JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Before a game late in the 2014 season, Jacksonville Jaguars receivers coach Jerry Sullivan was on the sideline watching his players warm up when an onlooker motioned toward Allen Hurns.
"Still can’t believe he wasn’t drafted," he said.
Sullivan shook his head. It’s time, he said, to quit talking about teams passing on Hurns and instead start talking about the fact that the kid is a darn good football player.
Less than two years later, a player nobody was willing to take a chance on in the seventh round is regarded as one of the top young receivers in the NFL. He’s also a multi-millionaire after agreeing Thursday to a four-year contract extension that will pay him $40 million, including $20 million guaranteed.
However, Hurns is always going to identify with being unwanted.
"It [the contract] for sure won’t change me," he said. "No matter how much money I make I’m still going to step on the field thinking about the day I went undrafted. That will stay with me forever."
From the outside it might seem as if Hurns’ rise came out of nowhere, but those inside the organization aren’t surprised. They saw it from the moment Hurns got on the field after joining the Jaguars in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami with a $5,000 signing bonus -- a decision Hurns made partly because his former offensive coordinator with the Hurricanes, Jedd Fisch, was then the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator.
Hurns stood out during rookie minicamp. He caught everything during organized team activities. He was getting first-team reps early in training camp and it was evident by the Jaguars’ first preseason game that Hurns was going to make the team. Sullivan praised his work ethic, the preciseness of his routes and how quickly he grasped the offense.
Most important, though, was the fact that Hurns was remarkably consistent, which is something with which most rookies struggle. Sullivan said he knew what he was getting from Hurns in every meeting, every practice and every game. That was invaluable, especially when fellow rookie Marqise Lee, whom the Jaguars took 39th overall, was sidelined by injuries.
Hurns turned out to be the team’s best receiver in 2014. Though four-year veteran Cecil Shorts led the Jaguars in catches (53), Hurns’ 677 yards and six touchdowns were team highs. Only two other players had more than one touchdown catch (tight end Marcedes Lewis and rookie receiver Allen Robinson had two each).
Hurns had a breakout season in 2015, catching 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns, including one touchdown catch in seven games in a row. He played nearly the entire season with a sports hernia that needed surgery in the offseason but missed only one game, because of a concussion.
Along the way, he became the receiving corps’ leader despite being a quiet kid. Robinson and Lee are second-round draft picks. Bryan Walters played in two Super Bowls and won a ring with the Seattle Seahawks. However, Sullivan said it’s Hurns whom the players gravitate toward and is the group’s leader.
Hurns’ journey from draft afterthought to one of the building blocks on offense was quick, but now it’s clear the Jaguars view him as part of their long-term plans.
"It means a lot," Hurns said. "Being able to spend a special moment with my family here, it’s a blessing. From where I stared from, it’s exciting. It feels surreal.
"But I’ve still got to continue to prove myself."