Chargers eye diminutive demon

A.J. Smith made it clear that he is in the market for a kick/punt returner after letting Tim Dwight go. He called it one of his priorities for this offseason. He also mentioned the team has some thoughts on different players. One NFL Draft prospect fits two roles, as a receiver and a returner, and the Chargers have already met his acquaintance.

While receivers get bigger and bigger, there is still room in the game for a 5-foot-10 wideout with speed and the ability to make catches on all parts of the field.

NFL receivers such as Santana Moss and Steve Smith have carved out successful careers without ideal height, proving it is possible if the player possesses heart and determination.

With the Combines in the rear view, Mark Clayton is firmly entrenched in the first round of the draft. A team looking for a player that can stretch the field and turn a five yard slant into a 65-yard gain can't go wrong with Clayton.

Had he been two inches taller, Clayton would be the number one receiver on many draft boards. He doesn't miss many catches and has the athleticism to go up and play like a 6-foot-2 receiver.

During the Senior Bowl week of practices, he turned many heads, including those of his teammates.

"Mark Clayton had a great week," Connecticut quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. "He has really shown why he went to Oklahoma and had such a great career."

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden knows a thing or two about Clayton. After seeing Michael Clayton have a successful rookie season with his club, he believes Mark can have the same success on the pro level.

Playing for the North squad, Gruden made the trip to the other side to check out the star receiver.

"He is quick, very thick and put together," Gruden said. "Pound for pound he is going to be one of the strongest wideouts in this draft. I like the way he gets out of breaks. Almost appears to be double-jointed. Very loose. Gets out of his cuts at full speed. He has a knack for the big play. I think after the catch the kid is pretty darn good."

Clayton amassed 83 receptions with Oklahoma for 1,425 yards with 15 touchdowns, the single-best season by a Sooner receiver in the school's history.

During his time in Mobile, he got a chance to go against some of the better defensive backs coming out this April.

His favorite matchup that week was against another player whose height isn't ideal.

"Darrent Williams, a quicker guy who is my size, being able to get in and out of breaks at the same speed I get out of them," Clayton admitted. Those were some good matchups. It was fun going up against him."

Clayton came back from the Combines in Indianapolis, continuing his quest to prove he is among the best at his position. A well-timed forty clocked in at 4.43 may have elevated his stock when April rolls around.

The one thing he did not do, nor was he required, was take part in the bench press. But and a show of strength, perhaps signifying his ability to beat press coverage, could further vault him up the boards.

The Combines were similar to his time in Mobile during Senior Bowl week. Proving himself among the best college football has to offer.

"This was the top competition in the country as far as college football goes. That is the reason I came out. Go against the best and show I was capable of playing with them."

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