Sinking feeling

Anttaj Hawthorne, a star defensive tackle at Wisconsin, dropped to the sixth round of the NFL Draft

Anttaj Hawthorne was not supposed to be waiting on Sunday, the second day of the NFL Draft, for someone to take a chance on him. The former University of Wisconsin star was supposed to be a sure thing. But there he was still available after five rounds and 174 selections.

Finally, with the first pick of the sixth round, the 175th overall choice, the Oakland Raiders selected the 6-foot-2, 310-pound defensive tackle.

"Surprised? You couldn't have told me that," defensive end Jonathan Welsh said in a conference call Sunday. Welsh, Hawthorne's teammate the past four years, was selected in the fifth round by the Indianapolis Colts, 27 picks before Hawthorne.

"I never would have thought his stock would have [fallen] that much," Welsh said. "That's something that you can't predict but I wouldn't have believed that. You couldn't have paid me any kind of money in the world to believe that."

After an All-American caliber junior season in 2003, Hawthorne was expected to cash in this spring. He came into his senior campaign rated the No. 7 prospect for the 2005 draft, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. But Hawthorne's stock slipped through what was viewed as a disappointing senior season.

Labeled an underachiever, Hawthorne was still thought of as a late first round pick by many after the season. But after his postseason workouts, which were widely reported to be unimpressive, Hawthorne's value plummeted.

Still, however, Hawthorne was listed as an early second-round pick on many mock drafts before it came to light, about two weeks prior to the draft, that he had tested positive for marijuana use at the NFL Scouting Combine. The free fall quickly began, culminating with Hawthorne's crash landing at the top of the sixth round.

"I was really surprised," said defensive tackle Jason Jefferson, who, along with Hawthorne, started for Badgers the past three seasons. "But I guess whatever happened they took that real serious."

Hawthorne was not available for comment Sunday; he had refused interview requests since the positive drug test came to light, initially in a report on Pro Football Weekly's Web site.

The New Orleans Saints selected Jefferson with the 19th pick in the sixth round, making him the fourth UW defensive linemen taken in the 2005 draft. Defensive end Erasmus James, chosen by the Minnesota Vikings, was the No. 18 overall selection in the first round Saturday. But it was Hawthorne who was supposed to headline the Badgers' quartet prior to the season.

"This is his time now he has to prove that he was worth more than what he was drafted at," Welsh said, "but on the other hand, the draft is just a draft. He could be a Tom Brady guy. Things happen. Things happen for a reason."

The Raiders felt secure enough taking Hawthorne that they traded a seventh round pick in this draft, the No. 230 overall selection, and a fifth rounder in 2006 for the opportunity to select him at No. 175. In his post-draft press conference Sunday, excerpts of which were made available on Oakland's official Web site, Raiders coach Norv Turner said the positive experience his coaching staff had working with Hawthorne at the Senior Bowl helped mitigate any concerns they may have had.

"We coached the game down there, spent a week with him, our coaches got to know him extremely well," Turner said. "It helped us in terms of what his situation was, and where he is, and where we think he'll be. That experience helped us a great deal in making this pick, and we look at him as getting an outstanding football player."


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