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2014 NFL Draft: Toledo Rockets Draft History

It's been a few years since a Rocket has heard his name called during the NFL Draft, but Toledo has still sent its fair share of players to the next level.

Bruce Gradkowski has turned into a solid NFL backup, he now plays for the Steelers.
Bruce Gradkowski has turned into a solid NFL backup, he now plays for the Steelers.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Back in 2008, the Toledo Rockets had two guys selected in the NFL Draft: running back Jalen Parmele and offensive lineman John Greco. No Rocket has been drafted since then but, coincidentally, the two best shots for Toledo in this year's draft are a running back and an offensive lineman. But before I get to them, let's look at the history of Toledo Rockets in the NFL Draft. Because, after all, you can't know where you're going without knowing where you came from (that's a thing, right?).

A grand total of 55 players from Toledo have been selected in the draft, as you can see above via, all of which are pretty spaced out throughout the draft's history. The longest drought between selections has been seven years (1941-48), which includes a stretch from 1943-45 during which Toledo did not play football. So, all things considered, the Rockets have been well represented on draft night, historically.

In addition to that history, Toledo players also have a history of waiting during the draft. Only one former Rocket has been selected in the first two rounds: Dan Williams, a defensive lineman who became the 11th overall pick in1993. Williams spent seven years in the league, four with the Broncos before spending three with the Chiefs. His production peaked in 1997, his first year in Kansas City, when he recorded 10.5 sacks, his career-high.

Their first player ever drafted was defensive end Tony Popp, the 185th overall pick in the 1939 draft to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He sparked a three-year run of Rocket draft picks, equaling four total between '39-41. There would be nine Rockets drafted, however, before the first one was taken in the first ten rounds of the draft. Asa Jenkins was a sixth round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1954 and one of two Toledo guys drafted that year, the other being Rick Kaser, a Detroit Lions pick coming 11 rounds after Jenkins.

The first Rocket to have a lasting impact on the NFL was Mel Triplett, a fifth round selection in 1955 of the New York Giants. Triplett was a member of the Giants' 1956 NFL Championship team, recording the opening touchdown in the game. He spent six years with the Giants and two with the Vikings before calling it a career in 1963. It's also worth mentioning that Triplett inspired a legend of another sport during his time in the NFL; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mentioned in his book that he wore number 33 because of Triplett, who wore that number while with the Giants.

Triplett was one of 13 players to be selected from Toledo up to that point, but the 1960's would prove to be a fantastic time to be a Rocket. 16 of them were selected during the 60's, and Frank Baker and Jim Gray were selected in the AFL Draft as well, making 18 selections total. It makes sense, I suppose, considering the Rockets' famous 35-game winning streak started at the end of the decade. Tom Beutler, a 12th round selection in 1968 by the Browns, is perhaps the best known of this group, as he is a member of the MAC Hall of Fame.

Speaking of that famous winning streak, those teams helped produce eight draftees between 1970-73, including another MAC Hall of Famer in Mel Long. He was also a Browns' draft pick, and he spend three seasons in the NFL. A few years before Long, though, another Rocket was drafted who made himself a part of NFL history. Curtis Johnson was a fourth round pick in 1970 of the Miami Dolphins, the only team he played for in his nine-year career. Johnson, a defensive back, was a member of Miami's 1972 Super Bowl Championship team that went 14-0, making them the only undefeated team in NFL history. He would win one more Super Bowl in his career.

Another notable 1970's selection was quarterback Gene Swick, a fourth round selection of, yet again, the Browns. Swick was the record-holder for career passing yards in NCAA Division I at the time of his departure from Toledo, and he was seen by many as a first round pick at the time. Instead, he fell to the fourth round and failed to latch on with Cleveland.

The Toledo NFL pipeline slowed down a bit after the 70's, as evidenced by the four players selected in the 1980's, the fewest of any decade. They did produce a long-time veteran during this time, though; Brent Williams was a seventh round pick in 1986 by the New England Patriots as a defensive end. His NFL career lasted 11 seasons, eight of which he spent with the Pats. Williams started every game in five of his first six seasons, with the only exception coming in the strike-marred 1987 campaign. The 1990's weren't much better; excluding the aforementioned Dan Williams, no other Rocket made much of an impact.

That brings us to the 21st century, which has seen six Toledo guys drafted. Perhaps the two best known of that group are running back Chester Taylor and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Taylor was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, but he is probably best known for his time with the Minnesota Vikings. He was a top-10 rusher in 2006, amassing 1,216 and six touchdowns as the Viking's primary back. He spent three more years in Minnesota, and 10 years in the league in all before retiring in 2011.

Gradkowski was a sixth round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006 and ended up becoming the starter his first year. He earned a 3-8 record as the starter, throwing for 1,661 yards to go along with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in his only extended time as a starting quarterback. He's made nine starts since then, one with Cleveland and eight with Oakland, and he has a 3-6 record in those games. He is currently with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Two other picks in the 2000's, offensive linemen Nick Kaczur and John Greco, have seen extended time as starters. Kaczur spent his entire career with the Patriots, where he was a member of their 2007 AFC Championship team. He was also named to the All-2000's Patriots team. Greco was drafted by the St. Louis Rams but then traded to the Browns, where he has becoming one of their starting guards.

This year, David Fluellen and Zac Kerin look to carry on the Toledo tradition of drafted players. Fluellen is being looked at as a probable free agent, though he could sneak into the late stages of the draft. Kerin, on the other hand, will likely hear his name called, though it also won't likely be until the final day.