(Editors note: This story was first published in 2022.)
Being the very last pick of the NFL draft comes with the bittersweet label of "Mr. Irrelevant," which was started by former NFL wide receiver Paul Salata. Salata founded Irrelevant Week, which is a "celebration honoring football’s underdog, while also making charitable contributions to the community," according to the organization's website.
We wondered: How does Mr. Irrelevant actually perform in the NFL after he's drafted?
Below are some notable things learned from my analysis of every NFL draft from 2012 through 2022. Of course, players drafted more recently than others have had shorter potential careers, but this was consistent for each draft position and round we examined. The data is current through the 2022 NFL season.
- The player dubbed Mr. Irrelevant on an annual basis has played in an average of 11 NFL regular-season games in his career, less than a full regular season.
- However, that average has been propped up from two of the last three players to earn the distinction. Linebacker Tae Crowder has played in 28 games in two seasons while fellow linebacker Grant Stuard, 2021's Mr. Irrelevant, played in 17 regular season games as a rookie. The two linebackers have played in 45 games in their NFL careers, while the eight previous Mr. Irrelevants from 2012-2019 have combined to play in just 40 regular season games, or an average of five per player.
- Brock Purdy was the Mr. Irrelevant selection in 2022. The same year, he became the first Mr. Irrelevant to throw a touchdown pass in a regular season game. Later in the season, Purdy became the first 49ers rookie quarterback to start and win a playoff game, advancing to the NFC Championship game 7-0 as a starter before an elbow injury knocked him out of the postseason.
- Seventh-round picks play an average of 28.1 regular-season games (through 2021), so the last pick of the draft has played in roughly 40 percent of the games that his peers have in their careers.
- The second-to-last pick of the draft has played an average of roughly seven more games than Mr. Irrelevant — 18.4 regular-season games compared to 11. The third-to-last pick has played in roughly twice as many games, 36.7 games on average, as the second-to-last pick and roughly 3.3 times as many as Mr. Irrelevant.
Here's the complete list of Mr. Irrelevants that we examined, along with the number of regular season games each has played in the NFL:
- 2012: Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois | Indianapolis Colts | 0 games played
- 2013: Justice Cunningham, TE, South Carolina | Indianapolis Colts | 4 games played
- 2014: Lonnie Ballentine, DB, Memphis | Houston Texas | 4 games played
- 2015: Gerald Christian, TE, Louisville | Arizona Cardinals | 3 games played
- 2016: Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Miss | Tennessee Titans | 7 games played
- 2017: Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss | Denver Broncos | 1 game played
- 2018: Trey Quinn, WR, SMU | Washington Football Team | 16 games played
- 2019: Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA | Arizona Cardinals | 5 games played
- 2020: Tae Crowder, LB, Georgia | New York Giants | 28 games played
- 2021: Grant Stuard, LB, Houston | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 17 games played
- 2022: Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State | San Francisco 49ers | 9 games played
Tae Crowder, LB, New York Giants
Not only has Crowder played in 28 career games through his first two seasons, but he has started 23 of them, including all 17 regular season games in 2021. He has 187 career tackles, including 98 solo tackles, with six tackles for loss, six passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble. His 130 total tackles last season led the Giants.
As a senior at Georgia, Crowder ranked second on the team with 62 total tackles and he ranked fourth in tackles for loss and tied for fifth in passes defended.
Over the last 10 NFL drafts, seventh-round picks have played in an average of 28.1 games per player — an average that is sure to increase as recent draft picks, such as Crowder continue their careers — and given that Crowder has already matched that average in two seasons, he has proven to be a successful pick for a seventh-rounder, much less "Mr. Irrelevant."
Grant Stuard, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even though he was taken with the last pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, linebacker Grant Stuard was selected by the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which isn't always the case for Mr. Irrelevant. He played in every regular season game off the bench, typically on special teams, registering 15 total tackles and a forced fumble. He also saw the field in both of Tampa Bay's two playoff games, as he played 20 special teams snaps against both the Philadelphia Eagles and L.A. Rams.
He finished his rookie season having played 351 snaps on special teams and 26 on defense.
What can we learn?
There are fourth- and fifth-round NFL draft picks who were selected in 2020 who have never played a snap in the NFL, and that's a feature, not a bug, of the NFL draft. You can find examples of players taken consecutively in the draft who have played one regular season game and more than 40 games, respectively.
Based on our analysis, NFL teams can hope, if not expect, their seventh-round picks to play a little less than two regular seasons' worth of games in their career, on average, and that number shrinks for Mr. Irrelevant. But the last two of the last three players who received that title, Stuard and Crowder, went on to become a special teams regular for the reigning Super Bowl champion and an NFL team's leading tacker, respectively.
In Crowder's case, Mr. Irrelevant turned out to be very, very relevant.