Making The Grade

West Virginia's three draft picks face varying levels of challenges in making their respective teams and battling for playing time in the NFL.

In assessing a player's chances of making an NFL team or gaining appreciable playing time, a number of factors come into play. In addition to possessing sufficient talent, items such as the team's current roster, the depth chart, contract status and draft position can all impact a new draftee's chances. With those factors in mind, we examine West Virginia's three NFL picks and their chances with their new teams.

Cornerback Adam Jones (1st Round, Sixth Pick, Tennessee Titans)

Jones has the easiest path of the three to making the team due to his draft position. A team's first round pick, and especially one in the top ten of the draft, is going to get several chances to show his ability before his team gives up on him, and Jones will be no exception. The Titans need a cover corner to replace the departed Samari Rolle, and Jones will be eyed early and often during minicamp to see if he has the ability to step in and start as a rookie.

There's no guarantee that will happen, however. Jones' mechanics and technique on the field are shaky at times, and he will have to put in a lot of work to make the things the Titans teach him a natural part of his game. With his ability, however, he should be able to do so, but it will take a good deal of work on his part to break out of some of the bad habits he developed in college. And, of course, his kick return ability should get him on the field no matter how his initial play at cornerback goes.

Jones won't simply walk in without a fight, however. The Titans drafted cornerback Reynaldo Hill of Florida in the seventh round, which shows they aren't planning on handing the job to him on a silver platter. The Titans' depth chart at cornerback coming into the draft was an injury-depleted one, with both Tony Beckham and Andre Woolfolk (also a first-round draft pick) coming off injuries that caused them to miss most or all of the 2004 season. Second year players Rich Gardner and Michael Waddell will also be competing for time, while free agent signee Sam Massey will try to bolster his stock in NFL Europe.

PREDICTION: Although it won't be easy, PacMan will be a starter sometime during his rookie season. He will likely step right in as a kick returner from the start.

Chris Henry (3rd Round, 83rd pick, Cincinnati Bengals)

The Bengals were pleasantly surprised to get Henry this late, but so much was made of his emotional outbursts that it probably shouldn't be too much of a shock that he fell to this level. Henry also fell into the trap (not of his doing) of being compared, at least in temperament, to Randy Moss, , who is likewise a tall, speedy receiver from a West Virginia school who has had a few problems to deal with. Add in the fact that Henry follows in the footsteps of former West Virginia receiver Reggie Rembert, who had something of a flameout in the River City, and it's easy to label him as a potential problem.

The Bengals, of course see otherwise, as they proved by using a pick to take him when they had other needs still to address. Due to that, and to the fact that they understand his technical skills still need some work, Henry is almost assured to make the Bengals' roster, unless he continues with the behavior that caused him so many problems at West Virginia.

One thing that should help Henry is the fact that the Bengals won't need him to play right away. Outstanding pass catchers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh hold down the starting spots, and experienced Peter Warrick (coming off an injury-plagued season in which he played just four games), along with solid Kelley Washington, have grips on the third and fourth receiver spots, so Henry won't be under pressure to produce right off the bat. One other thing that helps Henry is his height - he'll be the tallest receiver on the Bengals' roster, and will also be at least three inches taller than the receivers he'll be battling for a roster spot.

PREDICTION: Assuming, and it's a big assumption, that Henry doesn't have any behavior problems or off-the-field issues, he'll make the Bengals roster. He might be inactive early on, but by the end of the season he should have a few catches and perhaps even make a difference in a game or two.

Rasheed Marshall (5th Round, 174th pick, San Francisco 49ers)

Rasheed's running ability and reshaped body (he's added 10-15 pounds of muscle since the end of his senior season), were obviously attractions for the Niners, but he has the toughest row to hoe in order to make the rebuilding San Francisco roster. He's faced with not only with all the normal challenges any rookie goes up against, but must learn a new position on the fly as he does so. However, if teams like the Bengals are willing to instill many of the missed basics a player like Henry needs, then certainly the moribund 49ers will show the same willingness as they search for players, right?

Rasheed has the straight ahead speed to succeed as a receiver, but so many other areas are still in question. Does he catch the ball with his hands on the same plane? Can he show better ability to avoid tackles? Will he grasp the nuances of route running? No doubt the hard-working Marshall will be drilling on all those things every day between now and mini-camp.

The good news for the erstwhile quarterback is that the 49ers don't have a great deal of returning experience. Marshall will have fellow rookie Marcus Maxwell (6-4, 205 lbs.) from Oregon to contend with, but there are some open spots available. Brandon Lloyd is the team's sole returning proven receiver, with 43 catches, but while talent is present in players such as Arnaz Battle and Rashaun Woods, there is certainly room for newcomers to make the squad.

PREDICTION: With so much to learn, it's not fair to expect great things from WVU's departed leader during his rookie season, but there's no doubt he'll give it his best effort. Expect Marshall to get a practice squad slot during his initial campaign.

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