Late-round NFL draft picks aren't given the same type of star treatment that first or second round choices receive. In fact, they don't even have guaranteed contracts and a majority are cut during their rookie training camp.
As a seventh round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2001 NFL Draft, 5-11, 198-pound free safety Marlon McCree knew what was ahead of him. In hopes of making the Jaguars' final roster, McCree would have to move from linebacker to safety and become a serious playmaker in a hurry.
That is exactly what he did.
McCree defied all odds with a blue-collar work ethic and big-play ability that fit perfectly into former Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin's defensive scheme. In his rookie season, McCree beat out veteran safety Carnell Lake and started 11 of the 13 games that he played in, posting 58 tackles, one interception, one sack and a fumble recovery.
"I'm the type of guy that loves a challenge," McCree said. "Everyone counted me out (and) thought I was going to get cut and told me I wasn't going to be able to do it. For me to go out there and have an opportunity to display my ability, I enjoyed every minute of it. I had a great camp, thank God. And I was able to go in and start as a rookie. I surprised a lot of people."
By no means did McCree rest on his rookie-year laurels. If anything, his sudden success gave him more incentive to work hard. After training hard during the offseason, McCree returned to Jacksonville in 2002 as the incumbent safety and had a breakout season.
With six interceptions, McCree tied the Jaguars' single-season interception record, finishing second in the AFC and fifth overall in the NFL. As a 16-game starter, McCree was credited with 85 tackles and one sack.
However, as well as he played, the Jaguars still struggled to a 6-10 record. After three straight losing seasons, the Jaguars parted ways with Tom Coughlin, who had been the head coach for the team's entire eight-year history.
In came former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who brought with him a new set of coaches and a lot of players from Carolina. Suddenly, McCree's status on the team reverted back to when he was a seventh-round pick fighting for a roster spot. Ultimately, the Jaguars replaced McCree with rookie Rashean Mathis.
"It happened fast (and) it caught me off guard," McCree said. "I thought I had a pretty good season last year. If you get six interceptions, you definitely don't expect to get cut the next year. But a new coaching staff comes in and they bring in their own guys. That's just the business of it."
A player with McCree's level of talent doesn't spend too much time on the waiver wire. When he became available, the Texans immediately picked him up. The timing could not be better. McCree's best game as a pro was against the Chiefs last year, when he made two interceptions. Also, a week from this Sunday's game against Kansas City, McCree's ex-teammates will arrive in Reliant Stadium.
<span>"Whenever a team releases you, there is always a sense of get back when you go out there on the field," McCree said. "I definitely want to show them that they made a mistake and I am going to go out there and just compete hard. I think they already know they made a mistake, but I am going to make it my business to confirm that."
While some players mope around and feel sorry for themselves after being released, others take a step back to focus and improve. For McCree, the past week's events have made him that much more hungry to succeed—not like he needed any more motivation being a former seventh-round pick.
"It's definitely a privilege to play in the NFL," McCree said. "It's not guaranteed that you'll be here. So (being cut) makes you not take what you have—this opportunity—for granted. I am going to cherish the moment and try to make the best of it."</span>