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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Uncertainty is theme of combine

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Indianapolis is known for the speed of the Indy 500. The 2004 Indianapolis combine will be remembered for all the tall bodies that were parading around the hotels and the RCA Dome.

All of the offensive linemen seemed like they were 6-5 or taller. The receivers were tall, 6-2 or taller and the quarterbacks were huge. It's a big class of players heading into April's draft.

The uncertainty surrounding Maurice Clarett has made scouting for the draft even more difficult.
But the other theme was uncertainty and Maurice Clarett can be thanked in part for that. His victory in court opened the door for any underclassman or high school player to turn pro. That reality hit home last Friday when word reached Indianapolis that USC wide receiver Mike Williams was thinking of leaving school after just two seasons.

Let the headaches begin. March 1 is the supposed final day a player can request eligibility for the 2004 draft. Evaluations are hard enough for NFL teams because most of the top draft choices don't work out at the combine and scouts, coaches and general managers have to fly around the country to individual workouts.

Add in Clarett, Williams and any other underclassmen that might decide to come out, and evaluations get even more difficult for teams.

Take Clarett, who showed up in Indianapolis weighing 237 pounds and didn't run. That wasn't a surprise. Being seven pounds overweight, Clarett might have hurt his already tenuous draft status had he run. But then came the final reality of what the combine has become. Clarett hasn't planned when he is going to workout. He estimated he would do something in late March. The other question is where he will work out?

Williams left teams wondering how they will get to see him and get all his physical numbers. And what about others? Logistically, it's a mess.

"Evaluating the draft during a combine gets harder and harder every year." Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "One, you don't get to see everybody. For example, we saw half of the running-back group one day. I got on the phone and gave Eddie George a raise. But it's only half of the group, and not everybody works out, so when you only see part of them and you walk away, you think, 'Gee whiz.' All of the sudden, the Chris Browns and the people that you have on your squad look a little bit better."

Further complicating things is a trend that many of the top players at positions not only skip workouts at the combine, but they don't go to the Senior Bowl.

Maybe that's why teams are having a hard time grasping perspective of this draft as they left Indianapolis on Wednesday. They loved watching quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Losman throw, but they would have had a better grasp of the quarterback position had Eli Manning and Philip Rivers jumped in.

Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods helped himself with a 4.45 40, but Larry Fitzgerald, Roy and Reggie Williams didn't work out and everyone still has to wait for Mike Williams.

Once again, the grade of this combine is incomplete.

"I think the draft can be looked at the same way it always is: it's inconsistently consistent, as it is every year," Falcons general manager Rich McKay said. "Certain positions, as you say, are better than others. I think this year the receiving group is a very strong position. There are a lot of good players. I think there will be good players in this draft at receiver that will be taken in the fourth, fifth, sixth round. This is a very deep receiver draft and very talented at the top of the round, too, obviously, in the first round. That's where I see the strength. I thought the secondary had a number of players especially at the corner position."

The actual measurements are coming back to teams in computer form, and some of the information is striking. For tall, good looking athletes at receiver, there are Clarence Moore of Northern Arizona (6-5, 211), Huey Whitaker of Southern Florida (6-4, 234), Michael Jenkins of Ohio State (6-4, 218), Reggie Williams of Washington (6-3, 229), Fitzgerald of Pitt (6-2, 225) and Michael Clayton of LSU (6-2, 209).

"I think if you look at this group, you're excited about some of the big receivers," Reese said. "You're excited about some of the offensive linemen, particularly at the tackle position. You throw in some of these young guys coming out, and it looks like there's some depth there. You've certainly got a couple of young, prototypical tight ends coming out, so, each year changes a little."

The fastest receivers were Carlos Francis of Texas Tech (4.31), Sammie Parker of Oregon (4.37).

Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery blew away any competition among offensive linemen by running a 4.95 40, including an impressive 1.68 time during the first 10 yards. Gallery is already a top-five pick. He's trying to get to the top of the draft.

A couple of defensive ends helped themselves with good speed around the corner. That list includes Isaac Hilton of Hampton (4.59), Jason Babin of Western Michigan (4.62), Gabe Nyenhuis of Colorado (4.65) and Antwan Odom of Alabama.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech may be this year's Marcus Trufant and fly toward the top of the draft. He ran a 4.34 40 Wednesday, tying Ahmad Carroll of University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

The combine was a little later this year to try to help get more players to workout and that translated into maybe a dozen more players working out than the previous years.

"We have gone a little later than we are right now and it had no effect on anything because basically players don't work out for one or two reasons," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "For one, they don't run if they are injured and a week or two probably won't make that much difference. Or they won't run if their agent, track coach, training coach, whatever, has convinced them they should work out on one date. And that part won't change."

So let the cross country flying begin. General managers will stay in touch with their offices to see if more players turn pro before the March 1 declaration date.

It's never easy.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.