Finding the Diamonds

Every year the NFL draft provides us with spectacle; heartache, anger, happiness, despair and hope are the kind of feelings that fans of any NFL team can expect to endure throughout the two days in April. Calls for Coaches and GM's to be sacked are never quite as prevalent at any other time of the year than just after passing on "the prize" or the alleged missing piece in the elusive Super Bowl jigsaw. Seasons are made and broken, futures are shaped and months of guesswork are unraveled.

Of course, there's never a better time for even the most diehard fan to contemplate switching teams than draft day, as much as there's never a better time to order a crisp new jersey advertising the supposed future of your franchise. Aah, the NFL draft.

We all know of the Eli Manning's, the Larry Fitz's and the, gulp, Maurice Clarett's of this years draft. We've all discussed and pondered the picks that will make and break our franchises ad nauseam since the season ended. But how many of us truly look beyond the first 2 rounds of draft day to find that diamond in the rough? Players who suffered injuries, played for small schools or who simply couldn't realize their potential in college can be found languishing on the second day, hoping for a break. Simply put though, it's not as much of a wasteland as you might think; Patriots two time Super Bowl winning QB Tom Brady was a sixth round scoop in 1999, while the Dolphins four time pro bowl Linebacker Zach Thomas lasted until round five way back in 95. Heck, the Bucs Keenan McCardell scooped 1,000 receiving yards for the fifth time last year; not bad going for a former 12th round nobody.

Without further ado, here's a list of five potential ‘could be's' and ‘might one day's' on the offensive side of the ball for the 2004 NFL Draft.

Jeff Smoker QB. - Michigan State

Barely on the radar of many NFL teams at the start of this year, Smoker's college career has been a huge disappointment. At the end of the 2002 season he hit the lowest rung, finding himself suspended for five games due to a substance abuse problem. Since then, however, Smoker's life has had a dramatic turn around, and the one time blue chip High School recruit seemed to rediscover his ability as a quarterback this past season, putting up 21 touchdown's and 3200 yards whilst completing 62% of his passes and leading his team to a bowl game. During this time Smoker finally showed the kind of ability Michigan State knew he had all along. He has very few weaknesses as a quarterback, boasting good arm strength and accuracy and that natural X-factor that is so important for QB's, as emphasized by the Tom Brady's and Peyton Manning's of the NFL; that seemingly unflappable demeanor and knowledge of the position which simply can't be taught.

Smoker might have just enough off the field problems to see him slide to the second day, which would be a crying shame for such a talented individual. His play suffered towards the end of the 2003 campaign, and that could be enough to really concern NFL scouts. If Smoker truly wants to be an NFL QB, he may well be the third best signal caller in this draft, as the questions regarding him surround his work ethic, not his ability. With that said, the team that sends his card to the commissioner come April 23rd might just be getting a franchise signal caller, and that could be enough to convince someone to part with a third to sixth round pick.

Derek McCoy WR. - Colorado

A big physical wideout who can cause havoc with his sheer love for the game. Not blessed with natural speed, McCoy runs great routes, and will go over the middle for the ball using his size and superb hands, which rank amongst the best in this loaded Wide Receiver draft. While he won't give defensive coordinators sleepless nights envisaging breakaway runs a lá Moss and Owens, McCoy will move the chains for you, provide a reliable set of hands on 3rd down, and battle for the ball until he no longer can, making him a prototypical possession wide out. Derek finished last season with 880 yards and 11 TD's off of 63 catches, and has improved with every year at Colorado. Such is his determination; McCoy believes the talent was always there.

"I have been a blocking receiver for two years straight and I feel like I could have done a lot of things that I did this year," McCoy said. "I really didn't get an opportunity to do those things because of the running game."

If he continues to allow himself to improve under an NFL tutor, and carries on improving his size to suit his possession receiver abilities, McCoy could become a Keyshawn Johnson like player at the pro level, something that many teams are crying out for.

Stacy Andrews OT. - Mississippi

A track and field star at the discus, Stacy Andrews was finally offered the chance to try out for a spot on the line at Mississippi last year. Neither party ever looked back. Such were his flashes of excellence last year that Andrews was invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.

An interesting prospect, Stacy is the older brother of the draft's second best offensive lineman, Mr. Nasty himself, Shawn Andrews. But don't be fooled: he's equally as big, equally as mean, and equally as strong. If he can prove he is equally as good as his more NFL ready sibling, then this projected 6th round pick will find himself a home at tackle on an NFL team. The reason he is projected so low is that Andrews has only played one year as an O-lineman at any level of competition and is therefore as raw as they come, and still learning the game in its most basic forms.

Just like his brother, Defensive End's are going to need to take a cab if they want to get round Stacy and escape the full solar eclipse of a shadow his huge 6'5 350 lb frame creates. Despite this awesome size, Stacy is surprisingly athletic and can really pass block well for such a big man. It is nothing short of amazing how well he performed considering he has such little experience. This fact, along with his combination of superb size and athletic ability, is what appeals to NFL scouts enough to make him a second day draft pick who could rise as high as the 5th round.

Khiawatha Downey OG. – Indiana (PA)

Incredible power, a good athlete, and a four year starter at who transferred from Pittsburgh. Khiawatha Downey seems to have all the physical attributes to make a 1st day pick at OG. Unfortunately for him, he has one that overshadows all of this – multiple sclerosis. The illness itself is not what is hurting his chances, as no symptoms are evident in him yet but, as one of a third of a million Americans suffering from the disease, Downey has to take medication that leaves him tired and unable to physically compete. It is the same medication that keeps his dream of playing in the league a realistic prospect.

"There's a list of, like, 75 different side effects, but I'd say about 10 affect me the most," Downey explains when asked about the medicine. "I'll just get to the point where I can't hit anyone anymore. I just get real fatigued."

As a result of these side effects, he may find his chances of being drafted to play in the NFL severely jeopardized. It is likely that he will be given a chance at some time, but his unfortunate health situation is clearly an important issue, so much so that it may come before his superb ability as a lineman.

Despite this obvious concern, Downey's story has begun to capture the hearts of many inside the business, featuring in USAToday and ESPN recently. Downey himself is positive about the situation.

"If I play well, the word will get out," Downey shrugs. "The doctors have said I can keep playing football, and as long as I keep taking the injections, I'll have a good life."

Adimchinobe Echemandu RB - California

Welcome to the man whom the commissioner is praying doesn't get drafted.

"With the next pick…. some team selects…California Running back Adi…Eche…ummm…Chino…"

Perhaps Mr Tagliabue would be better off listing the Nigerian import's achievements. They might roll of the tongue a little better than his eye-boggling name. NFL Equipment men are already preparing for an increased budget.

All joking aside, Adimchinobe Echemandu (A-Deem-Chin-Oh-Bee Ekhe-Man-Do) has limited football experience, an injury list that reads like an annotation of the human leg, and was unable to workout for scouts at the combine or Cal pro day.

However, the artist-formerly-known-as-Joe Echema is becoming a hot commodity and it's easy to see why.

Having renamed himself to his original Nigerian name about two years ago, Echemandu and the Golden Bears have gone from strength to strength. Scouts and coaches agree that it's hard to think of a player who has endured more setbacks and overcome more obstacles in such a short career than Echemandu, whose career has nearly been ended on several occasions. Coming into 2003, he hadn't played for Cal since 2000, having missed one season after being declared academically ineligible, suffering a horrifying knee injury and then been struck with appendicitis.

Despite the name change, ‘Joe' stood firm in his desire to play football and to improve the once 1-10 Golden Bears.

Echemandu is a strong yet quick running back, willing to run outside or between the tackles. He runs low, showing superb elusive movement and hits the hole hard and early, whilst showing willingness to pass block and the ability to be a factor in the passing game. Although he apparently lacks top end speed, he ran a 4.33 into the wind during a workout last summer. Such a time would have made him the fastest 40 yard sprinter in this years Running Back crop, and had he been physically able to produce a similar time at this years NFL workout, we may well be looking at the top running back prospect in the draft.

As it is, injuries have hampered the draft status of the man who carried his Cali side close to bowl eligibility, despite a youth filled roster and tough schedule. The same man who upset USC by running for 147 yards on them, becoming the first back to run for over 100 yards against the Trojans in 17 games. The torn ACL he suffered in 2001 looked to be fully healed, but breaking a non-weight bearing bone in the final game of the season, the same bone that Michael Vick injured last pre-season, was an ailment too far for cautious scouts and GM's. Joe's tremendous upside and attitude should, however, see someone take a chance on him early second day. He is a prime contender to be reached for on the first day, and could just prove to be a huge steal for one team come the regular season, as doctors say he will be ready for full action by training camp.

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