Houston On The Rise

FAYETTEVILLE -- Chris Houston's national tour is winding down. Of course, it will be a few more days before he knows for sure where he'll end up.

Over the past few weeks, the former Arkansas cornerback has been wined-and-dined in seven NFL cities.

He got a chance to visit New York City for the first time to interview with the Jets, and he's been shown a good time in cities like Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington D.C.

"We're going from state to state," Houston said earlier this week from his hometown of Austin, Texas. "I'm getting to see things that I wanted to see as a little kid, and I'm finally getting to see them now."

It's certainly good to be a wanted man.

Thanks to his impressive individual workouts, Houston's status in this weekend's NFL Draft has skyrocketed to the point where most draft boards have him listed as a late first-round pick. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has mentioned Houston as a player whose stock has risen significantly over the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, NFL executives appear to be enamored with the cornerback's surprising strength and blazing speed, as well as his ability to shut down some of the top wide receivers in this year's draft.

"For the most part, Chris has got a chance to be drafted in the first round," said ESPN's Chris Mortensen, who will serve as an analyst for the network's draft coverage.

"If he slips into the top of the second round, he's going to be a bargain."

But according to most Internet mock drafts, Houston won't be available by the time the Oakland Raiders are on the clock with the first pick of the second round Saturday.

Houston, who decided to leave Arkansas after his junior season, admits he's not surprised by his rising stock.

He's unusually strong for his size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds), and he knew that he'd make an impression with NFL scouts once they saw him work out. The NFL Combine in late February was his time to shine.

His 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash was the second-fastest time by a player at the combine. Perhaps more impressively, though, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 27 times, which is believed to be a record by a cornerback.

"I knew with my ability that I could shoot up the draft because nobody really had numbers on me with the 40(-yard dash) and everything," Houston said.

"... I knew I could do it because of the hard work I put into it, and it's just really been kind of overwhelming to see things change just by doing a combine."

But as one might expect with the NFL Draft, Houston is not without his critics.

SI.com's Stewart Mandel listed Houston as the most "overrated" cornerback in the draft, adding that the former Razorback is a "workout wonder."

That same title was used by some to describe former Arkansas quarterback Matt   Jones, whose impressive showing at the 2005 combine helped him become a first-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He's this year's definitive workout wonder," Mandel wrote of Houston.

The knock that Houston said he's heard most from NFL teams is that he needs to get better on adjusting to the football when it's in the air. But there are also concerns about whether he can be an effective NFL cornerback.

Mortensen said the biggest question that teams have expressed about Houston is whether he can adjust to not playing man coverage, as he did during his time at Arkansas.

"I think when you look at Chris Houston, the interesting thing with him is going to be how does he handle playing off (the football) and playing in a zone coverage. He didn't do that at Arkansas," Kiper said. "It was all press, it was all in-your-face, get your hands on a guy and work him."

Houston doesn't appear to be too concerned, though.

"It's going to be a new start being that (playing in the NFL is) so much different," Houston said. "But I feel I have the talent to play at the next level."

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