INDIANAPOLIS — Justice Cunningham was so irrelevant Saturday the announcer initially uttered the wrong name.
No, it’s not Justice Hamilton. It’s Justice Cunningham.
Indianapolis selected the 6-foot-4, 264-pound tight end from South Carolina with the 254th and final pick in the NFL draft Saturday. Cunningham will be honoured with a trip to Disneyland and the Irrelevant Week Parade in Newport Beach, Calif., this summer.
“I most definitely did hear it, and I’ll remember it,” Cunningham said jokingly moments after being the last player chosen on draft weekend.
For most of final four rounds, Cunningham sat and wondered when — or if — he would get picked.
And as the picks wound down, he was resigned to having to start his professional football career as an undrafted free agent. Then, out of nowhere, the phone rang.
“They called at the last minute,” Cunningham said, referring to the Colts.
What Indy gets is a 6-foot-4, 264-pound tight end who became an NFL prospect because of his blocking ability. In four seasons, he caught just 49 passes for 544 yards and one TD. Nearly half of those catches (22) during his final season in Columbia, S.C.
But the Colts see him as more than a blocker.
“Before I put the tape on, in my mind I thought was I was going to see someone who could block,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “Not only can he block, but this guy really has some savvy as a receiver. He’ll make some catches in traffic and hold onto the football. And if you’re fearless and you want to get in the end zone, that’s not something you can’t teach.”
In Indy, he will team up with two tight ends who were drafted last season — second-rounder Coby Fleener and third-rounder Dwayne Allen, who played at Clemson, South Carolina’s bitter cross-state rival.
But with former Stanford offensive co-ordinator Pep Hamilton running the offence, there’s always room for an extra tight end — and the Colts think they got a good one late.
What Cunningham gets is membership into a unique club and a week to celebrate his new title in California. Proceeds from this summer’s party will go to Special Olympics of Southern California. Chandler Harnish, last year’s Mr. Irrelevant, even has offered to put his new teammate and club member in the locker next to his.
“Sounds good. I like that,” Cunningham said.
There was some confusion initially, even with Cunningham when Paul Salada, who founded Irrelevant Week in 1976, announced that Justin Hamilton had been taken by the Colts. Salada quickly corrected himself and Cunningham could finally breathe easy when Salada held up the blue-and-white Colts jersey this time with the No. 254. Harnish was No. 253.
It’s the first time since Oakland in 2003 and 2004 that the same team made the final pick of the draft in two straight years.
A year ago, it was Harnish, who made the team as Indy’s No. 3 quarterback. He will likely fill the same role this season with Andrew Luck entrenched as the starter and former Super Bowl starter Matt Hasselbeck now penciled in as the backup.
But that’s exactly what Cunningham wanted to hear.
“I feel a whole lot better,” Cunningham said. “My dream came true and I got drafted. It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish.”