IU draft history proves gems can be found after the first round

First-rounders get all of the buzz on draft day. But in the annals of history, picks up and down the draft board seize the glory.

Indiana has produced more than its fair share of examples.

Just refer to the 41st overall selection of the 1945 NFL Draft — at that time, a fifth-round pick — by the Philadelphia Eagles. That was a 6-foot-1, 210-pound end from IU, Pete Pihos.

Pihos, who didn’t sign with the Eagles until 1947, went on to a Hall of Fame career, elected to seven Pro Bowls and named All-Pro in each of his last four seasons. In 1953, Pihos led the NFL in receptions (63), yards (1,049), and touchdowns (10) — in an era when teams weren’t so pass-happy.

Of course, this isn’t to say Pihos was a complete draft “steal” at the time. To be picked in the fifth round wasn’t all that bad, considering the selection process ran 32 rounds, with 330 players taken altogether.

The number of teams picking has increased, and the rounds have decreased. But it remains a theme that some of IU’s best draft products are not among the first ones off the board.

Let’s take a look at the Hoosiers’ draft history, round by round, and recall some of pro football’s best finds out of Bloomington.

Earl Faison, 7th overall to the Chargers, 1961

The most prestigious first-rounder from IU could also be called a fifth-rounder.

That’s because there were two drafts when Faison left IU, the AFL and the NFL. In the latter, the Detroit Lions were able to wait until the fifth round to nab the 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end. San Diego valued him more in the AFL draft, though, taking the Hoosier at No. 7 overall.

The Chargers’ calculation was best. Faison went the AFL route, earning Pro Bowl honors in every season from ’61-65. He was also a four-time All-Pro.

Faison was a member of San Diego’s “Fearsome Foursome” that harassed AFL quarterbacks, starring fellow Chargers Hall of Famer Ernie Ladd. Back issues eventually derailed Faison’s career, but not before he helped the Chargers to four AFL title games, winning it all in ’63.

Outside of Faison, first-rounders haven’t fared all that well for IU. Wide receiver Thomas Lewis (24th overall in 1994) was out with the Giants after four seasons. Running back Vaughn Dunbar (21st overall, ‘92) couldn’t stick with the Saints. Offensive tackle Kevin Allen (9th overall, ’85) was a monumental bust, cut after one season by the Eagles.

There are others who at least made a notable impact. Doug Crusan was drafted 27th overall by the Miami Dolphins in 1968 and was the left tackle for the undefeated Super Bowl champions. Defensive back Marv Woodson was a Pro Bowler in ’67, snagging seven interceptions to validate his status as the No. 8 pick in ‘64.

Antwaan Randle El, 62nd overall to the Steelers, 2002

This is a tough decision, because cornerback Tracy Porter (40th overall) and offensive tackle Rodger Saffold (33rd) both proved to be good second-round picks in their respective years.

Porter, selected by the Saints in 2008, played nine seasons and had a signature moment in a Super Bowl, though it was probably dissatisfying for most of Indiana. He got between Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and quarterback Peyton Manning, returning an interception 74 yards to help New Orleans seal a Super Bowl title in 2010.

Saffold, drafted in 2010, is still in the league, pancaking defenders and posting videos of himself dead-lifting cartoonish amounts of weight in the offseason. The 6-5, 323-pounder is 11 years into an NFL career, now with the Titans, with 142 of his 145 career games being starts.

But Randle El, one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football history, slid down in the second round to the Steelers, who projected him as a return man and slot receiver. Their evaluation was spot on.

The 5-10, 185-pound playmaker amassed nearly 4,500 receiving yards in nine years with the Steelers and Redskins. He also logged six return touchdowns. But his most famous touchdown might be his receiver-to-receiver pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.

Randle El, a Super Bowl champion, was worth an investment. When he left Pittsburgh for Washington, he received a six-year contract worth $27 million.

Tevin Coleman, 73rd overall to the Falcons, 2015

Running backs are rarely drafted in the first round in today’s NFL, and IU’s 2,000-yard rusher had to wait until the third round.

Despite some injury woes in the last couple of years, Coleman has proven to be a valuable weapon. In his finals three seasons in Atlanta, the IU alum had 941, 927, and 1,076 total yards, respectively, proving to be both a threat in the run and receiving phases.

In 2019, his first of two seasons in San Francisco, Coleman shared the load in the backfield for the NFC Champions. In that NFC title win, he separated a shoulder but toughed it out to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, standing across from his former running backs coach, Deland McCullough (now back at IU).

Coleman recently signed with the New York Jets, reuniting with an IU alum who should also be mentioned here. Dan Feeney, the 71st overall selection of the Chargers in 2017, comes to the Jets after starting 57 games at guard and center over four seasons.

Bob Skoronski, 56th overall to the Packers, 1956

There haven’t been many standouts for the Hoosiers in the fourth round, though offensive lineman Wes Martin (Washington) and tight end Ian Thomas (Carolina) aren’t through with their careers.

So we’ll skip ahead to the fifth round, which features another talented rusher, Jordan Howard, a Pro Bowler. But that’s not the end of the conversation.

How about an offensive lineman from the Packer dynasty?

Skoronski, a 6-3, 249-pound tackle, started 124 games for Green Bay over 11 seasons, helping win five titles. He was a Pro Bowl bookend for the Packers in 1966, opposite Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg.

They protected Bart Starr, opened holes for Jim Taylor, and took orders from Vince Lombardi. All enshrined in Canton. That’s pretty good company.

Nolan Harrison, 146th overall to the Raiders, 1991

Once you get in the sixth round, the hope isn’t as much for star power as just someone who can stick. Good teams build their teams in the latter rounds, identifying solid pros that can fill out a roster.

Not every sixth-round pick is Michigan’s Tom Brady.

But IU’s Harrison was a fine pro. The 6-5, 280-pound d-lineman hung in the league for 10 seasons. In that decade, he logged 83 total starts, mainly for the Raiders and Steelers. His best season probably came in 1994, racking up 47 tackles and five sacks.

He not only had a productive NFL career. Harrison has been on the board of directors for the NFL Players Association, holding the title of senior director of former player services. He still has a presence in pro football.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick.

Chris Liwienski, 207th overall to Lions, 1998

There are a couple of good options here in the seventh round, including receiver Ernie Jones (179th overall, 1988). The Cardinals wideout had nearly 3,600 yards receiving in five NFL seasons.

But Liwienski, the offensive guard, ended up having a decade-long career, even after he was bounced from the Lions and ended up on the Vikings. He was on the practice squad for the majority of his first two seasons.

By 2001, the 6-5, 321-pounder was Minnesota’s starting right tackle. Liwienski started four more years on the Vikings’ o-line, including stints at guard, before moving on to Arizona and Miami. In his final season with the Dolphins, he joined with ex-IU head coach Cam Cameron.

All told, Liwienski started 94 games and appeared in four playoff contests.

More buried treasure

With all of that being said, it can be argued that the list of Hoosiers who weren’t picked in seven rounds is just as impressive.

Trent Green, who had a long career as a signal caller with the Rams and Chiefs, was an eighth-round selection of the Chargers in 1993 — one year before the NFL reduced the draft to seven rounds.

Another eighth-rounder, Pete Stoyanovich, was an All-Pro kicker for Miami.

Bob DeMarco, a 14th-round pick of the Cardinals in 1960, was an interior offensive lineman who reached the Pro Bowl three times in an astonishingly long 15-year career. Two great rushers in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Bob Hoernschemeyer and George Taliaferro, were 11th- and 13th-round picks, respectively.

Adewale Ogunleye wasn’t drafted at all, and the defensive end finished up a 10-year career with 67 sacks, including a 15-sack year and a Pro Bowl appearance in 2003. Another undrafted free agent, Kris Dielman, started 97 games at guard for the Chargers from 2005-11.

So, for the hundredth time, evaluating prospects has never been an exact science for NFL front offices. Great players are found in all rounds, not just the first.

Hoosiers included.

15 comments

  1. The interesting thing to me about the NFL is how many misses and how many hits teams make in their drafting history. You can measure many things but you can’t measure all things that determine success in the NFL. Yes, it takes talent, speed, size but it also takes the right fit, determination, and heart to overcome to succeed.

  2. This year’s draft is another reminder of the hidden gems coming out of High School every year. North Dakota State’s QB did not receive one FBS offer to play QB coming out of HS. The big schools that recruited him wanted him to play DB, LB, WR, or something else. NDS was the only school that agreed to let him try to play QB! And after playing only 17 games at an FCS program, he was the third pick in the NFL Draft! Ironically, he’ll eventually replace a guy who was also under-valued coming out of HS and who played for Eastern IL.

  3. Shame of the century is that Bob Skoronski is not in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame (Richmond, formerly in Kokomo). His line-mate with the 60s Packers Fuzzy Thurston (Valpo) is, though. I’ve tried to contact the IFHOF about correcting this injustice, but no response. Skoronski is, if my internet digging is correct, living in a small town in Wisconsin. Where he probably never has to buy his own beer at the local pub.

    1. I agree that it is a shame that Skoronski isn’t in the Indiana HS Football Hall of Fame. You could try getting a current member – typically a high school football coach, better yet the high school he went to – to nominate him for inclusion and push the committee to consider him for the Hall of Fame.

  4. There are many great things in this country. However, to air on tv (especially) major network the nfl, nba drafts, Oscars and related award shows etc is a horrific example of eliteness in this country. The old Indy 500 awards banquets were great. Of course my the tv shows I watch most often are Andy Griffith and Gomet Pyle shows.

    1. to air more than 30 minutes…especially more than 30 minutes…and spell check sucks regarding above post but independent thinkers can figure the spelling out.

    2. Sports ‘Walmarted’ itself, t. You can’t leave the store without a shopping cart full of generic offerings in supersized packages. Other than a package of cheese here…and a gallon of milk by the ‘Cow Prisons Are Us Farms’ there (which exclusively sells to only Walmart), the cart is full of mostly wasteful garbage minus any real selectivity, choice, or uniqueness of brand. And nobody likes to waste on things they don’t need more than those who have the least dollars who have never really known selection. Filling a cart with goods …or filling up a day on Facebook is the fools gold of success. Enter sports….Must fill the cart. Must fill the day. Little effort needed in making the product unique because we’ve simply been sold to believe more is more.
      Somehow along the bypass highway cutting through America this country began to believe a mass quantity of something meant getting more for your money and more variety/quality. It means neither. Sports and entertainment boarded the same train.
      A thousand channel offerings in a cable package along with a hundred sports channels….Fill the cart with terrible broadcasters, generic products and redundancy. Nobody has a niche. They don’t need a niche. Society just follows the rest of the ants to the hill and down the hole.

      1. Niches are exactly the reason there are thousands of channels. Sports didn’t go Walmart . . . Sports (at least sports media) largely went boutique. Again, that’s why you can watch cricket from Australia or futbol from anywhere or cornhole from Wisconsin.

        Of course, none of this is related to IU football or the players who are finding homes with NFL teams.

  5. The Human Psych in this country has been (Walmart’tard’) on the above subject/s….a society gone (walmar’tard’) rules and tax structures welfare-ing cooperate elites thus allowing the Walmar’tard’ of the Societal Human Psyche.

  6. Back to football for a while at least, several Hoosiers now have their chance to show if they are the hidden gems coming out of college this past season. Drafted or undrafted, many players will get their shot in training camp to show they belong in the NFL.

    Meanwhile our Hoosiers will be working out this Summer to try and maintain the trajectory the team has been on the past two seasons. Can the Hoosiers continue their winning ways during a full season and with crowds back in the stands. By all accounts the players are still hungry and working hard to keep winning in the B1G East. I am looking forward to the coming season and to see how this next recruiting class is developing after college visits.

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