Low Draft Picks, No-Names Stand Out At Super Bowl

Feb 2, 2015
Originally published on February 4, 2015 10:39 am
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Some of the standout players in last night's Super Bowl weren't always regarded as standouts. What a difference a game makes. Joining us now to talk about the low draft picks and no-names who made the big plays is our own sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, who was at the game. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And let's tick through these players and their back stories. First of all, Chris Matthews of the Seattle Seahawks - around this time last year, he was working for a Footlocker.

GOLDMAN: And working as a security guard because I don't know how good a living you can get just at Footlocker. So he was certainly not playing in the NFL. He had been in the Canadian Football League, Robert. He was undrafted and then ended up in the CFL where he was rookie of the year in 2012. So he had shown some people that he had ability, but I don't think anyone saw what he was going to do last night - catching his first NFL passes, including a touchdown, really being, you know, the star receiver for Seattle in a sad night for them.

SIEGEL: Now, Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots made the decisive last-minute interception for the Pats. But, before that play, I don't think anybody had ever heard of him.

GOLDMAN: Bill Belichick had heard of him, and I think that's all that mattered. You know, Belichick is very willing to look past draft status, and Malcolm Butler was a Division II player at the University of West Alabama and, like Chris Matthews, undrafted and then, suddenly, part of Patriots lore forever now.

SIEGEL: The two most notable low draft picks out there were Tom Brady, who was draft pick number 199 in his year, and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks. He was the 75th pick. The two quarterbacks - each one was the sixth quarterback picked in his draft year.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Let's not forget that some of the players taken before Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL draft - Giovanni Carmazzi, Tee Martin, Spergon Wynn - Robert, household names, right?

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: And, you know, for Russell Wilson, I mean, the guys who went ahead of him were - are a little more well-known. But still, it shows that it's an imperfect science, and the good coaches are the ones who are scouring the earth for talented players, and they're out there.

SIEGEL: Well, is the implication that there are not only talented players, but undervalued talented players out there, and so many of them that draft status isn't such a big deal?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, draft status does work sometimes. I mean, the year that Russell Wilson went as the sixth quarterback, Andrew Luck was the first. He's panned out pretty well, and we will probably be seeing him in some Super Bowls in the future. You don't get to the Super Bowl, let alone the NFL, unless coaches feel you can play. There are no charity cases in the NFL, and every player counts. The stars constantly say that, and it's not just, aw-shucks humility. I mean, last night, Julian Edelman, the amazing, scrappy little receiver for the Patriots - he didn't say he was shocked about what Malcolm Butler did. He just said he was really for him because he's worked so hard. Every star knows there are guys on the sideline who aren't always in games, but can come in and perform if they're called upon.

SIEGEL: Let's say one other thing for players whom you find working as security guards and players who went to West Alabama and players who dropped out of the Canadian Football League. They're really cheap, aren't they?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) They are cheap, but boy, do they pay off, you know, in moments like this. We have seen unheralded players become stars in the Super Bowl. And I think what may be at play there is coaches have all this time - an extra week - before the Super Bowl to scheme and plan how to try to neutralize the big guns, the Tom Bradys, the Rob Gronkowskis, the Marshawn Lynchs and Russell Wilsons. But both teams' coaches know about that. So, although it may seem counterintuitive to do it in the biggest game, they may be more willing to go down that 53-man roster and play a player who may not be on the radar screen as much as a way to get an advantage.

SIEGEL: NPR's Tom Goldman on some of the late bloomers were standouts in last night's Super Bowl. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.