Getting drafted is the easy way. One of 32 NFL teams uses one of its finite number of picks on you and, therefore, there’s immediately more buy-in and interest in you working out than there would be in someone the team picked out of the undrafted free agent pool.
I’m looking at you, Drew Lock. And Emanuel Hall. And Terry Beckner.
With this year’s draftstravaganza coming up Thursday, I thought it’d be fun to look at former Missouri players who took the other route. The one where you sit around for three days waiting for your name to be called and, as soon as Mr. Irrelevant graces the broadcast — well, a little before that, actually — your phone starts blowing up with free agent offers from teams.
Then it’s a long slog through camp and the preseason, and the odds are long that you’ll ever make a roster. But these five, who were on NFL active rosters at the end of last year, did it.
LS Beau Brinkley, Tennessee Titans
He was a walk-on from Kearney who almost immediately established himself as the team’s top long snapper and held fast to that spot for all four years on campus. But, you know, long snappers don’t usually get drafted. So the Titans came calling in 2012 and, again, Brinkley made the best of his opportunity. He has handled all of Tennessee’s long-snapping duties in every game since the 2012 opener, a total of 112 regular-season games. It’s what he’s been training for since he was a kid, as he learned to snap from his dad, Mike — a long snapper himself — when he was 7. Punter Corey Fatony, from this year’s crop of Tigers, has been specializing in special teams since he was a kid and, after four years starting for Missouri, is going to be looking to catch on somewhere. He could do a lot worse than following Brinkley’s example.
TE Sean Culkin, Los Angeles Chargers
He battled injury issues and never quite lived up to his potential as a game-changing receiver during his time at Missouri...but that’s also in large part because the Tigers’ offensive schemes from 2013-16 asked a lot more out of him in terms of blocking. Which was good news come draft time because, even though he didn’t hear his name called, the Chargers liked the versatility they saw out of him and snapped him up a couple weeks after the 2017 draft. Culkin made the team as a special teams stalwart and, after dressing for only two games in 2017, upped his involvement to 13 last year. He even made a 24-yard catch in a spiffy powder blue uniform against the Arizona Cardinals. Like Culkin, Kendall Blanton battled injuries and pass-catching inconsistency while fulfilling a versatile vision of a Missouri tight end. Like Culkin, he’s probably going to have to make his name on special teams in order to stick in the NFL.
QB Chase Daniel, Chicago Bears
The gold standard of backup quarterbacks. The guy with, perhaps, the most charmed career in the history of the NFL, in that he has made more than $28 million over 10 years in the league — according to Spotrac — and only had to start four games. Because who wants all the stress and headaches — literally — of being QB1 if you can just make a career out of being a highly regarded QB2? Daniel was very much a known commodity — a record-breaking Heisman finalist, after all — coming out of Missouri but went undrafted because of what teams felt were questionable measurables. After a brief stint in Washington, he signed with the New Orleans Saints and — after one round of release and re-sign — stuck for good. Then it was on to the Chiefs, Eagles, back to the Saints, then on to the Bears for 2018, when he saw a career-high two starts in relief of an injured Mitchell Trubisky. There’s no real analogue to Daniel coming out of Missouri this year, but Terez Hall shares some similarities: team leader, productive college player, probably won’t get drafted but is skilled enough playing and personality-wise to be a valuable roster addition for an NFL team.
RB Russell Hansbrough, Washington
Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy took turns being Missouri’s feature back in 2014 and, with Murphy graduating, 2015 was supposed to be Hansbrough’s breakout. But we all know what happened. Hansbrough suffered a high-ankle sprain in the opener that would haunt him all year and Missouri had a historically bad offensive showing. So there wasn’t much of a chance or Hansbrough to get drafted after that, even though he enjoyed a successful career in the Tigers’ backfield. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him after the 2016 draft, then released, re-signed or promoted him — get this — ELEVEN TIMES over two months, releasing him for good on Nov. 22. Then he signed with the New York Giants. Then the Bucs signed him back two weeks later. After another waiving, singing and release, he was off to the Chargers and spent the 2018 offseason with them, only to be released last Sept. 1. He signed with Washington last December and inked a futures deal in January so, perhaps, his dizzying trip through the NFL ringer has slowed for a time. Damarea Crockett finished right below Hansbrough on the Tigers’ career rushing list and also has injury questions to answer after missing the end of the last two seasons battling ailments. He has a bigger, more projectable frame than Hansbrough, but he’s also probably going to have to take the road less traveled to the NFL.
TE Marcus Lucas, San Francisco 49ers
Lucas has had a journeyman career similar to Hansbrough’s. The possession receiver part of the Tigers’ 2013 basketball frontcourt triumvirate — with L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham — Lucas fell out of the draft because he was a tweener: not fast and nimble enough to be a spotlight receiver, not enough experience blocking to be a tight end. The Carolina Panthers signed him after the 2014 draft and he stayed with them to the cusp of the 2015 season before being released and signed by the Miami Dolphins...for one day, when he was released and signed a couple months later by the Chicago Bears. Then it was a hodgepodge of offseason signings, training camp cuts, practice squad stints and in-season signings and cuts with the Panthers, Seahawks, Colts, Raiders, Lions and Seahawks (again) through last October. The 49ers signed him in December and, like Hansbrough, he was signed to a futures deal in January. There are no easy comparisons for Lucas on this year’s Tigers. Maybe someone like Walter Palmore, stuck in a netherworld between a 3-4 end and a 4-3 tackle?