Lions Ought To Be Strongly Interested in Clarett

COLUMN: Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin opened the door for any player who feels he's capable to enter the NFL draft, effectively throwing out the league's "three years out of high school rule."  The Detroit Lions need a running back in the worst way and Clarett could be the answer to their problems.

Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin opened the door for any player who feels he's capable to enter the NFL draft, effectively throwing out the league's "three years out of high school rule."  

Once the league's request for a stay of Judge Scheindlin's ruling was denied, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett immediately declared himself eligible for this year's draft.  The NFL's is vowing to press on to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, but it is clear to me, this is a lost cause.

Most scouts are mixed on Clarett's worth and where he should be drafted.  

ESPN's Mel Kiper says Clarett is a marginal second-round pick.  Others say Clarett is a top-50 player, no better.  Some, including DetroitFree Press columnist Drew Sharpe, say that the NFL is so vindictive that their member teams may pass on Clarett altogether in order to get vengeance on the plaintiff in a lawsuit against their organization.

Well, that may be fine and dandy for teams like the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs, but these are the Detroit Lions.

While Clarett may not be a first round pick, Detroit had better not use the "closed eyes" policy on the Ohio State standout.  The fact is Clarett can play.  

He has some speed, nimble feet, a burst around the edge and the ability to run between the tackles.  While he is young, he isn't that young. Clarett will soon turn 21, making him less than two months younger than Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald who has the NFL's blessing because he spent a year in a Virginia prep school.

The Lions need a running back in the worst way and Clarett could be the answer to their problems.  Don't give me any of this nonsense about Clarett not being durable because he was injured in his only collegiate season.  Miami running back Willis McGahee suffered three severely torn ligaments in the upset win by Ohio State over Miami and still was a first round pick.   It should be noted that McGahee had surgery on the same knee in high school.  

Every running back in the NFL gets hurt.  Case in point, the Lions put James Stewart on injured reserve for a separated shoulder, an injury much worse than the one that kept Clarett out for a few games in college.

Besides, the Lions have been down this road before.  Remember that Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders was the first "true" junior -- without a red shirt season, just three years in the Oklahoma State football program -- to be granted an exception to the league's draft policy. Sanders did not ask the NFL to change its policy in his 14-page petition, only for "special permission" to be eligible since the Cowboys program was headed for probation.   His petition was approved.

Judge Clarett on his ability alone, not the so-called "baggage" that he brings to a perspective NFL team.

This is simply a kid who wanted to get to the NFL and play for money.  What's wrong with that?  Who knows what his so-called "association with a gambler" was. If you're not a gambler yourself, you probably associate with gamblers everyday.  Know anyone who plays the lottery or takes an occasional trip to the downtown Detroit casinos?  

I believe Clarett is going to light up the NFL combine and soar up the rankings of the top running backs in the draft.  Here's the deal; Oregon State's Steven Jackson and Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones are rated the top two backs in this year's class.   Jackson's a power back with a burst, Jones an upright shifty back with a little elude.  Both are thought to be late first round picks or early seconds.  

I say if Clarett is still on the board when the Lions pick in round two, they ought to take advantage of Judge Scheindlin's gift and grab Clarett.  Only the presence of Michigan's Chris Perry should deter them.  In my eyes, Clarett outshines both Jackson and Jones.   Don't believe it?  Cue up the tape of Clarett's 29-carry, 175 yard performance against Texas Tech in the "Horseshoe" in 2001 as "Exhibit "A".

A sideline to the judge's ruling was that simply entering the NFL draft does not void a player's college eligibility.  That was very foresighted.  Now players like USC's Mike Williams can test the waters to see where they would be drafted and then return to their colleges if the position isn't where they had hoped, similar to the NBA's situation. Williams, for his part, says he isn't interested.

Still, we all knew the day would come when the league's rule would be struck down because it was simply an arbitrary rule.  If the league wants to be foresighted like Judge Scheindlin ruling was, it should simply make another provision for players under a certain age to be sent to NFL Europe for further development and set up a separate salary cap for those players.  

The league should also recognize further litigation is fruitless; it's not going to be able to turn back the clock.  The genie is out of the bottle.

If some teams want to stay in the league's good graces and close their eyes when Clarett passes by, that's their business.  But Detroit simply can't afford it.  

Draft Clarett and give him jersey number..... "20"........naw, now that's going a little too far.   How about "13?"

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