On Thursday night, the 2023 NFL Draft begins its three-day odyssey, with 259 names set to be called [insert draft pick jingle sound effect] across seven rounds of heated action in the version of Kansas City that is not in Kansas.
Even if you tried to avoid all draft discussions, you would still know the pre-draft media takes and MY COLUMNs, quotes from anonymous scouts, executives, and coaches, and endless discussion of gambling odds on the top pick have been loaded with the standard fire because the NFL is inevitable. In fact, the energy created from opinions about where Will Levis will be drafted has overtaken wind energy in the United States’ energy resources rankings.
Of the 259 names that will be called, a handful of Ole Miss players are expected to be among them. Those most likely to be drafted include (with draft profile links):
Guys who could possibly hear their names on the third day or sign as a free agent include AJ Finley, Troy Brown, Otis Reese, and Malik Heath. Obviously, whatever happens will be based on roughly a billion variables bouncing around, but let us hope as many Ole Miss guys as possible get an opportunity.
Last year, six Ole Miss players were drafted and, incredibly, all six made 53-man rosters coming out of training camp. Adding to the madness, six players signed free agent contracts, and five* of those are still employed by the teams with which they signed.
*Jaylon Jones played in 11 games with the Bears. 11! For the record, the other four are Dontario Drummond (Cowboys), Braylon Sanders (Dolphins), Ben Brown (Bengals), and Jerrion Ealy (Chiefs).
At this point, your brain may be asking what about 2021, the year before that, the year before that, and the year before that and so on and so on. Well, we’re about to answer those questions, as we go back to the beginning and look through the history of Ole Miss players drafted to play some form of professional football.
By my one-time count (I will not count again!), the Ole Miss football program has had 297 professional football draft picks from 1937 to 2022. That includes players going to the NFL, AFL, and leagues you’ve never heard of that had teams like the Allegheny Child Laborers or Harris and Sons Plumbing and Vermin Services.
My point being that, in the name of time, we can’t cover everyone. Well, we could, but your interest would tail off dramatically by the time we got to the 1960s, assuming it hasn’t already.
With that in mind, let’s skim the surface of Ole Miss players having their name called or finding out three weeks later they had a job in Cleveland if they wanted it.
I Tied an Onion to My Belt, Which Was the Style at the Time (1937-1949)
Entirely possible this is how all of these players told their draft story:
- The first Ole Miss player drafted was Jim Poole, who was taken in the 7th round of the 1937 version of the draft by the New York Giants.
- The following year, the Brooklyn Dodgers selected Bruiser Kinard, who would become the first Ole Miss player to be inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame (1951) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1970). Most of us remember the name because it’s on buildings on campus, and there were like 40 Kinards who played or coached at Ole Miss prior to the 1980s. Some of us did research and found that Bruiser was promoted from Ole Miss offensive line coach to athletic director in 1971, and that decision still elicits a closing of the eyes and a deep sigh.
- Ole Miss’ first player to be picked in the first round was Parker Hall, who Cleveland drafted in 1938. Incredibly, he didn’t become a Cleveland casualty, as he won league MVP honors in 1939 and, in a run-first world, was the first professional player to complete more than 100 passes in a season. DIRTY LIB, IMO.
- In 1946, Mike Campbell became the latest drafted player in Ole Miss history when Washington selected him in the 32nd round. I assume ESPN’s 1946 draft coverage in the 32nd round involved a lot of drugs that were advertised as energy elixirs, and the FDA later declared them to be illegal and “death waiting to happen.”
- Of note, the great Charlie Conerly was drafted twice in this period (1945 - Washington; 1947 - Brooklyn).
There’s a Haircut You Can Set Your Watch to (1950-1968)
- From 1950-1960, Ole Miss had 18 players drafted in the 20th round or higher. I have no idea how drafts were constructed during that time, nor will I investigate. I’m assuming each round had like five picks because 20+ rounds with even 10 or more picks is grounds for war crimes charges.
- HARK, ANOTHER KINARD. Billy Kinard, 2nd round of the 1956 draft to Cleveland.
- In 1957, Gene Hickerson, the Laremy Tunsil of the 1950s and 60s, was drafted by Cleveland in the 7th round. Hickerson would go on to become Ole Miss’ second (and last) player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2007). PUT PATRICK WILLIS IN, YOU COWARDS.
- Billy “Dog” Brewer was drafted in 1959 and 1960 (Washington and Boston [AFL], respectively). It’s unclear if he wore his red pants for either selection, but the answer is YES.
- In 1962, Ralph “Catfish” Smith was drafted by both Philadelphia of the NFL and San Diego of the AFL. I don’t have anything more to add other than Catfish is an elite nickname. It also works as a pet name, as the late, great Lewis Grizzard named his dog Catfish.
- A lot of fantastic players were drafted in this period, but we need to speed this up. So let’s use a technique I heard from an American history professor at Ole Miss who would get behind in the semester. With a week or two to go before the exam, he would say things like, “The years 1855 to 1945 were a time of great political and social unrest.” God-like summarizing skills.
#WAOM is Born (1970-1991)
Not a great stretch of success for any athletics program! A lot of “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
- Archie Manning became the highest draft pick in Ole Miss history (at the time) when he went 2nd overall to the Saints in 1971. I mentioned war crimes earlier related the number of draft rounds, and I’m not saying what the Saints did to Manning meets that level, but we should let a grand jury determine if an indictment needs to happen.
- Also in 1971, the Eagles selected Wyck Neely, who you may remember as the Chairman of the Susan Ross Foundation on Seinfeld.
- One year later, the Saints drafted Paul Dongieux, who was a sleeper cell agent from the LSU baseball team.
- Future Houston Nutt offensive coordinator Kent Austin was selected in the 12th round in 1986.
- In 1987, punter (PUNTER) Bill Smith was drafted in the 7th round by Green Bay. A general manager picking an Ole Miss specialist is either the bravest man alive or deranged.
- In 1990 and 1991, Ole Miss had defensive players drafted back-to-back in the first round for the first and only time. Tony “Gator” Bennett (Green Bay) and Kelvin Pritchett (Dallas) are the answers to that trivia question. Again, that’s 31 years since back-to-back first-round defensive picks.
(brief timeout to have engage in a 1,000-yard stare)
The Modern Era Journey (1992-2011)
- In 1993, Chad Brown was drafted by Phoenix in the 8th round. This is important because we get to relive Chad Brown in The Stand.
That’s 11 plays inside the 10-yard line and no points.
- Shout-out to Tim Bowens, drafted in the first round in 1994 by the Dolphins. Tim was the godfather of saying “Ole Miss University,” which is still used by recruits to this day.
- In 2004, Eli Manning became the first (and only) Ole Miss player to go number one overall. However, he and his family/agent said pre-draft he would not play for the Chargers, who had the top pick, if they selected him.
They did pick him, and we were gifted with video and images of him attempting to look as though he was having a real good time.
- 2009, the year of back-to-back New Year’s Day bowls for the first time in 50, I say again, 50 years, saw Michael Oher and Peria Jerry become the first Ole Miss teammates drafted in the first round in the same year. Surely Houston Nutt kept up the talent pipeline to the NFL!
Events We Can Mostly Remember (2012-2022)
- In 2106, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, and Robert Nkemdiche became the first three Ole Miss players to be drafted in the first round in the same year. I’m fairly certain that was the only eventful note from that draft. I don’t recall anything else happening. Just a normal NFL Draft night. Nothing to see here.
- Evan Engram was drafted in the first round in 2017 by the Giants, which makes him the last Ole Miss player to be drafted in the first round. Not, in my opinion, ideal.
- Since Engram was drafted, Ole Miss has had 6 players drafted in the 2nd round: Breeland Speaks, Greg Little, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Elijah Moore, and Sam Williams. Of those, Brown and Metcalf have made teams wish they drafted them in the first round.
- Finally, Mark Robinson. Drafted by the Steelers last year in the 7th round, came to Ole Miss as a walk-on running back from Southeast Missouri State. He moved to linebacker, STARTED (which is an indictment on the position at Ole Miss I don’t want to get into right now!), and was a highly productive player. He created an opportunity for himself and played his way onto a 53-man NFL roster, which is outrageously difficult for a late-round pick. Kudos to him, and if Ole Miss could give NIL money to an older-looking guy named Park Roberson to play linebacker, we should do it.