NEW YORK -- Seven players were officially invited to the NFL draft. Yet an eighth, uninvited prospect -- Kentucky's Artose Pinner -- stood tall and proud at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Sunday morning when he was announced as the second pick of the fourth round (99th overall) by the Detroit Lions.
"It was amazing," the former Kentucky running back and SEC offensive player of the year said. "To see your picture and highlights on the screen and then your name on the board that's a blessing."
Especially considering the circumstances.
At the end of last season, Pinner thought of himself as a top running back prospect. He figured he was capable of being drafted in the first two rounds. And for good reason. After starting just five games and rushing for less than 700 yards in his first three seasons, Pinner had 283 carries for 1,467 and 13 touchdowns in 2002.
But like Miami's Willis McGahee, a projected top-five prospect taken 23rd overall by Buffalo, Pinner had his dreams derailed after suffering a nasty leg injury in January.
Pinner sustained a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula in the Senior Bowl and has spent more time regaining his strength and mobility than trying to impress scouts with flashy moves and speedy 40 times.
"Putting on an NFL uniform -- I always dreamt about this, but at the same time, it was a longshot," he said.
Pinner had surgery on the leg and needed to have screws inserted to repair the ligaments. The removal of the screws in New York just happened to be scheduled two days before this weekend's draft.
As Pinner watched running backs sporadically go off the board on Saturday, he wondered how long it would take before hearing his name called. Then, he said he was contacted by the Lions and informed that they were trying to trade up with Tampa Bay to select him with the final pick of the third round.
When that didn't happen, he figured the waiting would end early on Day 2. He was right.
Pinner, who projects to do more running and cutting drills in the next month as he continues to rehab, looks forward to joining the team where future Hall of Famer Barry Sanders once played.
"They acquired some great talent at wide receiver in Charles Rogers and with a good young quarterback like Joey Harrington," said Pinner, "and hopefully, I can add to that equation and be part of a great nucleus for years to come."
But first, he needs to regain the form that made him an all-SEC performer last year.
James C. Black is an NFL Editor at ESPN.com.