Smith Knows What McFadden Is Going Through

FAYETTEVILLE — Billy Ray Smith Jr. was nowhere near New York City when his name was called early in the 1983 NFL Draft.

The former Arkansas defensive end was instead asleep in his bed in Fayetteville when he was awakened by the sound of his phone ringing.

The San Diego Chargers were on the other end of the line, calling to inform Smith that they had just selected him with the fifth pick.

"I didn't seem to have a problem going to sleep," Smith said last week during a phone interview from San Diego. "... It turned out to be a pretty decent way to go through it all."

Twenty Arkansas players have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 1938. But only two know what it's like to be a top 5 pick since the league expanded to at least 14 teams: Smith and defensive tackle Dan Hampton, the fourth pick in the 1979 draft.

Running back Darren McFadden could be next.

Several draft experts have predicted that the Oakland Raiders could take the elusive tailback on April 26 with the fourth pick. And the chance still exists that McFadden could become the highest drafted Razorback since quarterback Lamar McHan went to the Chicago Cardinals with the second pick in 1954.

"I have no problem (with that)," Smith, 46, said. "I would be shocked if he didn't break that mark. I think he should easy be a top 2 or 3 pick."

The NFL Draft has changed considerably in the quarter-century since Smith was awakened to the news that the Chargers had taken him in 1983.

ESPN didn't begin televising the draft until the following year, and there wasn't nearly the same media frenzy that leads up to the draft nowadays.

In fact, McFadden was a guest a few weeks ago on The Scott and BR Show, a San Diego sports-talk radio show co-hosted by Smith. (He's BR for Billy Ray).

Smith, however, didn't need to worry about doing interviews on the eve of the 1983 NFL Draft.

"The draft was nothing. Maybe (newspapers) just printed the results after it was over, but they just hardly talked about it," Smith said. "It just wasn't in the public consciousness."

Still, the former two-time All-American knows what it's like to face the heavy scrutiny that comes with being a top 5 pick.

Coming out of Arkansas, the knock against Smith was that he was too slow for the NFL. He didn't reassure scouts by running a time of around 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

"I think a lot of people knew my body of work and knew what I was as far as the kind of football I played," Smith said. "I think the one question was speed. Does he run fast enough to keep up with backs and tight ends?"

But Smith wasn't a total stranger to how the draft process worked. After all, his father, former Arkansas great Billy Ray Smith Sr., was a third-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1957.

Despite the concerns about his speed, Smith was the first defensive player taken in the 1983 draft. As a signing bonus, he said he received around $600,000 from the Chargers.

By comparison, former Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown got around $18 million guaranteed from the Arizona Cardinals for being the fifth pick in last year's draft.

Smith showed enough during his pre-draft workouts to warrant the Chargers taking him so high in what's considered by many as the best draft in NFL history.

Quarterback John Elway and running back Eric Dickerson were the first two players drafted. And the Chargers passed on a pair of future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks in Jim Kelly and Dan Marino to take Smith.

But Smith, who still holds Arkansas' career record with 63 tackles-for-loss, had a productive 10-year career as a linebacker with the San Diego. He recorded 26 1/2 sacks and had 15 interceptions before retiring in 1992.

So as the last Arkansas player to be a top 5 pick, does Smith have an advice for McFadden?

"From what I've seen and what I've heard him say, just judging from that, I think he's pretty well-grounded," Smith said. "I would say get somebody he knows and trusts to watch his money. And just to keep playing football the way he's been playing football and he'll have a long, glorious career."

Head of The Class

Arkansas has had 20 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, starting with quarterback Jack Robbins in 1938 and concluding with defensive end Jamaal Anderson in 2007.

Here is a breakdown of the former Razorbacks who have become first-round picks. They're in order of what pick they were taken.

Name Year Pick Team

Lamar McHan 1954 2 Chicago Cardinals*

Dan Hampton 1979 4 Chicago Bears

Billy Ray Smith Jr. 1983 5 San Diego Chargers

Jack Robbins 1938 5 Chicago Cardinals*

Clyde Scott 1948 8 Philadelphia Eagles

Lance Alworth 1962 8 San Francisco 49ers

Jamaal Anderson 2007 8 Atlanta Falcons

Loyd Phillips 1967 10 Chicago Bears

Preston Carpenter 1956 13 Cleveland Browns

Steve Little 1978 15 St. Louis Cardinals

Ron Faurot 1984 15 New York Jets

Shawn Andrews 2004 16 Philadelphia Eagles

Harry Jones 1967 19 Philadelphia Eagles

Wayne Martin 1989 19 New Orleans Saints

Gary Anderson 1983 20 San Diego Chargers

Steve Atwater 1989 20 Denver Broncos

Matt Jones 2005 21 Jacksonville Jaguars

Ahmad Carroll 2004 25 Green Bay Packers

Henry Ford 1994 26 Houston Oilers

* The NFL had only 10 teams when Jack Robbins was drafted in 1938 and 12 teams when Lamar McHan was taken in 1954.

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