If you’ve ever been the last player picked for anything, then perhaps you can identify with something the NFL calls “Mr. Irrelevant.” It’s been a tradition since 1976, when former wide receiver Paul Savata came up with the grand idea that the last player picked in the NFL draft should be celebrated and rejoiced.
Savata, 82, wasn’t the last player taken when he was drafted out of USC in 1951. He was a 10th-round selection, the 110th pick overall, by the Steelers that particular year when the NFL draft actually went 30 rounds. But years later, he was able to convince the league that that being picked last overall shouldn’t come with any negative stigma attached to it.
It’s a privilege, Savata fought, to be drafted at all. That’s why he, and members of his family in the decades since, continue to throw a week-long party in honor of “Mr. Irrelevant,” including a parade in Newport Beach, Calif., other events including a trip through Disneyland, a day at Dodger Stadium and a boatload of gifts and other surprises.
“Mr. Irrelevant Week,” as it has come to be known, officially kicks off in another two weeks and this year’s “lucky” recipient, former UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals, can’t wait to be the latest underdog to be honored.
“Yeah, it’s going to be cool,” Wilson, the 254th and final pick in this year’s draft, told The Republic this week. “I’m going to be down there with all my family and it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait.”
As anxious as Wilson is to get the royal treatment from a thousand or so strangers from June 28 to July 2, and as is custom, to have all the extra proceeds from the festival donated to worthwhile charities, there is something else for which Wilson can’t wait.
It’s establishing a close bond with Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and – wait for it – being the only player in NFL history drafted last overall to catch a touchdown pass from a player drafted No.1 overall the same year.
Asked how long he’s been thinking about that possibility actually becoming a record-setting reality, Wilson said, “Yeah, pretty much every single day since I got drafted.”
How cool would that be? Mr. Irrelevant from Southern California catching a touchdown from the reigning Texas-born Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma. Not only that, but teammates on the receiving and throwing end – one who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall (Wilson) and the other (Murray) who barely registers 5-10.
“That would be awesome,” Wilson said. “I mean, that’s a dream come true. In a preseason game or a real game – any game – to be able to catch a touchdown in general, especially with him being the No.1 pick and me being the last pick, that’s a story in itself. That would be awesome and hopefully, that comes some day.
“That’s what I’m hoping happens, anyway.”
Maybe it will. Each player is the son of formidable football coaches and comes with a certain pedigree. Wilson’s father, Chris, is a longtime college assistant who spent the past three seasons as defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Murray’s father, Kevin, is a former record-setting quarterback from Texas A&M who has been a successful high school coach.
Despite being polar opposites in this year’s draft, Wilson and Murray were two of the best at their respective positions last year in college. Wilson led all FBS tight ends in receiving yards (965); Murray was the NCAA’s showstopper – 4,361 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and 1,001 rushing yards with a dozen more running TDs.
“I love Caleb,” Murray said. “He’s a really good pass catcher. I didn’t realize he played quarterback in high school and was a walk-on at USC. But he’s worked hard for everything he’s earned. Now that he’s here, he can really catch the ball and run good routes.
“He’s smart, just has a good feel for soft spots in zones and know how to get open against man (coverage).”
Wilson and Murray have been hitting it off and developing a nice chemistry since the start of the Cardinals’ offseason workouts, which formally wrapped up this week.
“Great pass catcher,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Wilson. “… He’s got great route-running ability and great hands, so it’ll be interesting to see once we get the pads on (in training camp) kind of where that goes.”
Wilson can only dream about it, which is something he’s been doing a lot of lately. But that’s to be expected, considering the circumstances. Who wouldn’t root for “Mr. Irrelevant” to not only make the team, but start catching touchdowns from the No.1 overall pick?
“I’ve tried just to focus on the day-to-day things,” Wilson said, “but I have great friends and my friends are always telling me like, ‘Man, Caleb, your story is awesome. It could be really cool one day if you just keep working on what you’re doing.’
“I try to stay humble, honestly, but I have great family and friends who always support me and give me a little love all the time, so that’s greatly appreciated. But yeah, I definitely have been dreaming about it. I mean, playing in the NFL and catching touchdowns from a guy like Kyler is a dream come true. I mean, it would be if it happens.”
First, Wilson has to crack the Cardinals’ 53-man roster, which could be difficult because of all the depth in front of him. But he’s making some nice strides because of his hard work and attention to detail, especially when it comes to getting to know Murray and understanding the quarterback’s tendencies and preferences. The more he learns Murray, the more he said he can become “a valuable option for him.”
It’s all part of being a quarterback’s best friend.
“And you do that just by being consistent,” Wilson said. “When the ball comes my way, he’s going to know I’m going to make the play.”
If he makes it and starts catching touchdowns in this odd, but fascinating first overall to last overall connection, the whole “Mr. Irrelevant” thing could take on a new perspective.
“I think it’s almost like the American way,” Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. “It’s like you have an opportunity. Just because you’re the last pick in the draft, it doesn’t matter where you were picked. … We all have a chance to do big things.”
A brief history of the last players selected in the NFL draft since 1976, when the “Mr. Irrelevant” celebration began. This illustrates how long the odds are for the final draftee to make it in the NFL.
2019: Caleb Wilson, TE, Arizona Cardinals
2018: Trey Quinn, WR, Washington Redskins, SMU
Caught nine passes last year for 75 yards and one TD; is on the Washington camp roster
2017: Chad Kelly, QB, Denver Broncos, Ole Miss
Currently on the Colts training camp roster
2016: Kalan Reed, CB, Tennessee Titans, Southern Miss
Played seven games with Titans; currently with Seahawks
2015: Gerald Christian, TE, Arizona Cardinals, Louisville
Played in three games with the Bills, most recently was with AAF’s Arizona Hotshots
2014: Lonnie Ballentine, S, Houston Texans, Memphis
Played four games in three season with Houston
2013: Justice Cunningham, TE, Indianapolis Colts, South Carolina
Played four games with Colts, Rams
2012: Chandler Harnish, QB, Indianapolis Colts, Northern Illinois
Spent time with Colts, Dolphins, Vikings, Cardinals but did not appear in a game
2011: Cheta Ozougwu, DE, Texans, Rice
Played nine games with Bears, Saints
2010: Tim Toone, WR, Detroit Lions, Weber State
Peoria product spent time with Lions, Bills, Falcons, Broncos but did not appear in a game
2009: Ryan Succop, K, Kansas City Chiefs, South Carolina
Entering sixth season with Tennessee after five years with Chiefs
2008: David Vobora, OLB, St. Louis Rams, Idaho
Played in 40 games for the Rams, Seahawks
2007: Ramzee Robinson, CB, Lions, Alabama
Played in 26 games with Lions, Browns and Eagles
2006: Kevin McMahan, WR, Oakland Raiders, Maine
Was with Raiders, Giants, Chiefs, Panthers but did not play in any games
2005: Andy Stokes, TE, New England Patriots, William Penn
Spent time with Patriots, Cardinals but did not play
2004: Andre Sommersell, LB, Oakland Raiders, Colorado State
Played two seasons in CFL, NFL Europe
2003: Ryan Hoag, WR, Oakland Raiders, Gustavus Adolphus
Spent time with nine teams in various leagues. In the NFL, was on the Vikings’ active roster for three games but did not appear in any games.
2002: Ahmad Miller, DT, Houston Texans, UNLV
Saw preseason action with Texans, Giants
2001: Tevita Ofahengaue, TE, Arizona Cardinals, BYU
Was with Cardinals, Jaguars but did not play
2000: Michael Green, DB, Chicago Bears, Northwestern State
Solid nine-year career spent mostly with Bears; missed all of 2006 with an injury. Recorded 426 tackles with four interceptions
1999: Jim Finn, RB, Chicago Bears, Pennsylvania
Played in 106 games over seven seasons with Colts, Giants and caught 60 passes
1998: Cam Quayle, TE, Baltimore Ravens, Weber State
Played 10 games in Barcelona with NFL Europe
1997: Ronnie McAda, QB, Green Bay Packers, Army
Did not see any game action with Green Bay or Denver
1996: Sam Manuel, LB, San Francisco 49ers, New Mexico State
Played one season in NFL Europe
1995: Michael Reed, DB, Carolina Panthers, Boston College
Saw action in three games with Panthers
1994 (draft reduced to the current seven rounds): Marty Moore, LB, New England Patriots, Kentucky
Phoenix native appeared in 112 games over eight seasons with Patriots, Browns; best season was 2000 when he made 75 tackles for Cleveland
1993 (draft reduced to eight rounds): Daron Alcorn, K, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Akron
After being cut by Bucs, spent eight seasons in the Arena Football League
1992: Matt Elliott, C, Washington Redskins, Michigan
Played in 63 games with Washington, Carolina
1991: Larry Wanke, QB, New York Giants, John Carroll
Did not make the team as a rookie
1990: Demetrius Davis, TE, Oakland Raiders, Nevada
Played four seasons with NFL Europe
1989: Everett Ross, WR, Minnesota Vikings, Ohio State
Joined the U.S. Army after being cut in camp
1988: Jeff Beathard, WR, Los Angeles Rams, Southern Oregon State
Played one season in Canada; currently a scout for the Panthers
1987: Norman Jefferson, DB, Green Bay Packers, LSU
Played in 14 games over two seasons with the Packers
1986: Mike Travis, DB, San Diego Chargers, Georgia Tech
Cut in preseason
1985: Donald Chumley, DT, San Francisco 49ers, Georgia
Played on season in Canada
1984: Randy Essington, QB, Los Angeles Raiders, Colorado
Cut in preseason
1983: John Tuggle, RB, New York Giants, Cal
Played all 16 games as rookie, missed 1994 with an injury, then was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1986 at age 25. The Giants wore his No. 38 on their helmets all during their Super Bowl season.
1982: Tim Washington, DB, San Francisco 49ers, Fresno State
Played in two games for 49ers, Chiefs
1981: Phil Nelson, TE, Oakland Raiders, Delaware
Cut in training camp
1980: Tyrone McGriff, G, Pittsburgh Steelers, Florida A&M
Played 36 games over three seasons in Pittsburgh
1979: Mike Almond, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers, Northwestern State
Cut in training camp
1978: Lee Washburn, G, Dallas Cowboys, Montana State
Cut in training camp
1977 (draft reduced to 12 rounds): Jim Kelleher, RB, Minnesota Vikings, Colorado
Cut in camp, then cut the following year in camp by Philadelphia
1976 (last year the draft lasted 1 picks): Kelvin Kirk, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dayton
Played seven seasons in the CFL
Sources: pro-football-reference.com, nfl.com and, if you really want to go down the Mr. Irrelevant rabbit hole, check out the Mr. Irrelevant website. Yep, there is one!
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 2-5:30 on AM 1060/SB Nation Radio on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-4 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.
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Cardinals’ offense remains a mystery
The Cardinals continue to work on their offense with new QB Kyler Murray and rookie WRs, plus a trim Chandler Jones looking good for the defense.
Brian Snyder, Arizona Republic