Zach Kerr is not Jadeveon Clowney. He’s not Khalil Mack or Johnny Manziel, either. But he could have been.
After all, Kerr – a 326-pound behemoth who played nose tackle at the University of Delaware – was just as eligible for the 2014 NFL draft as that trio, though you probably wouldn’t have known it. Experts like Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay did not discuss his run-stopping prowess, explosive first step and uncanny knack for rushing the quarterback. Scouting reports harped on the “lower level of competition” he’d faced in college, and listed “concussion history” as one of his weaknesses. At best, he was predicted to be a late-round selection.
For a man blessed with Goliath’s frame, playing the role of David wasn’t easy. Unlike the draft’s marquee names, he wasn’t invited to New York’s Radio City Music Hall; instead, he watched Thursday’s first round at the home of his agent. By Saturday, he had turned off the text-message alerts on his phone and started watching Mike Tyson knockouts on YouTube. Towards the end of the sixth round, reality began to set in. Perhaps his lifelong dream would not materialize. Teams with defensive-line needs drafted elsewhere. His mom and girlfriend kept watching the TV, waiting to hear his name called. It wasn’t.
After seven rounds and 256 picks, Kerr was officially passed over in the NFL draft.
“My mom’s emotions were probably worse than mine, because I’m her only child. Any emotion I feel, my mom is going to feel it ten-times worse than me,” Kerr recounted. “And, my girlfriend, she’s not even into all that stuff. She didn’t even want to sit next to me because a camera was in my face. She was just basically going off my emotions. ‘If Zach’s upset, then I’m upset. If he doesn’t want to talk, then I don’t want to talk.'”
In the NFL, being undrafted isn’t necessarily a death sentence: Warren Moon, Kurt Warner, Priest Holmes, Antonio Gates, Tony Romo and Arian Foster are all members of the undrafted fraternity who went on to noteable careers. And for hundreds of other players, there are spots to compete for on NFL rosters – this is a league in constant need of reinforcements. Kerr figured to be one of them. After all, there was one team who had remained in contact with him throughout the draft: the Indianapolis Colts.
“I had a couple of other teams, probably four or five other than the Colts, that were calling me around the same time,” he said. “But [Indianapolis] called me and said ‘If nothing happens, I want you to keep us in mind.'”
And sure enough, soon after the draft’s final pick was made, Kerr and his agent Chris Coy began discussions with the Colts. On May 11, they finalized a deal. Kerr may not have had a photo on Rotoworld, but he had a professional contract. He had been an undrafted free agent for less than 24 hours.
Now, he’s preparing to take the first steps in his pro career. And with the Colts, he’ll be able to learn his craft from the game’s most-feared generals, linebacker Robert Mathis, who led all of football last year with 19.5 sacks. Turns out, going undrafted may have been a blessing in disguise.
“You look at a guy like Robert, coming from where he came from, going through what he had to go through, to play 12 years in the NFL, there’s something he’s doing that everybody else isn’t,” Kerr said. “I’m definitely going to pick his brain. I might get on his nerves just because of how much stuff I want to learn. It’s not just football either.”
Kerr will also focus on finishing his sociology degree from Delaware (he promised his mom he’d graduate). After the draft, it will probably be nice to actually hear his name called. Though, as you’d probably expect, he’s not willing to forget the fact that 31 other franchises passed on his services … it’s something that fuels all undrafted pros, and Kerr can’t wait to make people pay.
“Now, I know I have to go in even more hungry. I was hungry, but now it’s a different type of hunger. It’s a different type of fuel I have building up inside of me,” he said. “It’s hard for me to put into words, but I’m ready. I’m really ready to play this game.”