The Fraternity of Mr. Irrelevant
For the record, Chad Kelly was not sleeping when ESPN cameras aired a shot of him slouched over on his couch, covered by a blanket on day three of the NFL Draft. “I was watching the whole draft the whole day,” Kelly says. “I walked out of the room a couple times, but I did not fall asleep.” And really, who can blame Kelly for his apathetic body language? You’d probably wrap yourself in a blanket and collapse on the couch too, if you had to watch the first 252 of the draft’s 253 selections go by without hearing your name.
With just a few picks remaining in the seventh round, the former Ole Miss quarterback abandoned his post in front of the TV altogether. By that point, he’d given up on any chance of being drafted. He went outside to throw with his younger brother Casey, thinking that might ease his mind. “That sick feeling that I had in my stomach,” Kelly says, “I will remember that for the rest of my life.”
After a few left-handed passes to Casey (Kelly ruptured a ligament in his throwing wrist at his pro day), Denver called to selected him with very last pick in the draft, No. 253. By doing so, the Broncos crowned Kelly 2017’s Mr. Irrelevant. Of course, “Chad Kelly: Mr. Irrelevant” is an oxymoron. His résumé makes him far and away the most relevant final pick in the 40-year history of the Mr. Irrelevant tradition. Kelly is a former Ole Miss quarterback, known for his “wow” throws, unpredictable style, and several off-field incidents. He’s also the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
Before Ole Miss, Kelly spent a year at East Mississippi Community College, also known as Last Chance U., and now he’s the last pick of the draft. Although he experienced success in the SEC, college football’s biggest stage, he still considers himself an underdog. “I had 31 other teams pass on me,” he says. “Every day I am going work as hard as I can and prove those other 31 teams wrong.”
Kelly even chose to sleep on the floor after the first two nights of the draft as a physical reminder of his underdog identity. “I wanted to feel what it meant to be at rock bottom,” he says. “I’m injured and I can’t really do much right now and all the things that have occurred in the past probably didn’t help it.”
In the spirit of celebrating the last pick of the draft, The MMQB talked to four players who preceded Kelly in the Mr. Irrelevant fraternity. Titans kicker Ryan Succop (Chiefs, 2009), entering his ninth year as an NFL starter, is what Mr. Irrelevants strive to be; Titans cornerback Kalan Reed (2016) is fighting for a roster spot; free agent tight end Justice Cunningham (Colts, 2013) is hoping for one more shot to extend his NFL dream; and former quarterback Chandler Harnish (Colts, 2012) is retired from the NFL and now works in sales for a commercial roofing contractor. These are their stories of irrelevancy.
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KAHLER: What was your draft day like?
HARNISH: I expecting to be drafted on the third day, somewhere between the fourth and seventh round. I was really planning on the fifth or sixth, just based off historical patterns on quarterback drafting and where I was ranked. On that third day, I was at home in Bluffton, Indiana, actually golfing with a big group of family and friends. The day kind of slipped by. We wanted to go golfing to get away from the TV. We didn’t want to be stressed out, camped in front of it all day, so we went up to golf course. It was rainy, windy about 40 degrees, it was a terrible day to golf, but that was what we had planned. I was half expecting to get a phone call while I was out on the course, which I thought would have been pretty cool, but we golfed all day and no phone call. Naturally, the stress was building.
SUCCOP: I was at our house in college, back in Columbia, S.C. We just had eight or 10 friends and some family there. It was a pretty low-key deal, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be drafted or not. You didn’t want to have a bunch of people going over there, and then everybody go home disappointed when you don’t get your name called…
REED: I was in Atlanta with my grandparents, my parents, my brother and sister, and a couple of my aunts. I was surprised to be that late, the earliest round had me at a four. I wasn’t quite sure, I had some teams told me earlier and some teams tell me later but I didn’t think I would wait that long.
CUNNINGHAM: I was at home in Monroe, N.C. with a small group of family. We were all at my mom’s house just watching the draft. We weren’t going to do anything special. I was expecting to be drafted. I wasn’t expecting to be a high pick, but I was expecting to hear my name called somewhere between the fifth and seventh round.
CUNNINGHAM: I was pretty upset. No, I was really upset. By the time I did get the phone call from the Colts, I was already in talks with another team about signing as a free agent. It got to the point where I wasn’t really even thinking about the draft anymore. I just wanted to get with a team and go from there.
HARNISH: I was frustrated and aggravated. I felt like I had let people down, like I didn’t really achieve the goal that I set out to do. I can’t really say that it was a dream to be an NFL quarterback. I dreamed of being an NBA basketball player, but I was always a realist. I just felt like, If it happens, great, if not, whatever. I was confident enough that I was going to end up signing as a free agent. I was planning on going off to San Diego or Kansas City, I was in constant conversation with Jim Zorn, the Chiefs quarterbacks coach. That last pick came up and it didn’t even cross my mind.
SUCCOP: I wasn’t really feeling disappointed because I started getting a lot of calls. Once the seventh round started, I started hearing from a lot of different teams about maybe getting drafted or signing as a free agent. I was sitting there trying to figure out where I wanted to sign as a free agent because I knew I was going to have a few options. I was trying to figure that out and when I actually got my name called. It was nice to not have to make that decision, because that can feel like a big decision when you are a 21 or 22-year-old kid.
REED: Once it got into the seventh round, I thought I was going to go free agent at that point. I was on the phone with other teams trying to figure out deals and then the Titans called me. I was so relieved because signing as a free agent was a big decision, it was like trying to pick colleges again. You don’t know what you’re getting into, so it was a big weight off my shoulders with Tennessee taking me and saying they wanted me to go there. I was just happy to be picked, it’s lifelong dream to get drafted since you started playing football. I was excited, like as if I went the first round. It didn’t matter to me.
CUNNINGHAM: When I got picked last it was a great amount of relief, I will forever be thankful to the Colts for that, they made my dream come true. Better late than never. Once they called my name, everything was erased after that.
HARNISH: The Colts were on the clock, my phone rang, it was a 317 area code. Deductive reasoning kicked in, I was like, Oh my gosh, this could be something! At that moment it dawned on me that the Colts were drafting me. The excitement just overflowed. My family and friends are all from Indiana and they are all Colts fans and some even had season tickets. It was an unbelievable experience, it went from being one of the worst days to one of the best days. Andrew Luck was the first pick of that draft and I was the last pick, so I always joked that we were the bookends and part of that great Colts class. But I knew deep down I was a practice squad player, I was a third-string quarterback.
KAHLER: Every Mr. Irrelevant gets to enjoy “Irrelevant Week,” a week-long celebration in Newport Beach, Calif. organized by former NFL player Paul Salata and his daughter, Melanie Fitch. A lot of the week’s events poke good-natured fun at you. What was the funniest or most awkward moment?
SUCCOP: I knew I was in for it because when you first get out there, they have a welcoming parade for you. It was at the Balboa Yacht Club, which is this beautiful yacht club out in Newport Beach. There are all these beautiful boats, several million-dollar boats. Everyone is waiting for you on the beach and they tell me, “Hey look, we are going to take you out to the back of the marina and we are going to bring you in on a boat, and you are going to make your grand entrance that way.” I’m like, Hey, this is pretty sweet, I’m going to come in on one of these boats, everyone is waiting for me. I can do this. They take me to the back of the marina and I see this dude coming over in a little canoe with a five-horsepower engine on the back of it and I go, Ohhh. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was for me. And they said, “Oh yeah, that’s you buddy.” So I made my grand entrance in this little canoe. I was drafted by the Chiefs so I wore an Indian headdress as a chief and it was really embarrassing, but looking back, it was hilarious.
HARNISH: I didn’t have a canoe story, but one of the last nights there, they had this black tie event. I thought it was just going to be a really nice banquet, I had no idea. And then one of the guest speakers got up, [former Rams QB] Vince Ferragamo got up and started speaking and that’s when I realized what was going on. He just started making jokes, about how I was from the country and I was a hillbilly and my name is Chandler, and I’m named after a TV show. He just started coming at me and the crowd was laughing. It turned into a roast and I was like, Holy cow, this is awesome. That is my style of humor. And then I got up there and I have a gift of gab, I can speak pretty well, so somehow it came to me and I just started putting down zingers. I was coming at the guys that were making fun of me. I made fun of them. It turned out to be so much fun.
SUCCOP: The trophy they give you at the black tie event is pretty funny. It’s the “Lowsman Trophy,” it’s is a replica of the Heisman but he is fumbling the ball. I don’t have that displayed in the house anywhere yet, it is in storage and one day it will make for a good conversation piece.
REED: We had to do a pub crawl and in order to get there, they were like yeah, we are going to get you a bike-thing that four people ride and pedal down and we were going to ride around the beach. And the bike was broken... The pub crawl started right down the street but it took us like 30 minutes to get there. It was just going slow, one person’s pedal worked and everyone else’s didn’t, so we were going real slow.
HARNISH: It’s an awesome week, it’s a free vacation that they put on in your honor. I was just talking to Melanie Fitch this week about Mr. Irrelevant and how much fun we had, and she did say that I was her favorite. You can quote that, and you can ask her, she said I was her favorite. She’ll back that up.
KAHLER: Does it take a pretty good sense of humor to make it as a Mr. Irrelevant?
HARNISH: You have to be able to laugh at yourself and humble yourself, because it is humbling. But at the end of the day, I am awful proud to have been drafted, let alone to my dream team.
CUNNINGHAM: It’s a big joke and if you can take a joke, you’ll love it. They just make fun of the fact that we are all here for the guy that got drafted last. They have a banquet for you and six or seven dudes go onstage and joke on you the whole time.
SUCCOP: I’ve known a couple guys who have been Mr. Irrelevant since then, and the advice I always give them is: When you go out there, do not take yourself too seriously. You’re there to have fun. Make sure you can laugh at yourself. They are there to celebrate you, but they also want to roast you at the same time a little bit. Especially for me, when you are a field goal kicker and your last name is Succop (pronounced SUCK-up), you know it is coming for you, more than most people get. I actually gave that advice to Justice Cunningham, who came out of my alma mater, South Carolina. That was cool, having a guy who went to my school. And then the Titans [Succop’s current team] drafted Kalan Reed last year, who was Mr. Irrelevant, and I told him the same thing. So it has been kind of fun to pass that along and pull for those guys.
REED: I remember I was walking through the lunchroom and Succop was like, Hey, you were Mr. Irrelevant, right? He explained to me how the whole week would go and I think he was the first one to tweet at me right when I got drafted. It was pretty cool being on the only team in the league with two Mr. Irrelevants.
KAHLER: Every Mr. Irrelevant gets to make a few requests for their week, such as meeting a celebrity or enjoying their favorite foods. What did you request for your week?
HARNISH: Melanie [Fitch] still makes fun of me for this. She wanted to know what my favorite foods were. Being the hillbilly that I am, I said chili cheese dogs with onions, and sushi. I had never tried sushi until I got to college and I fell in love with it, so she just took that and ran with it. Every time I see her, she always says, “Chili cheese dogs and sushi!” They are just such opposite foods. But the first night we got there, we went out and had sushi and then at another event they had chili cheese dogs and onions.
KAHLER: Do you think being Mr. Irrelevant helped your football career in any way?
SUCCOP: I think it is definitely is a neat fraternity to be a part of. With a name like that, you are kind of the underdog, and especially here in America, we like to pull for the underdog.
HARNISH: Not so much Mr. Irrelevant, I think getting drafted in general helps your career because you’re going to have politics on your side. My first year when I came in I was not performing well, I wasn’t picking up the offense, but because I was a draft pick in that first class for [ex-Colts GM] Ryan Grigson and [head coach] Chuck Pagano they did not want to cut draft picks, because it doesn’t look good. If I hadn’t been drafted and I was a free agent signing, I don’t know if I would have lasted because I just wasn’t performing well.
HARNISH: Yeah, you hear it all the time. You’re in the seventh round so you are going to get the same benefits, which are very few as a seventh-round draft pick, but you might as well be remembered. At least you weren’t second to last. because you get the exact same signing bonus and you don’t get any of the perks of being Mr. Irrelevant. It absolutely has come up many times and I am happy to be that last pick.
CUNNINGHAM: I think if you are in the seventh round, besides your ego, it’s probably best to go as Mr. Irrelevant. It was always a joke, everybody said I could have been the guy before that and guy before that and not got anything. You are going to be paid around the same amount for your signing bonus, give or take three or four thousand but it’s going to be around the same area. The Mr. Irrelevant thing, at least you have a name so you can stand out a little bit.
KAHLER: Do you follow the careers of fellow Mr. Irrelevants?
HARNISH: Absolutely. It’s easy to follow a guy like Ryan Succop since he is the most successful out of anyone. It’s going to be easy to follow a guy like Chad Kelly, since he is a quarterback and has an interesting bio. It will be really fun to watch him and I think he is a really good player, and being that his uncle is Jim Kelly, but yeah, naturally you follow the guys who are part of your fraternity. My career was so unique because I was drafted Mr. Irrelevant, and then the next year, the Colts had the Mr. Irrelevant pick and they drafted Justice Cunningham and my first completion in the preseason was to Justice Cunningham. And then when I was with the Cardinals in 2015, they had the Mr. Irrelevant pick. So three of my four years I was closely involved with Mr. Irrelevant. The Cardinals asked me to go up there and read off the Mr. Irrelevant pick on NFL Network on live TV, it was such an honor, I couldn’t pass it up. But then they ended up paying me! I was like, What the heck, you guys are doing me a favor!
KAHLER: Does the Mr. Irrelevant name still stick with you today?
HARNISH: It comes up more often than not. Maybe once a month. I work in sales now for a commercial roofing contractor in DeKalb, Ill., so we are all over Chicago and the football aspect comes up in the sales industry. I’ll get to talking with a client and maybe I will give them my card, and then they will say, Oh I recognize that name, you played at NIU! And they will go and do some research and they will figure out the Mr. Irrelevant part and they will email me and they think it is so interesting. It really is a rare thing. There are fewer Mr. Irrelevants than there are Heisman trophy winners, because it started after that. So that is something that we hang our hat on, as a Mr. Irrelevant fraternity. It is a fun conversation starter and guys like to make fun of it, but I am proud of it and you have to be able to laugh at yourself.
KAHLER: Chandler, you’ve been done with the NFL since 2015. How did you know it was time to quit?
HARNISH: I’ve always been a guy that goes with gut feeling and it got to the point where I was moving around. I was released and re-signed by the Colts three or four times and then I got released by the Vikings and then I got released by the Cardinals. I was sick of living on my own and I had just bought a house in Geneva, Illinois. Things were going really well. And then the Seahawks called and my heart was out of it. I went up to Seattle after I got released by Arizona, and I was sitting in the doctor’s office going through my pre-physical and I just had this revelation that I was done. My heart wasn’t in it anymore. I called my agent and I said, ‘Hey I’m done. I’m sick of it, I’m ready just to get life started. I’m sick of not knowing where I am going to be, I can’t plan for any kind of financial earning. I have some real bills now, I’m an adult. I just can’t do this anymore.’ He said, ‘Go out and have fun and go do the tryout.’ And naturally, I didn’t have any pressure on me anymore, so I had a really nice workout and the Seahawks offered me a contract and I turned it down. That was going into the 2015 season. It’s a story I really don’t tell very often, but I turned it down. I couldn’t have been any further away from home in Seattle, so I just knew deep down in my heart it was going to be unfair to me and the Seahawks. It’s better that I move on. It was one most peaceful decisions I’ve ever made.
KAHLER: Being named Mr. Irrelevant makes you part of an underdog story. What’s your favorite underdog story in sports?
SUCCOP: One of my best friends is a guy named Wesley Bryan, and he actually just won his first PGA tour event. He has such a cool story. We went to school together at South Carolina and I always look at a guy like him, just a couple years ago he was playing on the mini tours, just trying to make ends meet. He stayed at it and stayed persistent and continued to work hard and he ended up getting on the PGA tour this year and won a tournament already. I love stories like that of guys who outwork their opponents and stay persistent.
CUNNINGHAM: There’s a lot of names I think of when I think of underdogs. I relate to the small community of players that jump around from team to team, like [Chargers linebacker] Korey Toomer, players that I have met from the Rams that were in and out at the Rams and they’ve been out of the league for a good year and some change. They have a good year and then they’re out the door the next year. Those players that keep fighting and don’t give up. I can’t pick one, but there are so many players that I met that went through that struggle and keep fighting and finally find their niche somewhere.
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