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A Bulldog tips his hat to a group of Tigers

No sporting event, which it is not, can come close to matching the NFL Draft for its ability to turn what fans consider an art into a science. It's amazing to listen to the draft experts on ESPN try to quantify and qualify what it takes to be a good football player into a set of numbers crunched together like Jason Smith's financial portfolio.

The typical football fan will look at results. Tailback A rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. That guy can really play. Quarterback B passed for 30 touchdowns and only five interceptions. That guy can play. Linebacker C made 100 solo tackles and caused 10 fumbles. That guy can play. Team D went undefeated for two straight years and won championships. Those guys can play.

NFL coaches, scouts and executives are only interested in a draft prospect's results from college if his anatomical features match their protocol. They literally examine every square inch of the players' bodies, including their brains.

While watching the draft, I must have heard every reason imaginable to draft, or not to draft, a certain player in a certain round. Oklahoma's 2003 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jason White is too short, too slow and weak-armed. Georgia's David Pollack's arms are too short. Texas tailback Cedric Benson used to wear his hair like former Texas tailback Ricky Williams, who recently quit on the Miami Dolphins. Does this make him a quitter too?

I started dreaming about the excuses after watching the draft. The ideal foot size for a defensive tackle is 14. Bubba wears only a 13, so the Rams won't take him. The Giants were interested in Chip as a fullback, but his belly button was too shallow, an outy, not an inny. The Falcons liked Willie at tight end, but he has only 70 sweat glands, so there may be a problem cooling down. Don't pick him.

These NFL folks need built in reasons to justify their picks because of the megabucks they will spend to sign them. If a first round choice ultimately becomes a bust, somebody in that organization's head will roll. They want the cold, hard facts to make their decisions feel right.

One comment that I did not hear during the draft was my observation concerning Auburn's four first-round choices. Running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell were all seniors. They elected to return for their final seasons of eligibility and led the Tigers to an undefeated season. By staying in college they no doubt enhanced their draft positions.

If college players were more discerning in their choices of leaving school early for the NFL, it would change the landscape of the game. College coaches now have to recruit players that can come in and play regularly as freshmen and sophomores because if they are any good at all, they bolt after their third season for the riches of the "next level." There are few top-notch players left in the college game that have been on campus for a full four years.

I commend the Auburn quartet. They put money and the fear of injury behind their desire to graduate and help their team to a great season. In so doing, they came out ahead in the long run both personally and professionally.



Web posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005











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