The Read Option: Round 7ers
They are perennial all stars and locker room leaders. They are champions, coaches and stat sheet stuffers. They are a collection of what makes the SFL great.
But before they started to make their individual impact on the league, they collectively sat for three full days in the Season 15 draft.
The Season 15 draft was truly different in scope. Never before or since has the SFL seen a class like this one. The year prior, 60 players over three rounds were taken - less than half of what was to come the following year. As the league’s greatest surge of young talent took root, the largest draft played out starting with linebacker David Horrell’s name and then 114 more followed.
Still, this group waited.
They are the seventh rounders of the Season 15 draft - an eclectic bunch of patient draftees whose road was windier than most - and more successful than a seventh round group may suggest.
‘One of the happiest moments of my life’
Varadin Zharkov made Season 15 draft day an event.
“I remember sitting at home with my friends and family eagerly waiting for the draft to begin,” he said. “You have to understand I knew I was not the most touted tight end coming out the minors that year, but I knew I could be successful in the SFL.”
Middle rounds, he thought.
“I was contacted by several teams. Then, round by round, my name was not called. I have to be honest, I was disappointed. I felt I could play with these guys and be successful.”
With only two picks left before the end of the entire draft, the Florida Storm finally gave Zharkov an SFL home. He has reciprocated that trust from Florida, posting 290 catches, 3,000+ yards receiving, 22 TDs and blocked for MVP Bullet Biletsky - helping the Storm reach back-to-back title games.
“That was one of the happiest moments of my life. I felt like I was drafted first overall. My motto is ‘last on draft day but first on game day.’”
In a position of change
Doug Britton thought he had showcased enough. First round, he thought.
Britton, who was dazzling in the inaugural SFLm season, was statistically and performance-wise a top 2 receiver. His minor league prowess, however, did not attract the attention he anticipated would be there - overlooking an important aspect of the SFL.
“I didn’t understand the importance of progressing,” Britton admits. “I didn’t understand the importance of being active and with it being the first sim league I was a part of even muted the team locker room and gen chat because I didn’t like getting all the notifications.”
As picks and rounds drifted by, Britton finally started to field calls from teams… about playing on defense as a linebacker or defensive lineman.
“Finally, Slinn [Shady] told me Vegas might have a spot at FB and with that I declined the others since I might be able to touch the ball on offense.”
And touch ball he has since.
Britton not only eventually found his way back over to the receiver room, he would become one of the most feared returners in recent SFL memory.
His three punt return TDs in Season 18 is an SFL record and he just completed a season finishing third in receiving yards in the entire league.
Britton was not the only seventh rounder to switch positions as teams looked to fill the final gaps on their rosters. Final pick of the entire draft, Rickey Thornton (pick No. 137) was an offensive lineman who converted to strong safety for Jacksonville.
This former-almost-lineman boasts 376 career tackles, 28 interceptions, 31 pass deflections and countless nightmares for offensive coordinators.
Nate Brown (pick No. 130) was a cornerback, but was convinced to switch to defensive tackle. While the thought of Brown slipping 129 spots seems ludicrous today, he said talking to his soon-to-be team was all the confidence he needed.
“The wait was intense, not knowing what team we’ll have you come aboard and show what your player could provide,” he said. “Baltimore was the first team to have interest in my player. I thought I wouldn’t make the first round, but with the Vultures last pick of the draft I was selected. Our owners, GM and coaches are a special group. We are trying to make history before we all retire and collect multiple championship titles.”
So far, so good on that title front for Brown, who is now the proud owner of 183 tackles, 48.5 sacks and multiple Baltimore championship rings. Not bad for a late round, position-switcher.
Seven standing tall
As with every draft, not every round is perfect. Six such draftees did not last through to the end of their first season. Yet, of the 22 players selected in Season 15’s final round, more than half have carved out memorable careers.
Nine players are still very much active and adding to their legacies. In fact, 6 of the last 9 taken overall are about to take the field this season - most of whom have only played for one organization their entire career.
The seventh round started with WR Paul Dillavou (Pick No. 116) being drafted by St. Louis. His 75-yard punt return record in the SFLm title game still stands. He later would post 301 career catches, 3,582 yards and 19 touchdowns.
And the talent didn’t slow down from there…
- Pick No. 117 Robert Brewer/DE mauler/Portland - 152 tackles, 23.5 sacks, 65 tackles for loss
- Pick No. 118 Ike McBride/RB and perennial all-star- 6,608 rushing yards, 1,739 receiving yards, 67 total touchdowns
- Pick No. 123 Leo Jefferson/DL - 179 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 56 tackles for loss
- Pick No. 126 Sam Avolis/WR/Carolina - 174 receptions, 2,229 yards, 9 TDs over 5 seasons
- Pick No. 128 Mufasa Kamua/DT - 55 tackles, 9 sacks, 21 tackles for loss over 3 seasons
- Pick No. 133 Digger Graves/DE/QCC - 53 tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss over 2 seasons
- Pick No. 134 Nathan Barnett/free safety extraordinaire - 258 tackles, 16 INTs, 46 pass deflections
Chip-free shoulder pads
That was the theme James Walters (Pick No. 129), tight end, had on the third day of the draft.
“I was talking to multiple teams, but I didn't have any progression banked, so they weren't too sure,” he said. “Finally, on the third day, [Vancouver coach] Andy Hamilton posted in player openings again. I reached out to him. He said he needed a scout, so I told him if he drafted me I would buy the game and Xbox that night!”
With such anxiety, many different emotions were born for the seventh rounders of Season 15. The same can be said for how the players felt if they had a chip on their shoulders after teams passed on them.
Over and over again.
“Not really,” said Walters, who lead Vancouver as their defensive coordinator to the league's best scoring defense this past season. “I was just happy to be drafted and figure out the game.”
“In the beginning, I had a huge chip on my shoulder,” admits Zharkov. “I wanted to prove everyone wrong and punish those who passed on me. As time went on though, the chip went away as my current and past teammates and coaches are some of the best in the league.”
“Being drafted was all I needed, even if it was the 7th round,” said Brown. “I believe in my player.”
And that belief for this group of SFL players, whose tag as seventh rounders may inspire thoughts of a ragtag bunch of misfits. In reality, they are some of the pillars of the SFL today.
While the seventh rounders are not specifically the tightest of friends, their kinship in waiting three full days and seven rounds to hear their name called is without doubt impactful as it gets.
“I feel a special bond with all the last rounders that was drafted that year because we all had that feeling of how close we were of not making it the the big leagues,” said Zharkov. “The entire process for me was a night I will never forget and I cherish every snap I play in the SFL.”