormer BYU running back Harvey Unga is hungry for an opportunity to compete in the NFL.

Of the 38 players chosen in the NFL supplemental draft since its inception in 1977, eight were running backs, the most prospects selected at any position.

For running back Harvey Unga to become the ninth, some franchise probably will have to invest a third- or fourth-round choice when the league convenes for the annual supplemental draft Thursday. The former Brigham Young star, arguably the top prospect available in the special-case draft, is confident that, despite a fairly miserable history of the summertime lottery, some team will take a chance on him.

"I feel like I can help a team in a number of ways, and the indications are that I will be [chosen]," Unga said after his audition for about 20 clubs last week.

There reportedly are three or four franchises, all in need of a dependable No. 2 back or perhaps a third-down specialist, that seem to agree.

In his three full seasons at BYU, before being dismissed in April for an unspecified violation of university regulations, Unga carried 692 times for 3,446 yards and 35 touchdowns. He gained more than 1,000 rushing yards in three straight seasons (2007 to 2009) and had 11 or more rushing touchdowns all three years. Demonstrating good hands in the sophisticated BYU passing attack, Unga had 102 catches for 1,085 yards and nine scores, and he had 40 or more receptions in two campaigns.

At his workout, Unga measured 6-feet-0 3/4 and 244 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds. His size, strength (19 repetitions in the bench press), receiving ability and modest time in the 40 suggest Unga might play fullback in the NFL. But as was displayed by his overall athleticism and background as BYU's feature back, most teams project him at tailback, the position at which Unga feels most comfortable.

"He's definitely a [tailback]," said one scout from a team interested in Unga. "He can catch the ball really well, but I honestly don't think he blocks well enough [to play fullback]. … But the guy is a player."

Unga, 22, understands that, despite three full seasons of high-caliber football, he still has a lot to learn, but he is ready for the challenge presented by the pro game.

"I'm a good learner," Unga said. "I've been able to pick things up pretty fast, the effort is there, and I've always been productive."

If Unga is to continue his stretch of productivity, he will have to overcome long odds. The track record for running backs taken in the supplemental draft, the most recent of whom was Tony Hollings (Houston, second round in 2003), is anything but pretty. In fact, the history of the players selected in general in the supplemental draft is relatively futile.

Of the eight backs picked, four never played in the league. The other four totaled only 3,809 yards and 20 touchdowns. Bobby Humphrey (Denver, first round in 1989), accounted for 75 percent of the yards and all but five of the touchdowns. Humphrey, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1989 and 1990, is the only running back chosen in the supplemental draft ever to register a Pro Bowl appearance.

Hollings, who hasn't recorded a regular-season carry since 2004 and hasn't been in an NFL training camp since 2007, started one game in his career and rushed for a total of 149 yards. The league career of Charles Crawford (Philadelphia, seventh round in 1986) included 28 rushes, 88 yards and one touchdown. After Humphrey, the only running back selected in the supplemental draft who ran for more than 200 yards in his career was Al Hunter (Seattle, fourth round in 1977) with 715 yards.

Humphrey is the lone supplemental running back who recorded more than 200 yards on the ground in his rookie season.

The résumés of supplemental players at other positions aren't appreciably better.

Only five of the previous 38 players chosen had careers that spanned 100 or more regular-season appearances, and wide receiver Cris Carter, probably the lone choice in the supplemental draft with Hall of Fame credentials, is the only player to appear in 200 games. In fact, the average span is 42.1 appearances, the equivalent of a little more than 2½ seasons.

The supplemental draft has produced only six Pro Bowl players, and Carter, a Hall of Fame finalist in each of the past two years, accounted for exactly half of their 16 all-star appearances. Only two other supplemental picks, wide receiver Rob Moore and nose tackle Jamal Williams, notched more than one Pro Bowl invitation.

There hasn't been a Pro Bowl participant chosen in the supplemental draft since Williams (San Diego, second round) and offensive lineman Mike Wahle (Green Bay, second round) in 1998.

Nine prospects who entered the league as supplemental picks never played a snap in the NFL, and 17 others never started in a regular-season game. Seven teams have never exercised a supplemental choice -- which requires forfeiting a selection in the corresponding round of the next regular draft -- and there have been nine years in which a choice wasn't made.

Only twice were there more than two players chosen in the supplemental draft, and that hasn't occurred since 1989, when there were a record five picks. In the past 10 years, there have multiple choices only once (2007), and four times in that stretch there were no prospects selected.

There are four players eligible for Thursday's draft.

The order of selection for the supplemental draft is determined by a weighted lottery, skewed in favor of the teams with the worst 2009 records. Teams must essentially bid on players, with clubs e-mailing to the league office the round in which they would select a certain player.

The only choice in 2009, Washington defensive end Jeremy Jarmon (third round), started in only one of his 11 appearances last season. He had eight tackles and no sacks.

But the dismal history hasn't dissuaded Unga at all.

"I definitely think I'm ready to play and contribute [in the NFL]," he said.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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