John Conner's career path from a former walk-on to NFL Draft pick came full circle on Saturday when the University of Kentucky fullback was taken in the fifth round by the New York Jets. Conner was the eighth pick of the fifth round and the 139th overall.
During his UK career, Conner carved out a niche as a physical blocker and tough inside runner with good hands, which is what NFL teams look for in fullbacks.
Conner seems to be a perfect fit for the Jets, who rely on a physical, smashmouth running game that will be led by LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Conner figures to be groomed as the heir apparent to 15-year veteran Tony Richardson, who was re-signed by the team in March.
"I think it's a good situation for me," Conner said. "I'll be on the field a lot opening some holes. I came a long way. It's really a blessing. Looking back on my career, it's amazing to be in this position. A lot of people doubted me being I was going to UK as a walk-on, but I worked my way up the ladder and it's great to be drafted."
Another Wildcat was also drafted on Saturday. The Philadelphia Eagles selected cornerback Trevard Lindley with the seventh pick of the fourth round and 105th overall. Lindley was viewed as a potential second-round pick in last year's draft but decided to return to UK for his senior season. An injury-plagued year dropped his stock, but his fourth-round selection was still slightly higher than many mock drafts had him going.
Lindley could see time as a nickelback behind the Eagles' two starters: All-Pro Asante Samuel and six-year veteran Ellis Hobbs.
Ex-UK linebacker Micah Johnson, who was viewed as a potential late-round selection, went undrafted, as did fellow linebacker Sam Maxwell and tailback Alfonso Smith. Smith quickly signed a priority free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals, and offensive lineman Justin Jeffries signed with the San Diego Chargers. Johnson and Maxwell are expected to sign deals sometime this weekend.
"It was kind of a rough day," Smith said. "It seemed like no running backs were getting picked late. But I talked with the Cardinals a couple of times, and they told me I could really contribute on special teams, and they didn't draft any running backs, either, so it's a real good situation."
Defensive lineman Corey Peters was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons on Friday. Peters, Conner, Smith and Jeffries are all represented by agent Greg Linton, who had been predicting Peters as a third-round pick when most mock drafts had him going in the sixth or seventh round, if at all.
The UK draftees and free-agent signees will report to their respective teams' rookie mini-camps at the end of the month.