The Fitz is In

In a move which could increase the value of the Browns draft slot, the NFL today ruled that Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is eligible for the 2004 NFL Draft.

The announcement comes on the heels of today's court decision that Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett could not be barred from the draft despite only two years of college.

Of the two decisions, the declaration of Fitzgerald's eligibility is likely to have more immediate impact on the Browns fortunes this April.

Unlike Clarett's situation, the NFL's ruling today is the last word on the matter. Fitzgerald is in, and very likely to be one of the top selections in the draft.

The key to Fitzgerald's eligibility lies in his transfer to Valley Forge Military Academy during his senior year of high school. He stayed there for a year-and-a-half prior to heading to Pitt. The NFL considers Fitzgerald to be three years past his senior year of high school, and therefore eligible for the draft.

Fitzgerald emerged in 2003 as one of the hottest WR prospects in years, as he accumulated some eye-popping statistics. In twelve games this season, Fitzgerald wound up with 87 catches for 1,595 yards (an average of 18.3 per catch). He also caught a touchdown in every game he played for the Panthers, winding up with 22 for the season - nearly two TDs per game.

Of the twenty mock drafts used by the Mock Draft Muncher, the vast majority contend that Fitzgerald will go second in the draft to the Oakland Raiders, and none have him dropping to the Browns with the seventh or eighth pick.

Fitzgerald's entry, however, dramatically increases the probability that Texas WR Roy Williams will be available when the Browns are called to select in April, as Williams is likely to be picked with the second WR selection rather than the first.

The Browns released #1 receiver Kevin Johnson in the middle of the 2003 season, and may lose their leader in receptions, Dennis Northcutt, in free agency. Nearly unthinkable one year ago, there does exist a distinct possibility that the Browns would elect to pursue a wide receiver in the draft.

With Fitzgerald certain to go high in the 2004 draft, today's decision means that the Browns will have more options available to them. 

- AB

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