Familiar faces taken in NFL draft

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 26, 2002

Jim English

Sports Columnist

As the NFL draft approaches each year, quite a few notable prognosticators make quite a bit of money telling us exactly how the draft will play out. They can tell you who will pick who and why and give convincing enough arguments to make you think you may be able to predict it just as well.

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But when it comes down to it, none of us really know. We can observe what a team’s needs are, and what the most logical next pick should be, but it doesn’t always go that way.

Will a team pick based on their immediate needs or take the best available athlete? Do they take a guy who will step immediately into the starting lineup, or do they select a player they know will be valuable enough to trade for another player they really want?

Just when you think you have it all figured out, the St. Louis Rams, who already have arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, select Nebraska QB Eric Crouch with their first pick. Not to play quarterback, but wide receiver.

College tackles get drafted to play guard, linebackers to play safetyit can be a bit confusing. But it goes to prove that impressive stats in college football, or lack thereof, don’t necessarily translate to the pro game.

An excellent example is Alabama tight end Terry Jones, Jr. Although fans who saw him play throughout his college career saw flashes of his offensive potential, he was seldom used in the passing attack. He was always regarded as a good blocker, but he never got much chance to showcase his skills as a receiver. But the NFL doesn’t judge talent based on other people’s evaluations. That’s why they have what they call combines and why they show up in droves at the Senior Bowl and the Blue-Gray Game to see for themselves.

That’s where Jones and teammate Saleem Rasheed felt they had really improved their stock going into the draft. Jones impressed the scouts with his hands and speed for a man his size, and Rasheed also opened a few eyes with his speed and strength. He had the second-best time among linebackers with a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, and also posted second by bench-pressing 225 pounds 26 times.

Although both had been predicted by some to go higher, Rasheed was selected by the San Francisco 49ers early in the third round, and Jones went to the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round. Alabama teammate, wide receiver Jason McAddley, had gone just a few picks earlier in the fifth round to the Arizona Cardinals.

Freddie Milons rounded out the list of Alabama players to be selected in the draft a few picks later, going to the Philadelphia Eagles. Although I rarely am in favor of a college athlete leaving early to go to the pros, you have to wonder how early he would have been picked had he left after his stellar sophomore season. He began his junior season being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate, only to see his hopes dashed by a lot of dropped passes and turmoil surrounding the team and coaching staff.

Often, rookie receivers with experience as kick returners get tried there first, and Milons has shown he could make an immediate impact there, as well as at wideout.

With Jones’ blocking ability, along with his speed and soft hands, he could be poised to follow in the footsteps of Ravens GM and former Alabama and Cleveland Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome.

Auburn offensive tackle Kendall Simmons was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 30th pick overall in the first round. All indications are that he will be moved to guard with the Steelers, with a possibility of a future look at center. The fact that the Steelers soon after released one of their top guards may be an open door to quick playing time for Simmons, and probably says a lot about their confidence in his ability and versatility. You don’t take an offensive lineman with your first pick unless you expect him to contribute.

Tim Carter, the Tigers’ leading receiver last year, blew away the scouts with a blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.32, but must prove himself to be more than a former track star with a helmet if he wants to last in the NFL. With that kind of speed, and considering the Giants used a second round pick on him, you can bet he’ll have the chance.

Guard Mike Pucillo was the final Auburn player selected in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills.

Closer to home, Troy State star linebacker Jimmy McClain wasn’t drafted as he had hoped, but his phone began ringing even before the draft ended. Sometimes it can be an advantage to not be drafted and be chosen as a free agent. This allowed McClain to weigh his options among the several teams interested in him and choose the situation he felt would be best.

It seems he made a very wise decision, choosing to sign with the first-year expansion Houston Texans. He will be joining a team with no established starting lineup and only three linbackers on the entire roster. McClain could very well have the best chance of all the above to crack an NFL starting lineup next fall. His knack for interceptions displayed during his career at TSU can only help his chances.