EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two-hundred and fifty-five players were selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. After 254 of them had been chosen, Tae Crowder was still waiting for his name to be called.
At that point, the linebacker from the University of Georgia figured he'd be able to flip the process and choose his team instead of having one take him. But a funny thing happened on his way to rookie free agency: The Giants selected him with that final pick.
"It was a crazy moment, you know," Crowder said today on an interview conducted on Zoom. "It was really stressful. A lot of teams were kind of saying the same things. It came down to who I thought was the best. But New York was one of them and they ended up pulling the trigger. I just thank God for that.
"I was already planning on signing for free agency. That whole process, I can't even explain how it felt, but my family was happy, I was happy and that's all that matters. … I didn't know who I was going to sign with at the moment, but I just thank God that they pulled the trigger and drafted me."
It wasn't the first time Crowder was late to learn where he would play football. Out of high school, he first committed to Georgia Southern before deciding to attend the University of Kentucky. But then…
"I always knew I wanted to go to Georgia," he said. "I was having conversations with different people trying to figure out some things and trying to see if Georgia was going to ever offer me. But the week of signing day, that's when I ended up finding out they wanted to give me the offer. They gave me the offer like two days or a day prior to signing day. That whole time was stressful for me, too, but that's how I ended up going to Georgia."
Crowder arrived in Athens as a running back after rushing for 1,665 yards and 27 touchdowns at Harris County High School in Georgia. But midway through his redshirt freshman season in 2016, he switched to defense.
"I was just on scout team at practice, just working hard, and my coach ended up noticing it going against the number one defense, making plays," Crowder said. "He saw that I was an athlete and that I should be on the field. He reached out to me, we had a meeting, and he was like he sees me as a linebacker and stuff like that, as a defensive player. We just had a one-day tryout, and at that tryout I ended up doing pretty good and I stayed there from then."
It was a wise move for both the player and the team. Crowder, 6-1 and 240 pounds, played in 43 games in his final three seasons after appearing in just one in his first year. He concluded his career with 122 tackles (50 solo), 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
The Giants like his physical skills and production, both on defense and special teams. Because he is relatively new to linebacking, Crowder has plenty of growth potential.
"I'm an aggressive player, a disciplined player," Crowder said. "A hard-working player and I like to make plays for the team. I can play Sam, I can play Will and Mike. I'm pretty good in coverage. I love to fit the run and I love to cover backs, too."
Whenever the Giants come together as a team, Crowder will see several familiar faces. The team's first-round choice was tackle Andrew Thomas, whose three seasons at Georgia coincided with Crowder's final three years. They will join former Bulldogs and current Giants Lorenzo Carter and DeAndre Baker.
"It's just a dream come true," Crowder said. "We know how each other works. It will be fun catching up, going to work with them and being on the field with each other once again."
Crowder has received much more attention for being selected 255th in the draft than he would have were he chosen just one pick earlier. Since 1976, the final player taken in the draft has been good-naturedly designated "Mr. Irrelevant". In a normal year, he would have the opportunity to spend a week in Southern California, visit Disneyland and be the guest of honor at a roast/ceremony.
That will likely not occur this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Crowder still retains the title.
"I knew about Mr. Irrelevant, but I didn't know all of the stuff that came with it," Crowder said. "It's pretty special for me and my family. We'll have fun with it.
"They (the Mr. Irrelevant committee) called me right after the draft and we kind of talked about everything, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to actually do it. I think they'll reach out to me, I guess, when everything clears up. We'll just have to find a way to plan it with my family."
View photos of former Georgia LB Tae Crowder.