Not the best, but the most intriguing draft prospects
Posted: Tuesday April 12, 2005 11:07AM; Updated: Tuesday April 12, 2005 11:41AM
Cal running back J.J. Arrington ran for 15 touchdowns last season.
The official countdown to this year's NFL Draft is finally under way, which means we're going to be showered with more information than anybody should have to suffer through over the next 12 days. We'll hear about who's stock is climbing and who's is falling, which teams are trying to move up and down and how many hidden gems are waiting to blossom. It can be quite overwhelming if you don't narrow your focus. That's where I come in. I'd rather concentrate on players with stories or circumstances that really fascinate me. So here they are, the five most intriguing players in this year's draft:
1. J.J. Arrington, RB, California: He makes the list for one reason: When I wrote a glowing story about Auburn running back Ronnie Brown after the Combine, I received several e-mails from Cal fans claiming Arrington deserved his due. I'm starting to think they have a point. Arrington may be small (5-foot-9, 214 pounds) but he has a shot to be a difference-maker in the NFL. Priest Holmes once was knocked for his size and he's done well for himself. The same can be said for Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook and New York Giants Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber. Arrington isn't as shifty as those three, but he does have explosive speed, good hands and big-play ability. He might start his career as a return man or a third-down back before eventually finding a more substantial role in the right offense.
2. Matt Jones, H-back/TE, Arkansas: Talk about your super-freaks. Jones has kept the NFL buzzing about his potential since his exceptional performance at the Combine, an effort that included a 4.39 time in the 40-yard dash and a 39.5-inch vertical leap. Pretty amazing numbers for a 6-foot-6, 242-pounder who played quarterback in college. The only question now is whether Jones can go from being an impressive athlete to an impressive receiver. He obviously has the size and speed and he revealed soft hands at the Senior Bowl. But there's a lot more to being a successful NFL receiver -- specifically handling the intricacies of route-running and reading coverages. If Jones can master those traits, he'll create serious mismatches. I'm thinking he'll be a faster version of Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates.
3. Marlin Jackson, CB, Michigan: It's rare to see a first-team All-American face the type of scrutiny Jackson has absorbed over the last few months. Two years ago, people talked about this guy like he was the second coming of Charles Woodson. Today, he enters the draft with more red flags than any of the top-rated cornerbacks. Jackson has been knocked for character issues (he was suspended for one game during his junior season after pleading to aggravated assault), along with not making enough big plays in the final two years of his Wolverine career. That said, he has enough talent to slip into the first round. He has the size (6-1, 198) to match up with bigger receivers and he specializes in press coverage. If he ends up playing in a cover-two scheme, he should make some defensive coordinator a happy man.
4. Adrian McPherson, QB, Florida State, Indiana Firebirds/Nashville Kats (AFL): After Jones, McPherson is the next most-hyped player you won't see drafted in the first round. God knows he's a great story so far. He's gone from being kicked out of Florida State for writing bogus checks to tearing up the Arena Football League to mesmerizing scouts in his pre-draft workouts. There isn't a kid in the draft who's worked harder to give NFL decision-makers a good impression. What does all that mean right now? Not much. Some team is going to take a shot on McPherson because he has tantalizing skills -- he's 6-4, 218, strong-armed and mobile -- but he's still a work in progress. Remember, he's played only two full years of football since enrolling at FSU in 2001.
5. Larry Brackins, Pearl River Community College (Miss.): Most junior-college All-Americans see Division I football as the next logical step in their careers. Not Brackins. He's going right to the league after catching 55 passes for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. His positives: size (6-4, 205) soft hands and great leaping ability. His negatives: He's a raw talent who hasn't been tested against top competition. The likely result of his entering the draft: His name being called on the second day.