NFL Combine Notebook -- Day 3

INDIANAPOLIS -- The debate will rage over the next nine weeks as teams attempt to figure out who the best players are in the 2008 draft.

But one thing is clear: Some of the players identified as the best will never live up to those expectations.

"It never fails," Colts general manager Bill Polian said. "It's an inexact science, if you can call it a science."

Polian revealed that research of the last 27 drafts showed roughly 50 percent of first-round selections never live up to expectations. For the top 10 picks, it's closer to 33 percent.

Yet, some of those first 10 picks will receive guaranteed money north of $20 million, especially those in the top five. It's why a team attempting to trade out of the first few picks has a difficult time finding a team willing to move up.

It's widely believed Miami would love to rid itself of the first overall choice. Good luck finding a buyer.

Said Polian, "Seven or eight years ago there might have been a huge market for that pick. Now, I'm not sure there is quite the market there used to be, and it's because of the money.

"That's not what the draft was designed to do by Mr. (George) Halas and Bert Bell. That's by the board now because these prices are outrageous." In the last five years, 33 of the 160 first-round picks have made at least one Pro Bowl, while 16 have departed the team that selected them.

Said Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations, "Usually when we go back and try to figure out why a certain player failed or try to find a commonality, it's usually something we knew about and we took the player anyway.

"The biggest challenge is not ignoring the information."

The Combine provides access to hundreds of players, but the vast majority have been well coached to politely answer questions while not saying much of substance.

That makes players like South Florida running back Kevin Smith a refreshing change of pace.

Asked why he left after his junior year, Smith said, "I'm ready. I ran for 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, and I'm ready."

What did he weigh in at? Smith grinned and said, "Two seventeen and change and I was very proud of that. ... And I have big hands."

Told that reporters would have a difficult time writing about Smith saying he calls a spade a spade, he happily simplified it to: "If you have game, you have game. I have game."

The major question scouts have regarding Smith is his speed, but he said he has been," working hard for six weeks and it will be very fast."

Limas Sweed isn't letting a bad wrist keep him down. Sweed tried to participate in practices at the Senior Bowl with a broken wrist, but two days of trying sent him off the field. Sweed missed the final seven games of the 2007 season at Texas with the injury.

He only had about 10 percent of the motion in his wrist when he arrived in Mobile. In his first practice, the wrist was injured more when Louisiana State linebacker Chevis Jackson grabbed it.

Said Sweed, "You can imagine the pain. That was day one. So I came back for day two, and I was thinking it won't happen again. And the same guy did it again. And that was when I decided to shut it down. It wasn't a re-injury. It was just a breaking up the scar tissue, which actually helped me recover quicker - so I want to really thank the guy."

Now at the Combine, Sweed said healing is complete although not all of the motion has returned. It's unknown how the injury will affect his draft status. A first-round talent, it wouldn't be a surprise if he slipped to the second round.

"Things happen and that's life, you know?" Sweed said. "I would say it's a minor setback for a major comeback."

Defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer has been one of the biggest risers on draft boards this season, drawing comparisons to New England Pro Bowl end Richard Seymour because of his size and athleticism.

"If I was gonna be compared to anybody, I'd want to be compared to Richard Seymour," Balmer said. "He's a very versatile player. He plays hard. He plays with passion."

Balmer not only made the second team All-ACC as a tackle, but performed well at defensive end on occasion in 3-4 alignments for the Tar Heels, which increases his value quite a bit for NFL teams running similar systems.

Running back Chris Johnson of East Carolina will run the 40 on Sunday and he hopes to break 4.3 seconds.

"I hope it's the fastest here," he said.

Last season, Johnson rushed for 1,468 yards and 17 touchdowns and added six receiving scores. Johnson compared himself to Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook.

"I feel I'll be a running back and I'll be in the return game," he said. "I'll be in on first down, third down. I feel like I can be an every-down player."

Against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Johnson had 408 all-purpose yards, including 223 yards rushing.

Concluded Johnson, "That helped me a lot. It opened a lot of people's eyes throughout the whole country."

Oregon Duck fans know Dennis Dixon's knee injury cost their team a chance at a national championship. Although Dixon admitted he is frustrated with the process, he gave a positive outlook Saturday on his rehab schedule. "I'm ahead of schedule right now, about 10 weeks into it," he said. "I'm pretty much running, jogging, backpedaling and everything." He's not working out here this week, but expects to throw and run for NFL teams at his Pro Day in Eugene April 3. Oregon's first Pro Day is March 20, but he won't be ready at that time.

Several players who took the podium Friday have ties to current and former NFL players.

--The most well-known is Virginia defensive end Chris Long, whose father Howie is now in the Hall of Fame after a stellar career in Oakland. Chris' brother, Kyle Long, has signed to play baseball with Florida State beginning in 2009.

--Jeremy Geathers, a UNLV defensive end who will likely play linebacker in the pros, has a brother (Robert) in the league and a father (Jumpy) who played in the NFL for 13 years.

--LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith's brother, Alonzo, was a running back for the Houston Oilers, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers over seven seasons.

--UCLA's Bruce Davis, another end-turning-linebacker, is named after his father, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders. --Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson answered plenty of questions about his brother E.J., a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings.

--Southern California linebackers wearing No. 55 have a lot to live up to. Chris Claiborne, Willie McGinest and Junior Seau put on that jersey during their stellar Trojan careers. But probable first-round pick Keith Rivers doesn't shy away from the comparisons: "Great linebackers have worn (No. 55) and made it proud," he said. "I was honored to have it and tried to do my best to live up to it."

--Kory Biermann played with his hand on the ground at Montana, but will get a chance a strong-side linebacker or a 3-4 linebacker (inside or outside) in the pros.

--"Don't tell Al Davis that happened." -- Virginia DE Chris Long when asked if he has met the Raiders owner. The son of Raiders Hall of Famer Howie Long, Chris said his earliest memory of Davis was "ducking in the car when I came to visit my dad at training camp because there were no families allowed in."

--"That was a big battle for me. I know, going back to the previous year, he was tough competition. He kicked back in pass protection and it was tough for me to get around him. So coming into the game, I really focused on that and learned some new techniques to get better hands on him, and it worked." -- Ohio State DE/OLB Vernon Gholston on beating Michigan LT Jake Long for a sack last season. It was one of only two sacks Long, another projected top 10 pick this April, allowed during his Wolverines career.

--"It's not like what I did that night was innocent. I was drunk and I put myself in a bad situation." -- Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, when asked about a 2004 incident in which he was arrested for burglary and trespassing after entering the dorm room of a female student and refusing to leave.

--"All the great ones." -- UCLA wide receiver Brandon Breazell, on what NFL receiver he compares himself to.

--"It is almost to the point where some of those guys are so far up there that they have nowhere to go but down. And not to take anything away from them because they are great football players, but they are really to the point where they have to put up or shut up. And every time you turn on the TV, you see them, and everyone wants to see them come out and run 4.2 40s and be the next Deion (Sanders) and all of that stuff. So flying under the radar, it can't hurt. And, frankly, you can only come out and improve your stock, so I am pretty excited about it." -- Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli on not being highly rated.

* Courtesy of, published by The Sports Xchange.

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