Sam Beal knows he won't hear his name called on network television—that's the curse of being picked on July 11 in the NFL supplemental draft—but he's determined to make those who passed on him or doubted him remember his name.
Who is Sam Beal? He's the best prospect to enter the league's supplemental draft in a long time. Maybe ever.
Let's start with how he got here.
Beal was a standout cornerback at Western Michigan after signing as a stud 2-star player on offense and defense out of Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a freshman, he played in 12 games before becoming a starter as a sophomore and quickly establishing himself as a ball hawk with eight pass breakups. That 2016 season put Beal on the radar of NFL teams who love the idea of a 6'1" corner with ball skills.
His 2017 junior season would be his best. He earned All-MAC second-team honors and made his first career interception (against Sam Darnold). Following the season, many NFL evaluators told agents and media members that Beal was likely a top-100 pick. But he decided to stay in school and finish his degree, something he said no one in his family has ever done. It was a goal he'd set with his mom.
"That was a big thing for me," Beal says. "That's why I feel like, you know, it had to be like that."
Beal says he had fallen behind in academic credit hours but planned to catch back up in summer school: "So I was back in school, but the NCAA had to actually tell me if I was able to play."
With his eligibility not expected to be decided until the end of preseason camp, Beal decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the supplemental draft. He said he could have gone through "the whole camp and the whole process and [the NCAA] could have told me, 'You're not going to play.'"
Unlike most supplemental draft prospects of the last decade, Beal doesn't come with red flags off the field. There are no reported failed drug tests. There are no coaches throwing him under the bus as a bad teammate. Instead, a college kid got behind on some credits and was in danger of losing his eligibility. And now NFL teams are ready to jump on this rare opportunity.
Scroll through the NFL's list of former supplemental draft picks and prepare to be underwhelmed.
"When has it ever paid off to use a pick in the supplemental draft?" an NFL director of player personnel asked me after I suggested Beal could be a second-round pick. The short answer is rarely, if ever.
Josh Gordon is a talented player—maybe one of the top two or three most naturally gifted receivers in the NFL—but his career has been plagued by off-field issues. Terrelle Pryor had a solid season in 2016 at wide receiver after transitioning from quarterback, where he played in college and early in his pro career. But he hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks, a third-round claim by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, had the longest run of consistent play as a supplemental pick, but he never turned into a star. The NFL draft is always a bit of a crapshoot, but uncovering a standout player in the supplemental draft is like finding a needle in a haystack.
How will the NFL reconcile Beal's talent with the disappointing performances of past supplemental draft players? It hasn't been easy.
"He's obviously talented," one NFL defensive coordinator said when discussing Beal. "Long, flexible, fast. He fits the mold of what we want at outside corner."
When talking about his on-field performance, you don't find many negatives.
"He's a little light, little thin, but he can add 10 pounds and be fine in press situations," another defensive backs coach said. "You look at his feet and hips and see he's going to be able to cover."
Bottom line? He's good, and the NFL knows it, but there is hesitation to use a supplemental pick when so few have excelled coming from that draft.
"Listen, he's probably a third-round bid," one director of college scouting predicted, though he would only give a general range when asked where they expect Beal to be picked. "That's a safe spot, and someone will get antsy and not want to lose out on him. Maybe second-round if it's a playoff team."
A range is all you'll get from any team because ultimately it's a decision the head coach and general manager will make together—and for most teams, both are on vacation right now.
When Beal is picked, he won't get to hear his name called by the commissioner. Instead, his agent will get a phone call from the league office informing him which team claimed his rights.
Beal told me he's ready to come in and play catch-up in order to contribute immediately. He said he's "an athlete and is ready to compete and learn right away." Teams see him as pro-ready on film and believe his technique won't need major fixes before he's ready to get on the field.
When asked what he thinks makes him pro-ready, Beal said: "The excitement. I don't like fear. Some guys live by fear, but I feel like I don't fear playing at a high level. ... I bring intensity and fire. That's how I feel about it."
Whichever team claims him will forfeit a 2019 draft pick of the corresponding round, so where can Beal expect to land? Inside NFL front offices, talk centers around the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bills and Browns own plenty of 2019 draft capital, so they could exchange a future pick for Beal. The Kansas City Chiefs own two second-round picks in next year's draft. They could put in a claim for Beal and still own the Los Angeles Rams' pick as part of the Marcus Peters trade. Could the Chiefs replace Peters with Beal in the supplemental draft? Many front office people say Beal is the right fit for their scheme and falls in line with the type of aggressive moves general manager Brett Veach has been making.
It is thoughts like that—Beal is talented, pro-ready and clean off the field—that generate talk of "best ever" supplemental prospect. He doesn't have the off-field issues of a Josh Gordon. He's not a potential position switch like Terrelle Pryor. He's ready to make an impact from Day 1. Teams know it. Beal feels it. He's ready to leave his mark on the league.
Someone just needs to give him a chance.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.