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After leaving Wisconsin early, John Clay stunned he wasn’t drafted

Rose Bowl Game - Wisconsin v TCU Getty Images

Wisconsin running back John Clay decided after the Rose Bowl that he was finished in college and ready for the NFL. Unfortunately, NFL teams disagreed.

Clay sat and waited through three days of the NFL draft, and when his name wasn’t called, he wondered what he’s supposed to do next.

“It was tough,” Clay told Don Banks of SI.com. “Me and my family, we had a rough weekend. Toward the end, on the last day [of the draft], I only watched a little bit. At some point, I couldn’t watch it any more. I just went in a backroom and laid down, and watched my phone. My family watched the whole thing, but I couldn’t stand it any more. I was just getting nervous and upset at the same time.”

With the lockout preventing undrafted free agents from signing, this is a bad year for players like Clay.  They may have to wait months before they’re even allowed to sign with a team, and with a shortened offseason they’ll have fewer opportunities to prove themselves and make a roster.

“Me and all the rest of the undrafted guys, we have no contact with anybody,” Clay said. “Our agents can’t talk to anybody about us, and everything’s up in the air. You don’t know when you’re going to get that phone call and be able to sign with a team.”

Clay had a good career at Wisconsin, with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, 32 touchdowns in the last two years, and a Big Ten offensive player of the year award in 2009. But the truth is, Clay’s numbers were a reflection of his role in the offense and Wisconsin’s line as much as they were a reflection on him, and it’s not a surprise that he went undrafted after running a 4.87-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. At least, it’s not a surprise to anyone but Clay.

“I pretty much did everything I thought I needed to do to be a guy to get drafted,” Clay said. “From the awards I got, the numbers I put up, the kind of player I was. I never had any off-field issues so that wasn’t a problem. I started thinking maybe it was just me. Maybe they didn’t like me, my personality or my game play. I thought I had proved myself when I stepped out on the field. I thought I’d get drafted by somebody, but all 32 teams felt the same way.”

And now none of those 32 teams could sign Clay even if they wanted to. The hard truth is, Clay probably isn’t going to make a living as a professional football player.

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57 Responses to “After leaving Wisconsin early, John Clay stunned he wasn’t drafted”
  1. MichaelEdits says: May 7, 2011 6:25 AM

    I’m gonna take a cheap shot and recommend the UFL, just because that’s the kind of jerk I am. But seriously, it’s sad. I hope he doesn’t end up bagging groceries or selling insurance or something.

  2. duanethomas says: May 7, 2011 7:15 AM

    A running back that runs a 4.87 is pretty good for the Big 10, not for the NFL. I wish him luck but he will face a uphill battle even to get a contract after the lockout is over.

  3. jwil444 says: May 7, 2011 7:18 AM

    wow, an athlete with an inflated value of self…….shock!

  4. justanotherdummy says: May 7, 2011 7:45 AM

    Ooooops. Hope he had an agent paying him, or a booster, so he can afford to go back and finish off that degree he could have recieved for nothing.

  5. wheresmyjuice says: May 7, 2011 8:00 AM

    Today’s NFL drafts are as much or more about combine vitals than about college performance.

    Prove it elsewhere for the time being. If he continues to be successful he’ll get a shot.

  6. freakish213 says: May 7, 2011 8:01 AM

    Come on David. It’s a sad story, but once teams can sign undrafted FA’s Clay will find a roster he can make. Consider that many teams use a committee at RB and very few of them pay a premium for there #2 or 3 RB, Clay is perfect candidate to be signed and have a shot to prove himself. I also detest that you attribute his success to his line and the system. I wonder what player you might suggest was outstanding despite his team and their system. It’s always either his numbers stunk because his team stunk, but he’s awesome or his numbers were great but he had nothing to do with it. Both are false assumptions. And as for his 40 time, you don’t think athletes can improve on unreliable measures of their potential, or…

  7. hnirobert3 says: May 7, 2011 8:13 AM

    You can sell some insurance.

  8. freakish213 says: May 7, 2011 8:18 AM

    LeGarrette Blount… character issues… 40 yd dash time : 4.7

    Undrafted… signed and cut buy the Titans… signed by the Buccaneers… I’d say he was relatively effective.

  9. lawyermalloy says: May 7, 2011 8:27 AM

    Man, did this guy get some bad advice. What unscrupulous agent told this kid to leave school?
    Unless it is projected that a player will go in the 1st or 2nd round he should ALWAYS stay for another year of college ball. Than, to add insult to injury, his agent didn’t prep him properly for the combine. A 4.87 40 does not a draft pick make!

  10. edmazeing1 says: May 7, 2011 8:32 AM

    Damn agents should have knew about this or some what knew that a lock out was coming & before they sign on to take a player, they should have said hey if u dont get drafted your next choice is subway not as spokeman but as a sandwhich maker!!!

  11. dkeyser says: May 7, 2011 8:46 AM

    Out of the 7 or 8 publications i read about the draft, not one of them had him being drafted. In fact at least 4 of them said he should have stayed in school

  12. jw731 says: May 7, 2011 8:51 AM

    Nothing personal, but when you are a running back and you 40 time is actually slower than some of the defensive linemen in the draft, i don’t know why you’d be stunned you didn’t get drafted.

  13. friendlylittletrees says: May 7, 2011 8:51 AM

    When you run a 4.75-4.85 40 yd dash, chances are good you won’t be drafted…

    I am surprised he is surprised.

    I bet Mendenhall will call shenanigans.

  14. tombrookshire says: May 7, 2011 8:52 AM

    Or anything else without a degree. Best go back and finish college and then see what’s next. Feel bad for the kid, but that’s life.

  15. stellarperformance says: May 7, 2011 8:52 AM

    This is a textbook example of privilege and entitlement. This guy has talent but he took the path of least resistance ever since high school. He never worked hard, he never got in decent shape…he simply relied on talent that he assumed would carry him the rest of his career. Add “lazy” to his resume. He didn’t fool anybody. Maybe some team will pick him up for practice fodder but until he gets focused, he’ll never amount to anything.

  16. garyman1 says: May 7, 2011 8:56 AM

    As a Badger fan, I”m rooting for him…. he’s a great guy to have around if you have a fourth down and 1 yard to go… but oft-injured, slow fullbacks usually don’t do too well in the NFL. I think he was the third best back on the Badgers last year.

  17. donttouchthedirtypenny says: May 7, 2011 9:10 AM

    Oops.

  18. justafan24 says: May 7, 2011 9:12 AM

    well sounds like he will have to get a real job….good luck

  19. frydorov says: May 7, 2011 9:13 AM

    This kid had NUMEROUS questions about his heart all throughout his career at Wisconsin. He almost always seemed to be nicked up for big games & would sit out. The kid loved eating more than he loved football. Plus, when you run a 4.87 & had to lose 30 pounds just to get down to 250 this year, clearly you’re not an NFL player. Wisconsin fans were thrilled when he decided to leave early for the draft.

  20. cleverbob says: May 7, 2011 9:17 AM

    Better call up the AFL. I wonder where Mel Kiper had this guy ranked…

  21. blackbeardk says: May 7, 2011 9:32 AM

    Clay, Ron Dayne, Beanie Wells, we have seen this story before. Great college runner doesn’t do well in the NFL. I think you can add Ray Helu that the Redskins picked to the list also.

  22. jo3jo says: May 7, 2011 9:38 AM

    No reason for him not to go back to school and finish up with a degree. This probably was the kind of reality check he needed to actually make something of himself. Another solid season and he will end up getting drafted next year. It’s the notion of entitlement that was going to ruin him anyhow, so if that in some small way got broken he will be better for it.

  23. souldogdave says: May 7, 2011 9:43 AM

    “Feet of Clay” did him in.

  24. michbengal says: May 7, 2011 9:54 AM

    At 230lbs some team will look at him as a free agent to us as a goal line back.

  25. emoney826 says: May 7, 2011 10:00 AM

    If he stayed at Wisconsin, he would have been the #3 running back behind Ball and White. He had to leave now and take his chances because his numbers next year would have only gotten worse.

  26. lennydpocketqb says: May 7, 2011 10:08 AM

    He can always go back to school and finish his education.

  27. gbp13 says: May 7, 2011 10:18 AM

    Fact of the matter is that Clay was only the third best back at UW in 2010. Montee Ball and James White are both better backs and when you couple that with Clay’s inability to stay on the field, his carries were destined to drop off significantly. Also, Wisconsin needs to replace three linemen who were drafted into the NFL, so it would be very hard for Clay to improve his stock for 2012. Hope he gets a chance somewhere, ala Blount.

  28. eaglesnoles05 says: May 7, 2011 10:21 AM

    What a mistaaaaa aaaaaaaake.
    oooooooooo ooooooooo…… ooooooo ooooooo, (dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee.) Name that band!

  29. eaglesnoles05 says: May 7, 2011 10:23 AM

    Lol, @blackbeard- I think beanie can be left off you list so far… he’s done ok for a 2nd year guy with nagging injuries.

  30. rowdymon says: May 7, 2011 10:31 AM

    Agree with a bunch of posters here – what the hell was his agent telling him? Sure he has an ego, all athletes do, but someone told him he would go high if he came out. He ultimately made his own decision, but I actually feel sorry that he can’t go back to school. Clay you may get only one chance when teams can sign – you will have to hit it out of the park from day one.

  31. mpg22387 says: May 7, 2011 10:33 AM

    I am a University of Wisconsin Alumni with season tickets. I watched Clay “play,” watched his backups (Whit, Ball, and Brown) play, and watched Dane play.

    While the UW has given rise to many great players, I am sorry to say that Clay is not one of them. Clay is a product of the great coaching, not great athleticism. His injury plagued seasons, lack of hand-eye coordination and inability to move his a** when necessary has repeatedly cost games and yards.

    That all being said, I am a firm believer that all NFL players should have a college degree. I am sick and tired of listening to announcers with the IQ of a rock, commenting that “sometimes football players throw the ball.” Leaving college without a legitimate degree continues the downward spiral of societal standards.

    Take umbrage with my comments if you must, but deep down, how do you feel about your kids idolizing celebrities that have never once endured financial hardship, never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and throw money away like it is nothing?

  32. goawayeverybody says: May 7, 2011 10:35 AM

    With his larger size, he could easily be a powerful fullback or a third down back in the NFL. No question about it.

  33. myeaglescantwin says: May 7, 2011 10:38 AM

    the guy up there said it best.. “i’m surprised he’s surprised.”

    how in the hell can you run a 4.8 and expect to get the balll handed to you
    Linebackers that run 4.8’s dont even get drafted

    this guys an ass clown

  34. freakish213 says: May 7, 2011 10:40 AM

    Someone will pick him up and give him a shot.

    Clay’s career stats: 629 carries for 3,413 yards with 41 touchdowns and an average over 5.4 yards per carry.

    His 40 time may have hurt his ability to get drafted, but not nearly as much as the trend in the NFL to use multiple backs. You don’t draft nearly as many RB’s and pay them a lot of money if you only need 100 carries and 300 yards out of them in a season. Fewer and fewer backs will be selected as this trend continues.

    Interesting 40 times for you:

    Frank Gore: 4.65
    LeGarrette Blount: 4.7

    maybe the best ever:

    Emmitt Smith: 4.8

    and one WR to note:

    Jerry Rice: 4.7

  35. leviticus268 says: May 7, 2011 10:43 AM

    You see Clay, the problem is that your a bit overweight and you could have been much more in college if you would have taken care of yourself. You think NFL teams dont notice the sack of potatoes hanging over your belt? Its no wonder that people were questioning your drive and dedication. You weren’t dedicated enough to slim down for the sake of being a better football player. Dont be shocked. No one in Wisconsin is.

  36. palinforpresidentofnorthkorea says: May 7, 2011 10:45 AM

    He had his job interview at the Combine. He wasn’t chosen for the available positions.

    Welcome to life in the Great Recession!

  37. realitypolice says: May 7, 2011 11:09 AM

    These are the guys I feel the worst for in this situation. Not him specifically, because I don’t think his talent nearly matches his ego.

    But the undrafted FA’s in general are going to have a very rough time this year. They need every mini-camp, every OTA, every camp rep, and every minute of film they can possibly get to make an impression.

    Everyone says that everything will be fine as long as this is resolved before training camp, and for most, it will be. But these players are going to get screwed when coaches choose to go with guys they are more familiar with and/or invested draft choices in over these guys.

  38. realitypolice says: May 7, 2011 11:11 AM

    jo3jo says:
    May 7, 2011 9:38 AM
    No reason for him not to go back to school and finish up with a degree. This probably was the kind of reality check he needed to actually make something of himself. Another solid season and he will end up getting drafted next year. It’s the notion of entitlement that was going to ruin him anyhow, so if that in some small way got broken he will be better for it.
    =======================

    That would be a great idea except for the fact that the NCAA’s stupid rules prohibit him from returning to play next year, and his scholarship is gone.

  39. goawayeverybody says: May 7, 2011 11:20 AM

    Btw, Arian Foster’s 40 time was 4.69 so let’s not put too much stock in this statistic. Even with less speed, Arian Foster still finds a way to pick up yards because he’s so powerful and has good lateral movement and evasiveness.

  40. mountaindont says: May 7, 2011 12:01 PM

    It`s comparable to Emmit Smith`s career. In my opinion 75% of Smith`s success in the NFL was because he was behind one of the best O-lines of all times. Much of Clay`s success in college was because he was also behind a great O-line.
    When you remember greats like Walter Payton and Barry Sanders are you also able to recall their offensive lineman ? Most people can name very few if any. On the other hand Emmit Smith`s O-line were well known because they were in the Pro Bowl each year.

    Larry Allen- 10 pro bowls
    Mark Stepnowski- 5 pro bowls
    Erik Williams- 4 pro bowls,
    Jay Novaceck- 5 probowls,
    Nate Newton- 6 pro bowls
    Mark Tuinei- 2 Pro bowls
    Moose Johnston- 2 probowls
    Not to mention 330lb guard Derek Kennard

  41. manuelb2k says: May 7, 2011 12:10 PM

    i saw him play when he was in college he runs tough but,he should be telling teams that he is willing to convert to FB OR TE with that slow speed.

  42. rockymtnphinfan says: May 7, 2011 12:23 PM

    This guy has something to prove…..i hope the phins sign him. If nothing else, he could be a good special teams guy.

  43. rcali says: May 7, 2011 12:29 PM

    That’s okay, at least you have a good degree…..right?

  44. steelbreeze676 says: May 7, 2011 12:41 PM

    Hey… I played Division I college football also. But I’m going to work Monday morning like I have every Monday for the last 12 years.

    As Judge Schmaels from Caddyshack says prophetically… “the world needs ditch diggers too”.

  45. beedubyatoo says: May 7, 2011 12:52 PM

    “Clay, Ron Dayne, Beanie Wells, we have seen this story before. Great college runner doesn’t do well in the NFL. I think you can add Ray Helu that the Redskins picked to the list also.”

    You forgot Curtis Ennis. He was the 4th pick on the draft by that wizard from Chicago, Jerry Angelo.

  46. charliewade says: May 7, 2011 1:06 PM

    It was interesting that that very long SI piece on him talked about how he was back in Racine, working on his conditioning, getting ready for the NFL…. but not *once* did it mention that he was working on finishing his degree.

    He’s not going to make it in the NFL. He’s one dimensional, big and slow goal line backs don’t exist anymore…. especially ones with injury and weight issues.

    Too bad. Welcome to the real world.

  47. jo3jo says: May 7, 2011 1:18 PM

    @emoney826 –
    If you are right and Clay is only going to drop in the depth chart in another year at Wisconsin, do you really see him getting off a practice squad in the NFL? It’s not like the other couple of RBs a team carries are going to be worse than college players. The dude’s best chance in life is to finish with a degree. The dude’s best chance in football is to use senior year to prove he’s the best at Wisconsin, because if he can’t even do that, he’s not going to make it onto a 53 man roster in the NFL.
    The folks who are reasonable to jump right from junior year of college right to the NFL are those who are NFL ready and will get drafted in the first two days without question. They will get big contracts and if they use their money smartly, will never be penalized for not having a college degree. Everyone else ought to plan for the eventuality that they may need to find a job after at best a year or two of playing with a practice squad.

  48. beastofeden says: May 7, 2011 1:25 PM

    Every football player that attended school on a full-ride scholarship should have to reimburse the university.

  49. bwisnasky says: May 7, 2011 1:27 PM

    That would be a great idea except for the fact that the NCAA’s stupid rules prohibit him from returning to play next year, and his scholarship is gone.

    ——————————————–

    That does not prevent him from going back to school and finishing his degree… It just means he can’t play football and get a free ride to do so.. he’ll have to pay for it himself… like most people do…. And if he has any brains… he will do so.. at least he got 3 years paid for… more than most people get.. I know I’ll be paying off student loans for the rest of my life… that’s life.. I’m not complaining.. just saying that I don’t feel sorry for someone that makes a mistake like that.. live and learn and deal with it.

  50. jhorton83 says: May 7, 2011 1:27 PM

    Someone obviously gave him bad advice about coming out early. He’s this year’s Jevan Snead.

  51. cometkazie says: May 7, 2011 1:37 PM

    Every now and then I miss the days when the journalists would correct the bad grammar of the interviewees. Every now and then.

  52. whatchutalkinabouthillis says: May 7, 2011 1:38 PM

    Damn dinner the night of the third day must have been awkward. I hope someone finds a use for him as a fullback, he’s too slow to be a tailback, but honestly showing production at the UFL might be his best shot at this point.

  53. realitypolice says: May 7, 2011 1:59 PM

    bwisnasky says:
    May 7, 2011 1:27 PM
    That would be a great idea except for the fact that the NCAA’s stupid rules prohibit him from returning to play next year, and his scholarship is gone.

    ——————————————–

    That does not prevent him from going back to school and finishing his degree… It just means he can’t play football and get a free ride to do so.. he’ll have to pay for it himself… like most people do…. And if he has any brains… he will do so.. at least he got 3 years paid for… more than most people get.. I know I’ll be paying off student loans for the rest of my life… that’s life.. I’m not complaining.. just saying that I don’t feel sorry for someone that makes a mistake like that.. live and learn and deal with it.
    ==========================

    That would be a great point, except for the fact that I referring to the original poster saying he could go back “have another solid season and end up getting drafted next year”.

    I obviously was aware that he could go back to school.

  54. cwenger says: May 7, 2011 4:47 PM

    With Ball and White around, Clay was not going to get many carries for Wisconsin this year. That’s why he left. I’m sure he was told he probably wouldn’t get drafted. He was just in a lose/lose situation.

  55. cup1981 says: May 7, 2011 8:22 PM

    It`s comparable to Emmit Smith`s career. In my opinion 75% of Smith`s success in the NFL was because he was behind one of the best O-lines of all times. Much of Clay`s success in college was because he was also behind a great O-line.
    When you remember greats like Walter Payton and Barry Sanders are you also able to recall their offensive lineman ? Most people can name very few if any. On the other hand Emmit Smith`s O-line were well known because they were in the Pro Bowl each year.

    Larry Allen- 10 pro bowls
    Mark Stepnowski- 5 pro bowls
    Erik Williams- 4 pro bowls,
    Jay Novaceck- 5 probowls,
    Nate Newton- 6 pro bowls
    Mark Tuinei- 2 Pro bowls
    Moose Johnston- 2 probowls
    Not to mention 330lb guard Derek Kennard

    ————————————————

    FYI,

    Jay Novaceck = Tight End
    Moose Johnson = Full Back

    Not O-linemen, but I see your point. Sometimes a back makes and O-line better — see Rashard Mendenhall — other times the O-line makes the back look great — See Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson.

    That being said, I think Emmitt more made the O-line than the O-line making him. Was his line good? Yes, they absolutely were good. Emmitt made them look great though.

    Barry Sanders got 100% of the credit, because his O-line was terrible and nothing could be done to make them look better. He was stuck running back-and-forth until a hole opened up. Imaging him with a good line!

    FIY, I hate the Cowboys and I hate Emmitt Smith (as a player) so I have no reason to compliment him lol.

  56. yonupe69 says: May 8, 2011 6:35 AM

    beastofeden says:
    May 7, 2011 1:25 PM
    Every football player that attended school on a full-ride scholarship should have to reimburse the university.

    ==================================
    why should he have to reimburse the university? for what? the u of w have made millions off these kids and they dont even compensate the college kids because it is against the ncaa rules…dont tell me he got a free education….compared to that these d1 schools make from there services, that scholarship doesnt cost the university much of anything relative to the money they makes off the kids services…the college kids are being exploited and they re only 18 to 22 years old…before we judge these students athletes as stupid, overvalued, or stupid we should remember how we thought of ourselves at this age…

  57. golonger says: May 8, 2011 10:58 AM

    duanethomas – what are you smoking…a 4.87 40 is not good anywhere!!!

    That is about Peyton Manning speed which we all know is “statue” slow……….

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