Both Tar Heels picked in this year’s NFL Draft came on Saturday, the final day of selections. Charlie Heck is headed to the Houston Texans after a fourth round pick, while Jason Strowbridge went in the fifth round to the Miami Dolphins.
As you’ve probably heard if you pay attention to the NFL or just football in general, you don’t need to be a first round pick to go on to have a good or even great pro career. (Tom Brady was a sixth round pick, etc.) In that spirit, and considering where both UNC players were picked this year, let’s look at some Tar Heels of the past who went on to have success in the NFL despite late selections.
Two former UNC players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One was Lawrence Taylor, who was almost taken as high in the draft as possible. The other was selected in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore.
In the 1965 NFL Draft, Chris Hanburger was taken in the 18th round by the Washington Redskins. He went on to by a five-time All-Pro and a nine-time Pro Bowler, while being named Defensive Player of the Year in 1972. He helped Washington to Super Bowl VII, where he and his defensive teammates held the famous undefeated Dolphins team to just 14 points. Their team just happened to only score seven in a loss.
Bill Koman went on to be an 11-year starter an two-time Pro Bowler, both with the Cardinals, after the Colts selected him in the eighth round of the 1956 NFL Draft. Admittedly, the eighth round in 1956 was the 91st overall pick, which falls in the third round today. However, that means there were less teams and less roster spaces in the league. Having a career that long after going that relatively late is impressive.
One player is tied with Hanburger in terms of years for longest Tar Heel NFL career after being selected in the 4th plus round. Punter Tommy Barnhardt went on to have a 14-year NFL career after being selected in the ninth round out of Carolina.
Bracy Walker, Carlton Bailey, and future UNC coach John Bunting are all players who went on to have a double digit season career in the pros after being selected in later rounds. Walker in the fourth round was the earliest any of that trio went.
As far as recent players, Cole Holcomb is a shining light, at least so far in his career. He went in the fifth round, but went on to be a regular starter for Washington last season, his first in the league.
As for the Tar Heels that weren’t selected, history shows that you can have a career even without being picked.
Jeff Saturday is a Super Bowl champion, six-time Pro Bowler, and has been a Hall of Fame finalist despite going wholly undrafted back in the day. There’s also Ethan Albright and his 16-year career following his non-selection.
While they still have a road ahead of them, it’s not impossible for the likes of Heck and Strowbridge to carve out long careers for themselves at the next level. Best of luck to them.