Good things come in pairs?

??There is some chance, albeit it not a surefire one, that Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler could actually be chosen in the draft next week ahead of Badgers teammate and interior offensive lineman Peter Konz. And if he isn't, that doesn't make Zeitler a second banana or second fiddle.

In fact, Zeitler seems to have ascended to the consensus No. 2 spot among prospects at guard, behind Stanford's David DeCastro, as the position continues to increase in importance the past several years.

Konz is the top-rated center candidate, but some scouts feel he can line up at guard as well. The talent evaluators who suggest that Zeitler might perhaps play quicker than Konz, maybe even have a better career in the league, are, indeed, in the minority. But they do exist.

"He's more," one veteran NFC scout emphasized to The Sports Xchange, "than just the 'other guy,' you know?"

There are, for sure, some relative "equals" from the same team and at the same position in the 2012 draft.

Choosing between DeCastro and Stanford teammate and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin might be a matter of need as much as preference. In the past few weeks, the stock of Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower seems to have risen, while that of fellow Crimson Tide 'backer Courtney Upshaw probably has slipped, but both are likely first-rounders.

And it might be tough to choose between versatile Clemson defensive line partners Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch.

One team that worked both players out recently had them at virtually the same spot on their draft board, a rarity.

The NFL draft hasn't quite become the pursuit of a latter-day Noah's Ark-type social experiment. Prospects don't often come two-by-two, but it is notable that, since 2000, there have been roughly 40 pairs of players chosen in the same year, from the same college program, and at the same position.

A few cases in the past dozen years or so — linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and Ernie Sims (Florida State, 2006), defensive tackles John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth (Tennessee, 2002), defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten (LSU, 2006), defensive backs Cedric Griffin and Michael Huff (Texas, 2006), defensive backs Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter (Georgia, 2006), among them — the lesser-known of the two prospects has had a more productive career than the more conspicuous candidate.

That probably won't be the case with many players in this year's draft.

There are, however some intriguing "second" draftable players — which is to say college teammates who warrant slightly less adoration from talent evaluators — on boards across the league.

These aren't guys who were suddenly discovered by NFL scouts by accident — something that seems to happen only at the college level and not nearly as often as recruiters claim — while they were reviewing video of the more high-profile player.

In most cases, they are solid prospects on their own merits. And in most cases, being the second player chosen from a school at the same position doesn't make a prospect second-rate. Just because a player is the second most recognized player at a school doesn't mean clubs will be second-guessed for selecting him.

Here are a few examples of notable "other" players who will merit consideration:

* Arkansas WRs Joe Adams and Jarius Wright: The trio of Adams, Greg Childs and Wright is likely graded pretty close together by scouts, probably in the fourth or fifth round for all three, but Adams' return ability might afford him an edge over his Razorbacks' teammates. Adams returned four punts for touchdowns in 2011. Plus, Childs is coming off an injury. All three ran fairly disappointing times, Childs is still rated slight higher than the other two by most NFL scouts, but not by much. Wright has good feel for the passing game.

* LSU cornerback Ron Brooks: Primarily a nickel cornerback who played in the slot but, because of injuries, learned all of the defensive back positions for the Tigers. He' isn't Morris Claiborne, but he'll make somebody's roster. Recruited as a wide receiver, and has excellent body control and blistering speed (ran 4.37 at the combine). Will hit, but he's probably not physical or solidly built enough to be a safety. Knows where the end zone is, as exemplified by having returned all three career interceptions for scores. An excellent "gunner" on the kick coverage units.

* Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford: Isn't nearly as flashy as teammate Shea McClellin, who projects more to a 3-4 rush linebacker in the NFL, and lacks his explosive first step into the backfield. Is actually a bit too stiff at times. But Crawford is pretty stout versus the run, will flash occasional closing speed on the rush, and has some versatility. He's a big motor guy who will give an honest day's effort every time out and could get into the middle rounds, with some people warming to him the past week or so.

* Florida State offensive tackle Andrew Datko: Started 40 games for the Seminoles in his career, but a shoulder problem limited him to four appearances in 2011, and his injury and range of motion concerns might always be a red flag. But there are a few personnel people who insist that, when he's physically whole, Datko is every bit as good a prospect as FSU teammate Zebrie Sanders. And those same scouts feel he has better feet for the left side. Very bright and has made a very good impression during his interviews.

* Iowa offensive guard Adam Gettis: Only a one-year starter at right guard, but played consistently enough to get a look. He isn't even close to Hawkeyes' mate Riley Reiff, and, if he's drafted, will likely be at the opposite end of the lottery. Size is a problem (293 pounds), and he lacks the length for really bulking up without hindering his mobility. But he can mirror people on the rush and might be an eighth lineman or developmental type for a team that features a zone blocking scheme.

* Cincinnati defensive tackle John Hughes: Not as quick or powerful as his Bearcats' bookend tackle partner, Derek Wolfe, and is probably limited to two-down work. But if he's recovered from persistent hamstring problems, is solid enough to squeeze into the late rounds and perhaps be a No. 4 tackle.

* Georgia center Ben Jones: A four-year starter for the Bulldogs, lacks the size, strength and versatility of Georgia line mate Cordy Glenn, but is very durable, and plenty bright. Has some physical limitations, like lack of anchor size, and may not be stout enough to move to guard. But knows how to call line switches against various fronts, is very dependable on the shotgun snap, and uses his hands well to compensate for a lack of real power.

* Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis: Shares a surname with fellow Sooners outside 'backer Ronnell Lewis, not nearly as well regarded, but straight-line speed and ability to project inside in some schemes could get him drafted. Has trouble getting through the trash and directly to the ball, but can run and wrap.

* Alabama defensive back DeQuan Menzie: Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick are a step above, and will be off the board by the middle of the second round (perhaps even the end of the first). Menzie is smart with excellent football instincts, like seemingly all Crimson Tide players, and has lined up both inside and outside. Lacks speed (in the mid-4.6 range), but plays with technique and awareness. Might be able to line up at free safety, especially if he adds some bulk, and should help quickly on special teams. Probably a low middle-round pick.

* Wake Forest safety Cyhl Quarles: His running mate, Josh Bush, might have enough versatility to play some nickel cornerback, and Quarles almost certainly is limited to a safety spot. Most likely, because of questionable instincts, strong safety. His size (6-feet-1 1/2, 213 pounds) and speed (4.62) could get him drafted, he can start off on special teams, and perhaps in time improve his consistency and recognition skills.

* * *

Elsewhere ...

There is a pretty good chance that Alabama will have five players selected in the first round of the draft Thursday.

But the national champions also have some of the most hotly discussed first-round prospects in the talent pool.

Tailback Trent Richardson may be the "safest" player in the entire lottery, and probably will go off the board in the top five, but that hasn't stopped some pundits from debating the merits of choosing a running back so high.

The discussions have been even more intense about Upshaw, who looked to be a sure-fire pick in the top half of the round a month ago, but whose perceived lack of quickness and lateral speed, along with questions about his ability to play outside at such a bulky weight, could prompt him to slide a bit.

And Kirkpatrick, once regarded as competition for Morris Claiborne for the No. 1 cornerback spot, is probably no better than third at the position right now.

On the flip side, Barron is skyrocketing up draft boards and Hightower has held his own as an inside 'backer, certainly eyed by several 3-4 teams, probably in the middle third of the first round. Said one general manager: "The one thing that no one can (debate) is that all the Alabama kids know how to play football, and they understand the importance of it. Nick (Saban) essentially runs a prep school for the NFL. His guys are always ready to go."

Although unrestricted free agent tailback Cedric Benson hasn't garnered any interest in the marketplace -- the seven-year veteran acknowledged this week that he hasn't made any visits -- there is some interest from a few clubs who view him as a time-sharing power runner.

Those clubs appear to be waiting until after the draft and for Benson's price tag to come down to somewhere in the $1 million range. Teams that have discussed Benson internally seem legitimately convinced that he has rehabilitated himself from the work ethic and attitude questions that dogged him early in his career.

But Benson will turn 30, the dread age for runners, by the end of the season. He has averaged 298.3 attempts over the past three seasons as a workhorse in Cincinnati. And in the last two seasons, Benson's average is just 3.7 yards per carry.

In fact, in the five seasons in which Benson logged 150 or more rushing attempts, he's been better than 3.9 yards per carry just one time, when he averaged 4.2 yards in 2009. The former first-rounder will get some play after the draft, but will have to accept a reduced role and a reduced salary as well.

* * *

Earlier this week, ESPN reported that contract extension discussions between the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees had progressed to the point where the two sides had narrowed their differences to roughly $2 million per season.

There has been, a member of the Brees camp suggested to The Sports Xchange, further advancement even, but the person cautioned that a deal isn't yet imminent.

"But at least there isn't the kind of (inertia) that existed earlier," said the source, "so that's improvement."

Neither the prolonged contract mess, nor Brees' very public NFLPA role in negotiating player sanctions for the bounty scandal, have yet tarnished his pristine image in The Big Easy.

But both the quarterback and his representatives are aware of that potential. And while it probably won't affect the financial package sought by Brees, one of several "franchised" players who have stayed away from their teams' offseason programs, it's a consideration.

* * *

Seven years ago, arguably the most notable tandem -- in terms of players from the same school and at the same position, as cited above -- entered the NFL, when Auburn tailbacks Ronnie Brown (Miami) and Cadillac Williams (Tampa Bay) went off the board with the second and fifth overall choices, respectively.

Seven seasons later, the two backs can't find jobs, and are currently unemployed as unrestricted free agents. The sagas of Brown and Williams aren't so much an indictment of taking two players from the same program as they are a cautionary tale of how the value of tailbacks has deteriorated in recent seasons.

Brown is 30 and Williams will be on Saturday. Between them, the two have one Pro Bowl selection, only two 1,000-yard campaigns (one apiece), one season in which they carried more than 250 times, four years of under 500 rushing yards, and lots of injuries. Since the NFL implemented the "common draft" in 1967, there have been three other examples of running backs from the same school chosen in the first round the same year. But Brown and Williams are the only two ever tabbed in the top 10, let along the first five.

When they came into the NFL, Williams and Brown were projected as Pro Bowl-caliber performers. Injuries, obviously, contributed to their situations.

Scouts today often discuss the devaluation of the running back position, and their names are prominent in that banter.

* * *

Although it probably shouldn't be, history is always a component of the draft, and when one considers the recent track record of quarterbacks chosen in the second round, it's arguably a little easier to understand how/why some franchises "reach" and elevate players at the position into the initial stanza.

In the past 10 years, there have been 11 quarterbacks selected in the second round, and the "bust rate" of the group is alarming. It includes washouts such as Pat White (Miami, 2009), Brian Brohm (Buffalo, 2008), Jimmy Clausen (Carolina, 2010), Drew Stanton (Detroit, 2007), John Beck (Miami, 2007) and Kellen Clemens (New York Jets, 2006).

Beyond Andy Dalton of Cincinnati, who started all 16 games as a rookie in 2011 and took the Bengals to a wild card berth, there's been little production.

In fairness, it should be noted that the jury is still out on 2011 second-rounder Colin Kaepernick (49ers), that Chad Henne and Kevin Kolb can still have solid careers and that Tarvaris Jackson will vie with Matt Flynn for the starting job in Seattle this year.

By and large, though, quarterbacks chosen in the second round have bombed.

In fact, the league went four straight drafts, 2002-2005, without a single second-round quarterback. In the past 10 years, the second-round has featured more than two quarterbacks only once, in 2007, when Kolb, Stanton and Beck were chosen.

Of the 31 starting jobs projected for 2012 -- excluding the Seahawks' situation -- just three are peopled by former second-rounders. By comparison, there are two sixth- and seventh-rounders each, and two who entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.

And so teams that may consider waiting until the second round next week to grab a candidate such as Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State might want to consider the history.

* * *

Considerable feedback, and decidedly mixed, on last week's note that Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was being borderline disingenuous when he suggested that departed quarterback Tim Tebow didn't get him the ball enough.

As noted, in Tebow's 13 starts, including two playoff contests, Thomas was "targeted" 87 times, per league statistics.

In response to a few queries, Tebow completed 48.3 percent of those passes (42 of 87). That was only slightly better this his completion rate, 45.8 percent, to other receiver targets.

* * *

Worth repeating from draft notes earlier in the week, given that some folks from Mobile, Ala., checked in and strongly confirmed: No inkling yet about who might replace the deposed Steve Hale as CEO and president of the annual Senior Bowl college all-star game, but some locals are pushing hard for Philadelphia Eagles personnel executive Phil Savage to at least consider the post.

A Mobile native, Savage is a longtime and widely respected league personnel man, was general manager in Cleveland (2005-2008), and a key member of Ozzie Newsome's top-shelf scouting staff in Baltimore for many years.

Hale was ousted last month after 19 years of running what is arguably the most conspicuous of the several college post-season contests.

Punts

-- It will be interesting to see what the draft means for offensive tackles, but in recent days, a few scouts have suggested that the spot might be one of the most overrated in the lottery. The guard crop, scouts say, is significantly deeper. The first round has averaged five tackles over the past five years, after having only five total in the three years prior to that.

--There have been few drafts in which the top six prospects have been so well defined. Notable is that five of the consensus top half-dozen prospects are offensive players, with LSU's Claiborne the lone exception. Not since 2005 has the first round produced five offensive players among the top six picks. The first five players off the board that year were offensive performers.

-- Beyond the aforementioned Benson, tailbacks Jackie Battle (Kansas City), Ryan Grant (Green Bay), and Chester Taylor (Arizona) are free agents who will probably get some interest after the draft.

-- Many mock drafts have projected an inside/middle linebacker to the Giants, but some New York personnel people reminded this week that the club rarely passes an opportunity to add a pass rusher if one is available. The Giants won a Super Bowl last year, they pointed out, with a middle linebacker, Chase Blackburn, plucked off the street.

-- The Giants, by the way, haven't yet approached weak-side 'backer Michael Boley about moving to the middle in the wake of the trade acquisition of Keith Rivers from the Bengals. People close to Boley, though, allow the seven-year veteran wouldn't be opposed to such a move.

-- One Philly official placed the odds at about 50-50 that cornerback Asante Samuel will be dealt just before or during the draft. Samuel is scheduled to make $21.5 million in base salary the next two seasons, will have to dramatically reduce that number no matter where he plays, but his representatives haven't yet had any substantive discussions about doing so.

-- While the Steelers prefer to sign Wallace to a long-term contract, some club officials are confident that, if he signs only the one-year tender -- and becomes an unrestricted free agent next spring and ultimately departs -- Pittsburgh would likely receive a third-round choice in the 2014 draft as compensation. And the Steelers, some team officials point out, found Wallace in the third round.

-- Somewhat ironic that the NFL now wants to add a "suspense factor" to the draft, especially the first round, by embargoing the networks from showing prospects in the "green room" and on the telephone with teams. For years, a league executive has tipped off the network hosts, via an earpiece, as to the identity of the player chosen, before it was publicly revealed.

-- The excellent Internet site drafthistory.com has done an outstanding job the last several years in detailing that most compensatory draft choices awarded by the league go to franchises with non-losing records, and that's the case again in 2012. Of the 32 additional picks meted out last month, 20 went to clubs with 2011 records of .500 or better.

-- Because of the frenzy to sign undrafted free agents at the end of the draft, a few player agents have strongly suggested that the lottery be increased beyond seven rounds (eight rounds, actually, counting the compensatory choices). The initiative, as outlined by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, could be broached to the NFLPA in coming months.

-- One guy getting interest as a possible "priority free agent" from a few 3-4 teams is Bethune-Cookman edge rusher Ryan Davis, who had 12 sacks last season. Davis isn't a particularly long athlete, and doesn't have tremendous upfield explosiveness, but corners well, and seems to have a knack for attacking the pocket.

-- Several clubs, including Atlanta, are paying more attention to small college prospects this year.

-- Unless teams are lying, no club has yet removed Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams, who allegedly tested positive for marijuana at the combine, from its draft board, although his stock has been dropped some. A handful of franchises, though, won't touch North Alabama (formerly Florida) cornerback Janoris Jenkins, not just because of past marijuana problems, but character concerns in general.

The last word: "It's worth it. It's totally worth it. This is the best job in the world. I'd never trade it for anything, so I don't know if I could justify suing the league when I'm done (playing), because it's given me, up to this point, 11 years. Even though we've lost for 10 (years), it's given me 11 years of fun. I have fun every time I step on the field and I think that's what it's all about. When I'm at home in my rocking chair at 40, I don't think I'm going to be thinking about suing the NFL. I'm going to be thinking about those guys I played with in the locker room and, hopefully, these good years coming up." -- Detroit center Dominic Raiola, who has started all but four games for the Lions over the past 10 seasons, on the spate of lawsuits against the NFL regarding head injuries, concussions and memory loss


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