INDIANAPOLIS -- The college scouting process if often referred to as an inexact science, and for good reason. You can find mistakes and misevaluations in every single NFL city over the past five years. The key for new Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery will be to limit those mistakes, but at some point, the Bears are going to need some pure, old-fashioned luck.
That is exactly what happened to the New York Giants when they signed wide receiver Victor Cruz in 2010 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Massachusetts. Remember, if the Giants were confident Cruz would turn into an elite receiver (82-1, 536-9) in less than two years, he would not have gone undrafted.
And rest of the league wasn’t beating down Cruz's door either. He wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine, ironically also held here in Indianapolis, the site of Super Bowl XLVI, prior to the 2010 NFL Draft.
"Being from a small school, I understand how that whole thing goes," Cruz said Monday. "I wasn’t 6-5, 220 pounds or I didn’t have off-the-wall statistics, so I understood how that whole thing goes. I’d rather be here for the Super Bowl now than the Combine.
"I wasn’t disappointed. I just knew whatever opportunities were in front of me, whether it be Pro Day, Combine, or whatever it was, I just had to make the best of it. I had two pro days. One was at Boston College and one up at UMass. I just did the best I could and was fortunate enough to open up some minds.”
Before last summer, it was rare for an undrafted rookie to earn a spot on the Bears 53-man roster under former general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith. But that trend changed in 2011, when a handful of undrafted rookies (Dane Sanzenbacher, Kyle Adams, Dom DeCicco, Winston Venable and Mario Addison) broke camp with the club back in September.
Of course, none of those players made much of an impact. The Bears, under Angelo, have found starters in the later rounds (J'Marcus Webb, Lance Louis, etc.), but nobody who measures up to the type of impact Cruz made this year for the NFC Champion Giants.
First things first, the Bears need to master the top of the draft, a problem area under Angelo. But it's comforting to know that hidden gems like Cruz do exist. Now it's up to Emery and the Bears to find them every so often.
“I just think there are so many guys out there," Cruz said. "There are so many guys that you’re essentially just taking a chance on. Some guys just slip under the radar. Once those hidden gems kind of get figured out and somebody sees them and they get their opportunity to make the best of it, then it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great shot New York took. If they don’t, then it’s another one bites the dust.”