Making the NFL Leap: Odds to be the Next Kurt Warner

A view of Lambeau Field
By JL1Row [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0]

It’s the moment we all dream of: receiving a phone call from an NFL General Manager extending a contract offer. For most, it’s nothing more than a pipedream … or a wrong number. But if we’ve learned anything from the success stories of Kurt Warner and Warren Moon, it’s that great players can be overlooked and, sometimes, dreams do come true. (I’m not sure if that Iowa grocery store is hiring right now, though.)

For the vast majority of the 98.5-percent of NCAA football players who do not hear their names called at the NFL Draft, the dream ends there. After sacrificing so much for the sport they love, the cruel reality of not being good enough sets in, and they move on with their lives.

There’s also a small number of undrafted NCAA football players who receive different sort of phone call, though. It’s from a GM, but not of the NFL variety.

As the popularity of football increases around the world, there are more and more opportunities for individuals to prolong their football careers and keep themselves on the NFL radar. Players can head north to Canada, overseas to Europe, or even stay put in America and play in the Arena League or the budding Spring League.

Right now, in each one of those leagues, success stories are brewing. Today we will take a gander into a handful of American football leagues around the world, and pick out the player most likely to follow in the footsteps of guys like James Harrison and Jake Delhomme.

Canadian Football League: Deon Lacey, LB; and Derel Walker, WR

I know I said “player,” but I promise this is the only one I pluralized.

After a successful career at West Alabama, Deon Lacey was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as a college free agent in 2013. The 6’2″ linebacker failed to make the final cut, which sent him north to the CFL. After two seasons spent primarily as a special teams player for the Edmonton Eskimos, Lacey became an integral part of the defense, recording 87 tackles, one sack, and three interceptions in 18 games.

The Alabama native’s strong performance has landed him a futures contract with the Miami Dolphins, a team in desperate need of upgrading their linebacker corps. The 26-year-old received a three-year deal worth roughly $1.86 million, with $200,000 guaranteed.

Lacey’s chances of making the team were attenuated when Miami used its second-round pick in the NFL Draft on linebacker Raekwon McMillan from Ohio State. Nevertheless, if Lacey can prove valuable on special teams again, he may be able to snag one of the final roster spots.

Derel Walker also signed an NFL contract out of college. After being cut by the Titans, the wide receiver played in the Fall Experimental Football League before also landing with the Edmonton Eskimos one year after Lacey.

In two seasons in the CFL, Walker totaled 2,699 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. His strong play has resulted in a three-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worth $1.68 million, with $100,000 guaranteed.

Like Lacey, Walker also saw his new team spend an early draft pick on a player at his position: third-rounder Chris Godwin (Penn State). They also signed speedster DeSean Jackson. But Tampa Bay’s receiver depth was a concern last season and he brings a different skill set than Jackson, being more of a possession receiver than a deep threat. I don’t see it taking long for the 25-year-old to climb his way up the depth chart.

Odds Deon Lacey ever makes a 53-man NFL roster: 8/7
Odds Derel Walker ever makes a 53-man NFL roster: 3/4

The Spring League: David Ash, QB

I’m not wasting my time on guys who’ve already had their chance in the league, so step-off, Greg Hardy and Ben Tate.

After a sophomore season where he completed 67.3-percent of his passes for 2,699 yards and 19 TDs, Texas’ David Ash was drawing the eyes of NFL scouts. But then disaster struck in his junior season. Ash only played in three games due to a string of concussions. After winning the starting job back in his senior season, the pivot was forced to leave in Texas’ first game due to concussion-like symptoms. All of Ash’s concussions led to him retiring from football.

However, the former Longhorn was recently medically cleared to play again, and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity. Ash’s performance in the Spring League throughout April and early May landed him a tryout with the Carolina Panthers. Though the 24-year-old didn’t catch on with Carolina, his strong Pro Day and solid showing in the Spring League may tempt someone else to bring him in as a camp arm at the least.

Odds David Ash ever makes a 53-man NFL roster: 7/2

Arena Football League: Nick Truesdell, TE

Trying to find college stats for Nick Truesdell is one hell of a task. After enrolling at the University of Cincinnati, Truesdell appeared in just six games as a special teams player. Before he recorded a single statistic, the 6’7″ tight end got himself dismissed from the team for stealing from the bookstore. Truesdell wound up at Grand Rapids Community College, but tore his ACL in his first game.

The one-time Bearcat was granted a couple NFL tryouts, but eventually settled for the Arena Football League in 2014. In 2015, with the Spokane Shock, Truesdell caught 80 balls for 977 yards and 23 TDs.

It is clear the pros appreciate his size, as Truesdell will be attending the Minnesota Vikings’ camp this summer. In order to land a roster spot, he’ll have to beat out the team’s 2017 sixth-round pick, Bucky Hodges, and undrafted Penn State product Kyle Carter.

Odds Nick Truesdell ever makes a 53-man NFL roster: 9/2

European Football League: Robert Kitching III, DL

After four years at the University of Massachusetts, Robert Kitching received an invite to the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie minicamp just last year. The opportunity didn’t work out for the former Minuteman, so he decided to head overseas. Kitching is now playing for Europe’s top-ranked football team, the New Yorker Lions of the German Football League.

The Lions are currently competing in the Big6 European Football League against Europe’s other best teams. The 300-pound Kitching is an integral part of the Lions’ defensive success, and he’s still only 22 years old. The NFL may not be the next step for the young man, but it could be down the line.

Odds Robert Kitching ever makes a 53-man NFL roster: 33/1

Central European Football League: Lewis Kindle V, QB

At North Carolina A&T University, Lewis Kindle was a weapon with both his arm and legs, combining for 21 passing and rushing touchdowns as a sophomore in 2011. After graduating in 2013, the Georgia native didn’t receive many calls from the NFL. But the signal-caller has resurfaced in the CEFL, playing for the powerhouse Belgrade Vukovi.

As an import, Kindle will be expected to dominate overseas. If the 25-year-old is able to do so, and bring a championship back to the Serbian based team, it would at least put him on the right track to making his way back to America. It’s a long road ahead, though. He’d likely have to use another league (or two) as a stepping stone.

Odds Lewis Kindle ever makes a 53-man NFL roster: 999/1