The NFL 2011 Draft: The Caste System is Real

Last year, we wrote a long post on the 2010 Draft. The landscape of the NFL has changed significantly since that time. A white running back by the name of Peyton Hillis emerged as a fan favorite and was voted by fans to appear on the 2o12 cover of the most popular video game, Madden NFL Football.

The whitest team in the league, the Green Bay Packers, won the Super Bowl over a team that was the genesis for the Rooney Rule, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quickly becoming the Blackest team in the league (even having three Black quarterbacks) and rarely drafting a white player – none the past two years – the Steelers represent an attempt to turn a football franchise into a facsimile of an NBA franchise.

Soon, the only white players will be the kicker, punter, and holder, though ESPN the Magazine did publish an article asking, “Where are all the Black kickers?”:

In the NFL’s 91 seasons, very few African-Americans, or black men of any nationality, have earned a living launching the ball with their foot. In the 1960s and ’70s, Gene “Golden Toe” Mingo made a career of placekicking (while playing a few other positions) for five AFL and NFL teams. In the past decade, Cedric Oglesby and Justin Medlock had brief placekicking stints. And two Nigerian-born soccer-style kickers, Obed Ariri and Donald Igwebuike, also made the NFL after starring at Clemson.

Equally few African-American punters have secured regular-season NFL jobs — most notably Greg Coleman and the late Reggie Roby, who between them kicked for seven different NFL teams over 12- and 16-year careers, respectively. Currently, though, the NFL’s only black kicking specialist is Browns punter Reggie Hodges (his father is black, his mother white).

Given their pro scarcity, it’s no surprise that black kickers are nearly as rare in college. Kicking guru Gary Zauner, an NFL special-teams coordinator for 13 seasons, holds off-season showcases with pro scouts for hopeful kickers. When asked to identify the best African-American placekicking prospect today, Zauner says, “I’m not able to name one.”

That’s because only one of 120 college teams in FBS had a black kicker or punter appear in a game last season — Arizona punter Keenyn Crier. Even in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, with its 13 historically black colleges and universities (11 have football programs, including Morgan State), most kickers are white or Hispanic. Which is why, when one of Morgan State’s two specialists trots onto the field, opponents stare. “I’ve heard, ‘Man, you’re black, you can’t kick, what are you doin’ kicking?'” says the 20-year-old Adams. “Other teams are surprised to see a black kicker. Then to learn I’m actually good at it … “

Don’t hold your breath waiting for an article published by either Sport Illustrated or EPSN that asks “Where are all the white corner backs?” or “Where are all the white running backs?” for these questions of are immaterial to the direction the NFL is headed. Richard Lapchick publishes a score card for college and professional sports, and only those sports that promote and hire Black people and other minorities get a passing grade.

Those with a “distressing lack of diversity” (read too white) fail to get a passing grade.

Thus the goal of an article on the lack of Black kickers in the NFL is an attempt at interjecting racism into the equation, since the league is 69 percent Black.

The NFL, like the NBA, has made it a goal to anoint talents like Dez Bryant and Michael Vick as the faces of the league, though the bulk of fans still identify with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and, if the Madden NFL Sportsnation poll is any indication, a white running back who runs over the competition named Peyton Hillis.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the continued push to turn the league into a Richard Lapchick approved forum for positive levels of diversity went on unabated with Cameron Newton of Auburn University as the first overall pick to the Carolina Panthers. Having had his attitude and character questioned by a white talent evaluator only to have Warren Moon come to his rescue and resuscitate 30-year-old stereotypes of “Black players not being smart enough” to play quarterback as the reason for such criticism, Newton’s undeniable talent was enough to secure the top draft slot.

Go here for the 2011 NFL Draft results for all seven rounds. Instead of talking about the entire draft, we will focus on just three players: Stanford’s Owen Marecic, Auburn’s Zack Clayton and Oregon’s Jeff Maehl.

The New York Times did a fantastic story on Marcecic, a white fullback and linebacker who played both ways Stanford, while also majoring in a real degree. wrote a piece praising the selection of this bruising fullback by the Cleveland Browns and we concur.

The Browns, quietly becoming a team of rooting interest for many people around the country because of the white running back Peyton Hillis, have now drafted a competent fullback in Marcecic who will – along with quarterback Colt McCoy – comprise the first starting all-white backfield in the NFL since, well, we aren’t sure when.

Auburn’s Zack Clayton, a white defensive tackle, was picked in the seventh round by Tennessee. Here’s an article from the Opelika-Auburn News from from April that discussed Clayton’s long road to the NFL:

Zach Clayton’s pre-draft experience has been on the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from former teammates Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.

Instead of publicized, media-only workouts with a professional position coach, the Opelika High grad had sessions in the Hutsell-Rosen Track Complex, nestled into the corner by the equipment shed with his father, Jerry, an Auburn assistant track and field coach.

Instead of appearances on ESPN’s First Take, sitdowns with Jon Gruden or the possibility of gracing a video game cover, Clayton worked four hours a day to improve his agility, balance and other skills that would translate to the next level.

“All I have to do is wake up and work out,” Clayton said. “It’s not like I have to manage time, study, have a social life. I just have to wake up and work out. It’s great. Some would say I’m living the dream.”

Instead of taking a flyer for most of Auburn’s Pro Day and letting the NFL Combine speak for itself, Clayton used the media and scouting crush on hand for Newton and Fairley to make his case as to why a team should take a chance on him.

“A lot of teams came to our Pro Day,” Clayton said wryly. “We had a couple big prospects there.”

The first big test was Auburn’s Pro Day on March 8.

“Basically, the theme was to try and make him more athletic,” Jerry Clayton said. “From what he had done in the past with (Tigers strength and conditioning coach  Kevin) Yoxall and the strength program, we knew his Pro Day numbers would be pretty good.

“It was unanticipated by some of the scouts and the other people there. But we all felt he was capable of doing that.”

Clayton topped the 13-player field in the bench press (27 reps at 225 pounds), recorded a standing long jump of 10 feet and a vertical jump of 33.5 inches.

Even more surprisingly, he recorded consecutive times of 4.68 and 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

The stopwatch and notepad crowd began to take notice.

“The goal was to get some of the teams that hadn’t heard of me or weren’t really looking at me to go and take a second look at the film,” Clayton said. “Make a few of them say, ‘Who is this guy?’ and ‘What did he do during the season?’ I think it worked out real well.”

Running a 4.6 at nearly 300 pounds is scary athleticism. A long jump of 10 feet and a vertical of 33.5 is incredible. So how did ESPN describe the 7th round pick?:

He is a limited athlete who has excellent strength and power at the point of attack.

If Clayton represents a “limited athlete” its only because ESPN didn’t spend three months hyping him up as they did plenty of other athletes on their pre-draft shows. If Clayton’s 4.6 40 time – when he weighs 300 pounds – is “limited athleticism” I’d hate to see what ESPN defines as “unlimited athleticism.”

Which brings us to Jeff Maehl, a walk-on wide receiver (as so many talented white players who play receiver, safety and linebacker for major college football teams are these days) at Oregon who scorched Pac-10 defenses during his career and went undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft.

Before the NCAA Championship game against Auburn, this was written about Maehl (strangely, the Montgomery Advertiser has removed this article from its records, but it is mentioned here):

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The question seemed innocent enough, but Oregon receivers coach Scott Frost didn’t view it that way.

When a reporter noted that wide receiver Jeff Maehl has deceptive speed, often turning short passes into long gains, Frost took exception to the perceived implication.

“Unfortunately, he’s a white receiver so you give him that stereo type,” Frost said. “I don’t know why you give him that stereotype, but he’s gonna run a better 40 time than three fourths of the receiving coming out in the draft.”

Fair enough. Maehl is more than a possession receiver who runs precise routes. His leaping 45-yard touchdown catch in the USC game was highlight-reel material.

Maehl is aware of the stereotype surrounding “white receivers” and if anything it has worked to his ad vantage.

“I guess that’s just kind of my advantage if teams think I might be slow or something,” said Maehl, a 6-foot-1, 184-pound senior from Paradise, Calif. “I’m guessing it’s out there in the media and in the back of some guys’ heads, that’s probably what they’re thinking.”

If Auburn underestimates Maehl’s wheels in the BCS national championship game, the Tigers likely will pay the price. The Tigers have given up an average of 250.4 yards passing per game, 105th among the 120 FBS schools.

With minimal fanfare, Maehl has put together one of the best sea sons for a receiver in school history. He has 68 receptions for 943 yards and a single-season record 12 touchdowns, and was named first-team all-Pac-10.

“(Defensive backs) don’t think he has a lot of moves, (but) he’s real quick with his first step and after that he has a long stride,” said wideout D.J. Davis.

“Some times we make fun of him, call him a little gazelle or a deer.”

Maehl is fourth in career receptions (169) at Oregon and needs nine in the national title game to tie Samie Parker for the season and career mark in receptions. His 24 receiving touchdowns matches a school record shared by Keenan Howry and Cristin McLemore. Not bad for a player who began his college career as a safety.

“He’s just a football player. He does everything,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “He covers kicks for us. He’ll block for you, he runs great routes, he’s got great hands, he can jump. He¹s just been an unbelievable player.”

Jeff Maehl, despite putting up incredible numbers at the NFL combine, went undrafted.

There’s not much else to say about the NFL Draft, other then that Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who survived cancer to come back and play in 2010 after sitting out the 2009 season. Having put up astounding numbers in 2008, the white linebackers failure to be picked will serve as motivation:

In the summer of 2009, all Mark Herzlich wanted to do was return to the footballfield. But the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year was stuck in a hospital five days a week, undergoing radiation treatments intended to kill the cancer in his leg. The closest he could get to a real football field was a virtual one.

To pass the time, he and Zack Migeot, his best friend since kindergarten, played video games, among them a version of NCAA college football. There Mark Herzlich was, on the screen. The real Mark Herzlich sat on his bed, connected to a machine that was keeping him alive for real, while he was connected to another machine that brought him to life, virtually. “When I made a nice play, I would talk to myself — ‘nice play, Mark,’ ” Herzlich said.

That sounds heavy and full of meaning and symbolism now, but back then it just sounded loud, as Herzlich and Migeot screamed and yelled so much during the games that they had to be moved to a private room so they wouldn’t bother other patients. Herzlich beat the cancer and made a triumphant return to linebacker at Boston College, and today he starts to write the next chapter in his already incredible recovery story.

But this chapter starts on a difficult note: He went undrafted. “It was a disappointing and tiring day. It got to the point when I just felt like things were turning against me and tried to just keep my head up,” he said.

Far from giving up, he is set on proving he belongs in the NFL. “Apparently people are saying I can’t play football,” he said. “Well, I have heard that before.”

Yes, yes he has. And his reaction to it was nothing short of remarkable.

Herzlich’s presence in the draft was a confounding one for NFL teams. To watch Herzlich’s 2008 game tape is to watch a bruising, methodical, smart linebacker destroy the ACC. He was projected as a first-round pick. But cancer cost him the 2009 season, and in 2010, he did not play like a first-round pick. But a big reason was a stress fracture in his foot robbed him of all but three practices before the season. The more he played, the better he played, and by the end of the season, he closely resembled his old self. He and his coaches say by the time the NFL season starts, he will be even farther along in his football recovery, perhaps all the way back.

Herzlich, profiled here in USA Today, would have made a smart 6th or 7th round selection by a team looking to garner not only positive public relations, but selecting a tenacious football player who overcame adversity and cancer. The NFL needs positive role models and the canonization of Peyton Hillis by fans all across the country is proof positive of the type of player they want to see succeed.

Overcoming cancer and coming back to play football is an incredible story. The dude can play at the professional level and the NFL teams just dropped the ball on not drafting this player whose story is a perfect script for a Disney movie.

Unlike Remember the Titans, it won’t be made up.

The NFL is a joke. The league is dead-set on becoming the NBA, and yet the fanbase clamors for actual heroes, role models to cheer for instead of the manufactured, ESPN approved players.



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3 Responses to The NFL 2011 Draft: The Caste System is Real

  1. Pingback: ANU The NFL 2011 Draft: The Caste System is Real

  2. Josh says:

    Caste Football should have been given some praise or at least a direct mention in this article. They’ve been writing about this stuff for years. Instead of saying anything about that, you use one of their terms and without so much as a thank you or a well done. This was a good piece, but try giving some credit where credit is due next time.

    • SBPDL says:


      You are correct. Check out the post at on this very same issue (hell, it’s the same post). The situation is rectified there.

      Keep up the great at that site. doesn’t get near the traffic as… yet.

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