A History of the NFL's Mr. Irrelevant
With the success last season of Brock Purdy for the San Francisco 49ers he put the spotlight on him being 2022’s “Mr. Irrelevant.” For those unaware of that title, it is cast upon the last man drafted each year in the NFL’s annual draft selection process.
Not many Mr. Irrelevants find success in pro football but for Purdy because of injuries to the quarterbacks in front of him on San Francisco’s depth chart, Purdy was forced into the starting role. He made the most of his opportunity. Drafted out of Iowa State University last year, the 6 foot 1 inch, 220-pound quarterback got the 49ers to the playoffs and eventually, the NFC championship game where he ran into a juggernaut in the Philadelphia Eagles.
Once thrown into the starting lineup Purdy played in nine games starting five. On 170 passing attempts he completed 114 for a nice 67.1 completion percentage. 13 passes went for touchdowns and he tossed only four interceptions. Purdy had an impressive 107.3 rating. Whether Purdy is under center on opening day in 2023 remains to be seen but he will have to win the job over the recently added Sam Darnold and the man he replaced Trey Lance.
So with the 2023 draft quickly approaching, who will be this year’s “Mr. Irrelevant?” If you are curious how this label to the last player draft got its start, you have to back to the 1976 NFL draft and a man by the name of Paul Salata was responsible for announcing the final pick of the draft. Salata decided to slap a name to the face of the final pick in each year’s draft thus “Mr. Irrelevant.”
It didn’t stop there. Once selected, Mr. Irrelevant is invited to spend a week in Newport Beach, California which includes a trip to Disneyland, participation in a golf tournament, a regatta, a roast of that player, and a ceremony where he is awarded the “Lowsman Trophy.” That trophy resembles the Heisman Trophy but instead is modeled after a player fumbling the ball.
The attention that Mr. Irrelevant draws can be so desirable that there are moments it creates a problem. That was the case in 1979 when the Los Angeles Rams had the next to last pick whereas Pittsburgh had the final selection. The Rams passed on their pick moving the Steelers up one and putting L.A. in the final slot. But Pittsburgh then passed the pick putting the 329th pick of 330 picks back on the Rams. The battle of not choosing a player continued until NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was forced to intervene and forced the teams to make a selection. The Steelers ended up with the final pick choosing Mike Almond, a wide receiver out of Northwest Louisiana.
That mess resulted in a rule being established called the “Salata Rule” which enforced teams to make a pick and not permitted to pass on a selection just to get the draft’s final pick. What follows are profiles of every “Mr. Irrelevant” from the first one in 1976 through 1989.
1976 - Kelvin Kirk, Pittsburgh Steelers
Chosen in the 17th round with the 487th pick overall was Kirk a wide receiver out of the University of Dayton. He failed to make the Steelers roster instead of becoming a very successful receiver in the Canadian Football League. The 1976 draft turned out to have the most draft selections in NFL draft history and Kirk was the last man chosen. Tragically he died of a heart attack at the age of 49 in 2003.
1977 - Jim Kelleher, Minnesota Vikings
This University of Colorado player was a running back chosen by the Vikings with the final pick, 335th overall. Try to find information on Kelleher over the internet and you won’t find much. He failed to make the Vikings squad but while playing at Colorado he rushed for just 1,166 yards in three years missing his entire sophomore campaign.
1978 - Lee Washburn, Dallas Cowboys
With the final NFL pick in 1978 America’s Team drafted Washburn from Montana State. The offensive guard failed to make the team and like Jim Kelleher just mentioned, good luck finding anything on him over the world wide web.
1979 - Mike Almond, Pittsburgh Steelers
The 1979 draft was mentioned earlier in the article and Almond was at the center of that controversy. The wide receiver from Northwestern State University became the decade’s final Mr. Irrelevant selected with the 330th pick overall. Almond never made it out of Pittsburgh’s training camp. His among his alma mater’s all-time leaders in receiving stats.
1980 - Tyrone McGriff, Pittsburgh Steelers
While McGriff lasted just three seasons in the NFL, he made a splash in his rookie season starting 10 of 16 games for the Steelers. He didn’t follow up that campaign, playing in only 12 games in 1981 and not starting one. In his final season the next year, McGriff saw action in just eight games.
1981- Phil Nelson, Oakland Raiders
Nelson has no NFL history because the Raiders cut him in his very first training camp.
1982- Tim Washington, San Francisco 49ers
This defensive back from Fresno State University made the roster for San Francisco but did not get through the entire 1982 season in California. He appeared in just one game with San Francisco then was cut and signed by the Kansas City Chiefs where he played in one more game before ending the season never to play in the NFL again.
1983 - John Tuggle, New York Giants
This Mr. Irrelevant story is a sad and tragic one. As the final pick in the 1983 draft, on a high note, in his rookie season, his teammates voted him as Special Teams Player of the Year when the season ended. Because of an injury to starter Rob Carpenter, Tuggle played the final five games. He would finish with 49 yards rushing on 17 carries and had three receptions for 50 yards. Sadly, following that first season in the NFL, Tuggle not only divorced his wife, but he also injured a knee working out. Then he was in a car crash that injured his shoulder or what he believed to be from the collision. It turns out he instead contracted cancer. The New York Giants' ownership told him not to report to training camp the following year so that he could stay on the team and they could continue to pay him as he went through treatments. The cancer worsened and on August 30, 1986, Tuggle passed away at the age of 25. The Giants to their credit paid for his health insurance to the date of his death.
1984- Randy Essington, Oakland Raiders
With Marc Wilson as the starter and Jim Plunkett backing him up, Essington failed to beat out David Humm as the third quarterback on the Raiders’ roster and he was released never to play in the NFL again.
1985- Donald Chumley, San Francisco 49ers
Here’s an interesting fact about Chumley. He was born in Hamburg, West Germany. The 6’4” 265 pound defensive tackle failed to make the 49ers roster and instead played one season in the Canadian Football League. That would be his only season in pro football.
1986 - Mike Travis, San Diego Chargers
Being drafted as the last man standing in the NFL selection process has its consequences. Like not making the team. That is exactly what happened to Mike Travis a defensive back from Georgia Tech. Travis did not make it out of training camp.
1987 - Norman Jefferson, Green Bay Packers
Jefferson managed to stay on Green Bay’s roster for two seasons and found a home on the kick return team. In his rookie season, he played in 12 games and was on the receiving end of two kickoffs averaging 15 yards per return. The next season he appeared in only two games but returned five punts for 15 yards and four kickoffs for 116 yards. He was cut after the season.
1988 - Jeff Beathard, Los Angeles Rams
The wide receiver from Southern Oregon failed to make the Rams roster and was out of pro football just like that.
1989 - Everett Ross, Minnesota Vikings
Another wide receiver was chosen with the final pick in the draft and another receiver failed to make the roster of the team drafting him and thus out of football.