Sometimes, one has to dig deep to find gold.
In the case of two college offensive wizards, the NFL Draft came and went in an agonizingly slow pace — seven rounds, three days, 254 players — before the phone finally perked up.
Jake Browning and Keelan Doss were not selected but quickly agreed to undrafted free-agent deals Saturday night.
A quarterback who has set records at every stop, Browning signed a record package for an undrafted rookie free agent with the Minnesota Vikings.
A three-time Bee Player of the Year at Folsom High School, Browning set myriad marks at Washington and fully expected to maintain the momentum. With Minnesota, he will still get to wear purple, and he will again start out with something to prove.
He did in his first varsity start at Folsom as a sophomore, responding with a regional-record 10 touchdown passes. He did at Washington, coming in as the heralded guy with big numbers, and then became a starter as a true freshman.
A prolific receiver for UC Davis, Doss signed with the Oakland Raiders, the Alameda native united with his boyhood favorite team. He dreamed of donning the silver and black and told us earlier this month, “Any team would be a dream, but the Raiders would be really cool.”
He got his cool.
But how did two seemingly sure-thing talents fall completely off the draft board?
It’s more reflective of the vast talent pool at hand for the horde of NFL scouts, coaches and executives who pore over mounds of data, game film and one-on-one interviews with prospects. And, the NFL Draft is about projection, an inexact science.
Years ago, Browning and Doss would have been selected because the draft was an even more exhaustive process. Decades ago, there were 32 rounds, later trimmed to 17 rounds, and then down to 12 in 1976.
In 1994, the draft was reduced to seven rounds, allowing undrafted players and their agents a better chance to pick a roster that might better suit needs.
The only thing that didn’t check off emphatically for the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Browning is arm strength. He has never had a cannon arm, though Browning has more than made up for it with precision passing, instincts, the ability to read defenses and leadership.
Eleven quarterbacks were selected in this draft. Browning expected to be one, as any one-time preseason Heisman Trophy watch-list guy would be.
And the draft seemed part of the storybook accent for a player who set national prep records with 229 career touchdown passes to go with a state-record 16,775 yards at Folsom, and then became the winningest quarterback in Pac-12 history with 39. Those victories were punctuated by a school-record 12,296 career yards and 94 touchdowns as Browning ushered in a new era of Huskies football after years of program decline.
Browning was nearly picked in the seventh round by the Vikings, who instead elected to nab him with, reportedly, the allure of the richest undrafted free-agent signing in NFL history. He signed a three-year contract, including $140,000 guaranteed.
You go to college to get a good-paying job. Browning got one, and he will be granted an opportunity to make the club as he targets the back-up job to Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota’s rookie mini camp starts Wednesday, where Browning will get his first work in the next phase of his football life.
For Doss, the Raiders’ rookie mini camp this week will be a short drive from his family home in Alameda.
Doss’ contract has not been revealed but he figures to be a steal, and his non-selection was the biggest surprise of all the regional players in the draft pool.
It’s beyond boggling to fathom that Doss was not one of the 28 receivers picked, particularly after his impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, coached by the Raiders’ staff, and that 18 NFL folks braved the wind and rain this month at UCD to watch him work out one last time, and to talk to him just a bit more.
Doss checked off size wise at 6-3 and 210 pounds. His 40-yard dash times, regularly in the 4.5-second range, and production as one of the best players in the 100-year history of the Aggies’ football program, checked off, too. So did his character of a team guy who valued UCD so much that he returned for his senior season.
Doss was the driving force for the best team in program history. He set UCD records with career receptions (321), receiving yards (4,069), 100-yard games (19), and scouts regularly attended UCD games to see his hands and breakaway burst.
The only knock, and not Doss’ fault, was competition. He played in the FCS, against Weber State, Northern Colorado and Sacramento State, a notch below the FBS that includes NFL-pipeline programs such as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington.
But the draft is an unpredictable deal. For the first time in 56 years, not a single Nebraska player was picked. UCLA had one player selected — tight end Caleb Wilson, who went to the Arizona Cardinals with the last pick of the last round. USC, NFL Factory U, had no first- or second-round picks for the first time since 2003.
NFL camps start in July, with teams fielding rosters of 100 or more. The regular-season roster is 53, not including practice-squad players, meaning several players for the first time in their lives will be cut.
Other undrafted rookie signings
Utah State offensive lineman Roman Andrus of Oak Ridge, Wyoming defensive end Carl Granderson of Grant signed with New Orleans, Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk with Carolina, UCD linebacker Mason Moe with Philadelphia and Sacramento State receiver Andre Lindsey with Kansas City.