Move Those Chains: NFL Draft edition

You know what I love best about the NFL draft? How 48 hours can render the last two months of your life reading about prospects and memorizing mock drafts completely useless.

Since the NFL is already referred to as the "No Fun League" when it comes to disciplinary actions and "Not For Long" when it comes to the careers of its employees, for one weekend each year, the league resides in its own world with "No Freaking Logic."

When a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback is selected at the bottom of the fourth round, the Pac-10's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns is the eighth receiver taken and the nation's leading rusher comes off the board in the third round, something doesn't exactly add up.

Receiving The Hype: The two highest profile Trojans in the 2007 draft were Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith – two guys who played the same position (wide receiver) and couldn't possibly possess many more surface-level differences. After watching two exceedingly slow sessions of mind-boggling selections this weekend, things started making sense for me in terms of this whole draft thing. When it comes to being selected by an NFL team, there's only one piece of advice you need to take. It doesn't matter what your college coach tells you a GM told him or what your agent tells you that a scout told him. All that matters is what Jenny told Forrest. "Run."

Outside of linemen, quarterbacks and kickers, as long as you can flat-out run, you will more than likely hear your name called during the draft. This is especially true of wide receivers. There's only one reason that Jarrett's name was called after Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr, Dwayne Bowe, Robert Meachem, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez and Sidney Rice. Speed. NFL GMs and coaches think that if they can get a guy who can run, they can teach him how to play wide receiver. How else do you explain Ted Ginn going ninth overall? He was probably in the high teens in terms of pure wide receivers, but with that speed, the Dolphins think he has something the rest of the pass catchers in this draft didn't. Of course, there's also a huge possibility that Ginn will never develop into a true wide receiver and Miami will field the highest paid punt returner in NFL history for the next ten years.

Obviously, productivity at the college level is taken into account during the NFL draft. But it's not as highly regarded as most people believe it should be. For example, Dwayne Jarrett set the record for receptions (216), is second all-time with 3,138 receiving yards at USC and shattered the record for receiving touchdowns in the Pac-10. He was chosen just 29 spots ahead of Yamon Figurs from Kansas State, who finished his three-year Wildcat career with 143 fewer catches and 1,994 fewer receiving yards than Jarrett. Of course, that huge gap in productivity was closed quickly by Figurs' 4.3 second 40-yard dash time.

Besides the speed thing, Dwayne Jarrett needs to only look six spots down the board to see what an extra year in school can do for you. I love what Steve Smith did at USC in terms of becoming a fantastic leader and wide receiver, but when the season ended, taking him that close to Jarrett seemed like a reach. Last season, Steve Smith would have been lucky to be selected at all. This season, after twelve months of getting stronger and faster, he's the 51st pick in the draft. He did what he had to do to make an impression in this draft. He ran.

It kills me when I hear people say how Jarrett may as well have come out now because he wasn't going to get any faster or go any higher next year. Do these same people want high school juniors to forgo their final season and start playing college football right away? Of course not. And it shouldn't be any different with college juniors and the NFL. Athletes don't hit their physical peak at 20 years old. Most professionals improve their speed and strength every year into their late 20s. Sure, there are times when NFL scouts are drooling all over a college junior. It happened last season with Reggie Bush and Vince Young, and it happened this year with JaMarcus Russell and Calvin Johnson. But those kinds of kids are exceptions, not the norm. And Dwayne Jarrett was not one of those kids. After the Rose Bowl, there was some definite buzz surrounding him, but that wore off fairly quickly and well before Jarrett made his decision to enter the draft. I'm not saying that Dwayne Jarrett going in the second round makes any kind of sense in the real world. But in the world of No Freaking Logic, it makes perfect sense.

I don't write any of this to blame Dwayne Jarrett for leaving or claim that he should have stayed another year. He made his decision and I wish him all the luck in the world with the Carolina Panthers. I appreciate the desire to help his family and the necessity to do so at this point. I do, however, think it's a fact that with all things being equal, he would have been picked much higher in next year's draft and made a lot more money with his bonus, contract and endorsement deals. After all, Steve Smith went from, at best, a day two selection to cashing a round two check in one year.

Center Of Attention: Lost in some of the wide receiver hype was the third Trojan selected in the second round. Ryan Kalil will head to Carolina alongside Dwayne Jarrett as the team's two second-round picks. His day is yet another reason why this league makes absolutely no sense to me.

Every single talent evaluator spoke highly of Kalil. In fact, just about every one of them said that at worst, he's a ten-year starter in the league, and at best, he's a 15-year starter with multiple Pro Bowl appearances. And yet, draft day comes and every single team (most of them twice) decided to pass on the best center in the draft. I've never understood why the center position is the Rodney Dangerfield of the offensive line. A good center can make every offensive lineman better. It doesn't matter how good your left tackle is if your center can't read a blitz from that side and send him some help. With a good center, the entire offensive line's awareness can raise about a full letter grade. You can't really say that about any other position, and yet, year after year, teams pass on quality centers in the draft, convinced that they can find someone there later or teach a guard to snap the ball.

Ultimately, even though he could play guard at the next level, Ryan Kalil went pretty early for a center, which is a testament to how good he really is. I would be shocked if Carolina was in the hunt for a new center in the next several years.

Cowboys And Indians: I thought Chris Berman was stretching early in the draft coverage when he was making jokes about the Redskins drafting a guy named Landry. But I knew something was up when Washington came back in the fifth round to select Dallas Sartz. Apparently they couldn't find Troy Irvin Smith on their draft board.

Sartz ended up going ahead of linebackers like Rufus Alexander (Oklahoma), Desmond Bishop (Cal), Prescott Burgess (Michigan) and Brandon Siler (Florida). Those are some pretty good names.

But once again, it shows you that speed counts in this thing and Sartz' 4.5 40-yard dash was enough to get the scouts' attention. I think a lot of Trojan fans figured Sartz would move to safety at the NFL level, but with Washington's duo of Sean Taylor and now LaRon Landry back there, they seem content with seeing what Sartz can offer them at the outside linebacker position. And for what it's worth, Sartz was the fifth name listed on Sports Illustrated's Top 10 Draft Steals of 2007.

Lua The (NFL) Linebacker: Oscar Lua deserves a mention here as well. After backing up a Trojan star for his senior year, the New England Patriots thought they might have the same success with him that they enjoyed with Matt Cassel. Lua's knees will always be a concern, but he has rehabbed nicely this offseason and was in very good shape for his workouts. He may not be the next Teddy Bruschi for the Patriots, but he should fit in very nicely with the mindset of that organization and could see some playing time down the road.

Until Next Year: Overall, it was a pretty successful day for the Trojans. With only four players in serious contention to be drafted, USC had five players selected and three others sign as free agents (Chris McFoy with the Raiders, Kyle Williams with the Ravens and Ryan Powdrell with the Packers). Dwayne Jarrett gives the Panthers three former Trojan wide receivers (with Keyshawn Johnson and Keary Colbert) and should fit in nicely opposite Carolina's Steve Smith and as a replacement for Johnson. USC's Steve Smith will catch passes from everybody's favorite quarterback, Eli Manning. He could eventually pair with Plaxico Burress as the small speedy receiver alongside the bigger, physical receiver – a role he's played to perfection for three years. Dallas Sartz and Oscar Lua will no doubt have to earn some time on special teams before getting a shot on defense, but both players have extensive experience there from their time at USC and should have no trouble adjusting accordingly.

Of course, the one lesson I hope all non-senior Trojans take from this draft is that unless you have an asset that the NFL covets above anything else – whether it's 4.2 speed, a 90-yard throwing arm or a 6-9, 370 pound body with agility – it's always beneficial to stay another year, get better and move up the draft. Too many Trojans have been sliding down the draft in recent years because of the belief that game film and production numbers will outweigh stopwatches and combine numbers. You'd think that would be the case. But what you think and what actually happens don't usually coincide in a world with No Freaking Logic.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com and he can be reached at erik.mckinney@gmail.com.


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