For awhile, it seemed that Harvard’s star quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would, for once, be unable to live up to his billing.
But with just six picks remaining in seventh and final round of the 2005 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams ensured that Fitzpatrick would be the first Crimson player to be drafted since Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00, and the first Harvard quarterback since Brian Buckley ’81.
The Rams, known over the past five years as “The Greatest Show On Turf” for their high-powered offense, chose Fitzpatrick as the 36th pick of the seventh round and the 250th pick overall. The Crimson captain was the only Ivy player picked in this year’s draft.
Fitzpatrick, the unanimous 2004 Ivy League Player of the Year, was predicted to be selected in the fifth round, and possibly as high as the fourth. Heading into the second day of the draft, Fitzpatrick’s name was repeatedly dropped by NFL analysts both online and on television as a good option for any team looking for a smart, talented backup quarterback.
As the day wore on, however, it appeared as though Fitzpatrick would follow in the footsteps of more recent Harvard graduates Jamil Soriano ’03, Carl Morris ’03, and Dante Balestracci ’04—all former Crimson standouts who had hopes of being drafted but eventually signed as free agents. By the seventh round, Fitzpatrick and his agent, Kyle Rote, Jr., were busily preparing for that eventuality.
“We had 11 different teams interested in signing him,” Rote said. “We had a very busy hour or so. We were prepared—we had narrowed things down so it wouldn’t be more chaotic than it already was.”
Among the teams Rote cited as most interested in Fitzpatrick were Tennessee, Miami, and San Diego, but Green Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland, and Cincinnati were all possible destinations for Fitzpatrick until the Rams’ made him their second-to-last selection of the weekend.
Fitzpatrick was the 14th and final quarterback selected of the draft, and the ninth of the second day. Though pre-draft predictions had ranked Fitzpatrick as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the draft, he watched several signal callers go by ahead of him, including similarly-touted Kyle Orton of Purdue and Stefan LeFors of Louisville (both fourth round) as well as lesser-known players such as Tulsa’s James Kilian and USC’s Matt Cassel. Cassel, who saw little action as junior Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart’s backup this season for the national champion Trojans, was taken by the New England Patriots in the seventh round in a move that surprised many who predicted that Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick had his eye on Fitzpatrick as a late-round pick.
Fitzpatrick’s longtime teammate, senior wide receiver Brian Edwards, watched the draft from Cambridge and was startled by Fitzpatrick’s late selection.
“It was actually really surprising,” Edwards said. “Sitting around and waiting, it was a big surprise to see some of the lower-rated quarterbacks going before him.”
Rote cautioned, however, that Fitzpatrick’s status as a seventh-rounder was far from ignoble.
“The thing that people often forget is that there used to be 20 rounds,” Rote said. “To be drafted in the seventh round is still a significant honor. The quarterbacks from Florida [State], Miami, the former Heisman trophy winner, the all-time leader in NCAA passing yards—all of them were not drafted.”
Rote said that Fitzpatrick will likely sign a two- to three-year contract, but the deal will likely not be finalized until June. More immediately, Fitzpatrick will attend a mini-camp in St. Louis with the other draft picks this Thursday.
“I think that now that he has the chance to be on a team and work out at the camps, he has a shot at not only making the team but moving up the depth chart,” Edwards said. “Knowing Ryan, and knowing his work ethic, I think he really has a shot.”
As a drafted player, Fitzpatrick will also receive a signing bonus, which, according to NFL sources, ranges from $20,000 to $30,000 for seventh-round picks.
Fitzpatrick, who watched the draft with his family from his home in Gilbert, Ariz., was on a flight back to Cambridge yesterday evening and was unavailable for comment.
“I can tell you he’s the only player drafted taking a red-eye flight back,” Rote said. “Hopefully he’ll be awake enough to attend classes. I can tell you that there’s not anybody else that takes school work as seriously as Ryan does.”
—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at email@example.com.