Parnell Motley was an NFL long-shot a year ago.
The year before that, he was even further away.
“Parnell came from some tough things that have happened in his life,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said of his former cornerback. “Things that have not [always] went his way.”
Former OU receivers Lee Morris and Nick Basquine both started their college careers as walk-ons before earning scholarships.
Making an NFL roster is never easy.
None of the three former Sooners — Morris, Basquine and Motley — were selected in this weekend’s NFL Draft despite having pre-draft conversations or workouts with teams.
Now they’ll pivot as undrafted free agents, hoping to prevail in the NFL like former Sooner defensive back Tony Jefferson, who has become a poster child for that route.
After declaring for the 2013 draft as a junior, a string of physical issues and mishaps caused Jefferson to slip completely out of all seven rounds, despite being given second- and third-round grades by some.
He signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals and spent four years there. Then came the big payoff — a $36 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens in 2017.
"When you play football since you're 4 years old, your main objective for most kids is you want to go to the NFL when you're older," Jefferson told the Ravens the day he signed. "To get to the NFL, you want to get drafted. I didn't. That still hurts, and it haunts me to this day."
Morris, Basquine and Motley are cut from a different cloth than Jefferson, who had been a second-team AP All-American.
Motley, for instance, was benched completely during the 2017 game at Oklahoma State in favor of then-freshman Tre Norwood.
But Motley worked through ups and downs before turning a corner as a senior, having consistent success against Big 12 receivers.
A few more picks and Motley might have been drafted Saturday. NFL Network analyst and longtime talent evaluator Gil Brandt listed him as the second-best undrafted cornerback available.
As for Morris and Basquine, they have in many ways returned to familiar territory. Both had to earn their way into OU’s rotation after walking on.
Their current situation isn’t much different.
Morris was an efficient, big target for the Sooners who caught 8 touchdowns in 21 catches in 2018. He was less productive his senior season, but was featured in the offense plenty and a factor on special teams as well.
He was listed as the 19th-best undrafted receiver available, according to Brandt.
“[Morris] has honestly been one of the players I’ve been asked about [by pro scouts] the most, just because he obviously was such a valuable player here — made a lot of explosive plays, big plays,” Riley said. “And then on top of it he was a tremendous special teams player, started all four of our — our big four — special teams. In that league with the roster spots as limited as they are, a guy like Lee, that could be his way in. Certainly had a lot of calls about him. I think there was quite a bit of interest to see how he was so productive and versatile.”
Basquine, the cerebral and homegrown product out of Norman North, fought through injuries and finished his OU career with 674 yards and three touchdowns, meshing well in Riley’s offense.
He’s used to taking the long road.
“When I was coming in [at OU] they had a four-star, five-star slot at my position,” Basquine told The Transcript last fall. “But I wasn’t afraid of competition, that was one of the big reasons I came here. I wanted to be here and it didn’t matter who was in front of me.”
OU finished the weekend with four players drafted, including first-round picks CeeDee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys) and Kenneth Murray (Los Angeles Chargers). Jalen Hurts went in the second round (Philadelphia) and Neville Gallimore (Dallas) was picked up in the third.
LSU dominated the weekend, tying a national record with 14 picks. Big 12 teams had 21 picks combined.
Kansas State did not have a player selected for the first time since 1993, giving OU the Big 12’s longest streak. The Sooners have had a player drafted every year since 1996.
NFL Draft 2020
CeeDee Lamb; Rd. 1, No. 17; Dallas Cowboys
Kenneth Murray; Rd. 1, No. 23; Los Angeles Chargers
Neville Gallimore; Rd. 2, No. 82; Dallas Cowboys
Picks from Power 5 conference teams
Big Ten: 48
Big 12: 21