McFadden: King of New York?

NEW YORK — Darren McFadden is getting the type of star treatment usually reserved for the first pick in the NFL Draft.

The former Arkansas running back is on the covers of both Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine. His every move has become fodder for the New York tabloids.

And McFadden has gotten so many requests for TV and radio interviews that a public relations employee accompanied him to Manhattan to keep track of his schedule.

"For me, it's been like a whirlwind, but I've been enjoying it a whole lot. I've been getting to go to a lot of different places," McFadden said during a break in his schedule earlier this week.

"But now I'm getting to the point (where), hey, I'm ready to get the draft over with, get some break and get ready to play ball again."

It's hard to imagine that so much attention would be paid to a player who's not even going to be the first name called when the two-day draft kicks off at 2 p.m. today in Radio City Music Hall.

The Miami Dolphins have already tabbed former Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long as the first pick, and at least three other players could be taken before it's McFadden's turn to shake hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Still, McFadden is arguably the biggest name in the draft. He's a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up whose story of being raised in Little Rock by a mother addicted to crack cocaine has been well documented.

How big is D-Mac? Only a player of his popularity could come close to overshadowing Arkansas' Red-White spring game, also scheduled for today.

McFadden is believed to be the first former Razorback invited to New York for the draft, but he's no stranger to the city. In fact, this is at least his third trip to the Big Apple in the past 16 months. His first two trips were for the Heisman ceremonies.

"Now I'm in New York for the draft," McFadden said. "It's very overwhelming and very joyful for me."

And his journey will take another turn this afternoon. He's projected as a possible top 5 pick, and it's almost a certainty that the New York Jets won't let Arkansas' all-time leading rusher fall below the sixth pick in the draft.

But when it comes to the NFL Draft, anything is possible and no one can predict for sure where McFadden will end up.

"Teams that are going to have an excuse not to take Darren, they've got their excuse built in. They're not going to take him," ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen said last month. "Teams that want him will take him. He's going to go somewhere between (pick) four and eight."

McFadden has "501 Boy" tattooed on his biceps, but the Little Rock native will likely have to wait to find out if he'll be heading to the 510 (Oakland) or the 212 (New York).

The Raiders, who hold the fourth pick, and the Jets are the two teams believed to covet McFadden the most. He visited only four teams in the weeks leading up to the draft: The Raiders, the Jets, the St. Louis Rams (No. 2 pick) and the New England Patriots (No. 7).

But the Rams appear to be leaning toward selecting one of several top defensive linemen. That likely leaves the Raiders and Jets jockeying for the bruising running back who has been called a bigger, faster version of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson.

"He only visited four teams, and (the Raiders and Jets) are two of them," said Mike Conley, a former Arkansas track and field star who's serving as McFadden's marketing agent. "So I guess I'd have to say they're (both) interested in him."

McFadden's strengths are numerous. He ran a blazing 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in late February, and he showed he could break long runs while rushing for 4,590 yards and 41 touchdowns in three seasons at Arkansas.

"He certainly does remind you a lot of Adrian Peterson, the fact that he's tall, has a long stride, can run physical," said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who spent most of last season as the Atlanta Falcons coach. "I think that's where Darren is a little bit different from a lot of guys with that type of speed. He can still make the physical runs and finish runs and get you those inside yards as well as break the big one."

But McFadden also had to answer questions about his character following his involvement in a second altercation at a Little Rock bar in January.

During his visits with NFL teams, McFadden said officials wanted to sit down with him to find out what kind of person is he. They also wanted to know his interests outside of football.

Not surprisingly, though, the constant talk about his character bothered McFadden, who's known to his family and friends as a prankster willing to do anything for a laugh.

"It's real tough to hear because I know I'm a great guy and I'm not a troublemaker," McFadden said. "But at the same time, with the issues that have been going on in the league (with players getting arrested), I know that it was something I was going to have to deal with and teams are probably going to want to know about it."

But now that the draft has finally arrived, McFadden is ready to get his new career started. He has been too busy over the past few days to do much sightseeing in Manhattan, and he has a special suit picked out for today. (He joked it would be cherry red.)

Now all he has left to do is wait.

"I'm not going to try to make (the draft) emotional," McFadden said. "But hey, when you hear your name called and the emotions take over, you never know what's going to happen."

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