Falcons Flying High On The Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jamaal Anderson was caught off-guard when the phone call came early Saturday afternoon.

He had visited with six NFL teams in the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, but the Atlanta Falcons weren't one of them. Anderson had spoken with Falcons officials at the NFL Combine in late February, but that was about the extent of his contact with the team. That was until first-year coach Bobby Petrino called the former Arkansas defensive end to inform him that he was going to be the eighth overall pick in the draft. "That was a surprise for me. I asked (Falcons owner Arthur) Blank and Coach Petrino several times, 'Are you really picking me?' I had to make sure it was really happening," Anderson told reporters during a teleconference Saturday. "I could hardly speak until I heard my name called. It was a great feeling." Anderson wasn't invited to New York City to watch the draft because he wasn't expected to be a top pick. He was projected as a possible mid-to-late first-round selection. But while former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn waited in the green room of Radio City Music Hall to hear his name called, Anderson celebrated with his family in Little Rock. "I know there are high expectations being a top 10 pick, so I am going to get in there and work hard," said Anderson, who was flown to Atlanta in Blank's private jet after being drafted. Anderson, who came to Arkansas as a 212-pound wide receiver and left after his junior season, became the highest Razorback drafted since Billy Ray Smith was taken fifth in 1983. And there was more good news for two more former Arkansas standouts. While cornerback Chris Houston and offensive tackle Tony Ugoh were each hoping to join Anderson as first-round picks, both had to settle for being back-to-back second-round selections Saturday evening. "This is one of the finest draft days in Arkansas history, and I'm very proud of it," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "All three could have been first-rounders very easily, and it's the way it falls sometimes." Houston was taken -- coincidentally -- by the Falcons with the 41st pick in the second round. One spot later, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Ugoh to add more depth to their Super Bowl-winning team. Houston said Saturday night that he had not gotten a chance to speak with Anderson, but the cornerback admitted he was glad to be reuniting in Atlanta with his former Arkansas teammate. "That's a big thrill," Houston said. "Going to Atlanta with Jamaal is a big thrill." As they had anticipated, Saturday was an unexpected day for the former Razorbacks. There was a chance that, for the first time in school history, Arkansas could have three former players taken in the first round of the same draft. But that didn't happen. Houston dropped further than he had expected, and Ugoh went in the second round -- exactly where he had heard he could end up. "From what I was hearing, it was late first or second (round for me)," said Ugoh, who watched the draft with family in Houston. "That was what I was shooting for and that's what I got." But it was somewhat surprising that Anderson was taken so high by Atlanta. Nutt said he never received a phone call from the Falcons, inquiring about the defensive end. And Anderson's agent, Gary Wichard, figured his client could have gone anywhere in the top 15. "I kind of felt (it could be) Atlanta because there was a need (for a defensive end) in this thing," Wichard said. "From (picks No.) six on down to about (No.) 14, I knew most of those teams could have picked Jamaal Anderson." Several other former Razorbacks could hear their names called today during the final four rounds of the NFL Draft. But at least for Saturday, it was mostly all about Anderson. "I knew there was a possibility (about Atlanta), but I still wasn't sure where I was going to end up," Anderson said. "I really didn't have any idea. I was just anticipating my name being called."

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