Last Day Longshots
The late rounds of the NFL Draft are for diehards.
This goes for those fans back for a third full session spent trying to get comfortable in the Radio City Music Hall seats. And it goes for the players still on the board, many of whom are looking for that one last longshot chance to play in the NFL.
Here are some storylines worth watching as the final four rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft develop throughout the day Saturday:
ONE LAST STAND
Before Kevin Ware’s broken leg became the most gruesome unforgettable moment of the NCAA Tournament, the most unwatchable piece of footage from the 2012-13 college calendar featured Marcus Lattimore. When the South Carolina running back’s leg got hammered during the Tennessee game, it was devastating to see, and equal parts stomach-turning and heart-breaking. That a running back as talented as Lattimore would have to fight back through another knee injury (actually, this one – in which three knee ligaments were destroyed – was worse) was crushing to consider.
As encouraging as it was to see Adrian Peterson fall a first down shy of Eric Dickerson’s rushing record after recovering from his own ACL surgery, the truth is not every back makes it all the way back. D.J. Hayden’s accident nearly killed him, but once he recovered from his emergency surgery, there was nothing structural that compromised his chances of coming back to full strength on the football field.
Just stepping onto the field to conduct drills at his own pro day was a near miracle for Lattimore. You don’t earn a standing ovation from a field full of NFL scouts and coaches because of anything you do in your football drills. You earn one merely by being able to participate in drills. The reception Lattimore received that day may be the high point of what’s left of his football career.
Still, Lattimore is likely to hear his name called on Saturday. When he does, much as he appreciated the gracious response, he’ll have his chance to earn something more meaningful than applause: a job as an NFL running back.
There’s a classic scene in “Good Morning Vietnam,” where Bruno Kirby’s character is forced to confront a bitter reality. He’d just flopped in his attempt to fill in for Robin Williams’ character, and was being told by his commanding officer that he couldn’t cut it as a radio comedian. With utter earnestness, Kirby looks his boss straight in the eye and responds, “Sir, in my heart, I know I’m funny.”
In his own heart, Collin Klein knows he’s a quarterback. Unfortunately, no one in the NFL seems to see him that way. And they, like Kirby’s c.o., get their way.
Still, the Kansas State quarterback, who is more runner than passer (not quite the dual threat the NFL demands these days), is steadfast in his commitment to being seen as a quarterback. He has not worked out for anyone at any other position (nor has anyone worked him out as a quarterback, for that matter).
Klein is likely not to hear his name called on Saturday, and may learn that the only thing worse than being Mr. Irrelevant is being just irrelevant. Then again, he may wind up being signed as an undrafted free agent and convincing some coach to give him his chance.
More likely, his quarterback dream will go unfulfilled, as Denard Robinson’s would have. But Robinson saw the writing on the wall, scrapped his plans to play quarterback and switched positions. He went to the Combine as a former Michigan quarterback ("former" in regard to both Michigan and quarterback) turned slot receiver prospect.
Where some scouts had trouble seeing Klein as a tight end, few had any difficulty seeing Robinson at receiver. He has elite quickness and explosiveness, and he already has tons of film to show what he’s capable of in the open field.
On Saturday, somebody will take Robinson as a receiver. And Shoelace will get the chance to see if he can follow in the footsteps of Antwaan Randle-El, Brad Smith, Josh Cribbs and Julian Edelman.
For much of the time I spent growing up in Stony Brook, NY, the local university didn’t have a football team. When it got one, it played under the name of Patriots and they played a D-III schedule. Long Island’s biggest college football program was Hofstra, whose campus was also home to the New York Jets.
Now, the Jets have moved to New Jersey, Hofstra has disbanded its football program, and Stony Brook has become a bonafide FCS playoff regular. Oh, and the Seawolves (Seawolves?) are about to have their first player selected in the NFL Draft.
Running back Miguel Maysonet hopes to be this year’s Alfred Morris, a guy who goes from dark horse to workhorse in the course of one season. In his three seasons at Stony Brook – where he transferred after Hofstra dropped football following Maysonet’s freshman season – he averaged 232 carries, 1,575 yards and 16 touchdowns. At 5-9, 209, he’s most comfortable between the tackles (you can’t live on Long Island if you can’t handle the traffic), and nobody in college football this side of Montee Ball has put up better numbers the past three seasons.
Granted, Long Island isn’t exactly the cradle of running back talent. But the Island has turned out a couple of decent backs over the last several, um, decades: Jim Brown (yes, that Jim Brown), Matt Snell, Amos Zereoue, and a kid named Craig Biggio, who for some reason never made it to the NFL.
TRYING TO CATCH ON
When you think of the traditional football factories, colleges that crank out prospects of a particular position, a few come to mind when it comes to receivers.
Georgia Tech (Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas). Miami (Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne). Even Texas Tech (Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree).
It may take awhile before you get to Mount Union. While it is the quintessential Division III football dynasty, it is still a Division III program. And not a ton of NFL talent matriculates in places like Alliance, OH.
And yet two NFL teams count among their leading receivers former Purple Raiders. Cecil Shorts had nearly 1,000 receiving yards last year for Jacksonville. Washington's Pierre Garcon has caught 20 touchdowns since coming from the Mount in 2008.
Next up is Jasper Collins, who wasn’t invited to the combine this year but just might get his chance to play for a paycheck. He’s not small (6-foot, 190) and plays bigger, making tough catches in the middle of the field. He won’t have the yards after catch in the NFL that he enjoyed rampaging through the Ohio Athletic Conference. But he will catch the ball in NFL traffic, and showed impressive route discipline at the East-West Shrine Game.
He's not a big-time prospect. But then who left on Saturday's board is?