Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Overshadowed players get chance to shine
By Len Pasquarelli
Ronnie Brown is the ultimate other guy, having gone from second on the depth chart to the second overall selection in last weekend's NFL draft.
Not every prospect, of course, can follow the lead of Brown, the tailback who played behind Carnell "Cadillac" Williams at Auburn but leapfrogged ahead of him on NFL draft boards. That said, this year's draft has provided plenty of opportunities for players who were second bananas on campus to make excellent first impressions when they beginning arriving at NFL mini-camps this weekend.
There were 17 instances in the 2005 draft in which a pair of prospects who played the same position at the same school were selected. Oklahoma went one step further than the daily-double approach, with a wide receiver being selected in each of the first three rounds.
The two days of draft duality began early, with Brown and Williams off the board among the first five choices. And the pattern continued all weekend, with Stanford linebacker David Bergeron plucked by the Philadelphia Eagles just three choices before the end of the two-day proceedings, joining teammate Jared Newberry (selected by the Redskins) in the draft class.
"I think it's great for the school and really great for us players," said former Southern California defensive tackle Mike Patterson, the first-round choice of the Eagles. "What it says, to me, is that we had two excellent players at the same position. That there was a reason people couldn't run the ball inside against us. And, basically, that you don't do it all by yourself, no matter how much individual [attention] you might get."
Patterson was much like Ronnie Brown, in that he was chosen higher in the draft than a more publicized teammate, Trojans defensive tackle Shaun Cody, who was selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round. That the undersized but overachieving Patterson was grabbed a few choices higher than Cody reflects how closely the two were graded by most teams. Patterson edged out Cody, in part, because his unusual skill set dovetails perfectly with the one-gap style the Eagles employ.
That doesn't mean Cody, who is primarily a tackle but who can also log some snaps at end, won't have just as productive a career in Detroit, where the Lions possess one of the NFL's best young front fours. Just because Cody drifted into the second round does not diminish the reality that he is a first-tier talent.
Most of the second-banana players who were part of the same-position/same-school trend in the 2005 draft don't come with the kind of credentials that Cody possesses. Or, for that matter, of the teammates chosen ahead of them. There are, however, several who should have very solid NFL careers.
Here are eight second bananas with notable upsides:
• WR Mark Bradley, Oklahoma (chosen by Chicago, second round): In two seasons with the Sooners, he started only four games, registered just 34 receptions and certainly wasn't as accomplished as Baltimore first-rounder Mark Clayton. But Bradley, a former high school quarterback who is still learning the nuances of wide receiver, averaged 20.1 yards per catch at Oklahoma, scored a touchdown every 3.8 receptions, and has 4.4-area speed. In time, he could develop into a long-ball complement to veteran Muhsin Muhammad, signed two months ago.
|Ray Willis was drafted in the fourth round by the Seahawks.|
• OT Ray Willis, Florida State (chosen by Seattle, fourth round): He lacks the raw, mind-boggling athleticism of teammate Alex Barron, chosen by St. Louis in the first round, but Willis is a blue-collar blocker with a huge heart. What you see with Willis is pretty much what you get a tough, physical blocker who never takes a snap off. A consummate "value" pick for the Seahawks in the fourth round, it won't be surprising if he eventually outplays his draft status. Seattle released starting right tackle Chris Terry last month, and youngsters Wayne Hunter and Sean Locklear will vie for the vacancy. It might be too much to ask for Willis to make it a three-man competition this summer. In time, though, he could be better than either of the other two contenders.
• ILB Kirk Morrison, San Diego State (chosen by Oakland, third round): For much of his career, it was Morrison who received more headlines than teammate Matt McCoy. But over the final month leading up to the draft, McCoy, chosen by Philadelphia in the second round, was one of the lottery's fastest risers. And, for whatever reason, Morrison slid a bit. Fortunately for the Raiders, who desperately need an inside stuffer for a unit that statistically ranked No. 22 versus the run in 2004, Morrison slid right into their laps. An instinctive defender who plays much bigger than his size, Morrison is a tackling machine, having finished his career with 396 stops, including 40 for losses.
• S Donte Nicholson, Oklahoma (chosen by Tampa Bay, fifth round): More an "in the box" safety than Sooners teammate Brodney Pool, who was chosen by Cleveland early in the second round, Nicholson should bring aggressiveness and closing ability to a Bucs secondary somewhat in flux. He is not a ball hawk-type safety, and his forte is moving forward on plays, but Nicholson should contribute in nickel situations and on special teams as a rookie, then eventually vie for extended playing time.
• WR Fred Gibson, Georgia (chosen by Pittsburgh, fourth round): Two years ago, most scouts anticipated that Gibson would be a superior prospect to Bulldogs teammate Reggie Brown. But his performance leveled off, while Brown became markedly more consistent and ended up being chosen by Philadelphia in the second round. Three hundred miles across the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Gibson will try to get back on track with a Steelers team that must compensate for the defection of Plaxico Burress in free agency. Gibson had a lot of big drops in big games the past two seasons, but is still very athletic, and capable of regaining his playmaker bent.
||I think it's great for the school and really great for us players. What it says, to me, is that we had two excellent players at the same position. That there was a reason people couldn't run the ball inside against us.”
||—Former USC DT Mike Patterson, on him and former teammate Shaun Cody getting drafted on Day 1
• CB Travis Daniels, LSU (chosen by Miami, fourth round): Benefited greatly from the fact that his more noted teammate, Corey Webster, went to the New York Giants in the second round. Dolphins coach Nick Saban was poised to choose Webster, but the Giants snatched him three picks ahead of the Miami slot in the second round. Had the Dolphins landed Webster, they likely would not have been in the market for another cornerback in the fourth round. And Daniels likely would not have gotten to break into the league with the coach for whom he played in college. Daniels is a step slow and might end up moving to safety at the NFL level. The plus for him is that Saban knows Daniels has nifty ball skills and a knack for authoring game-altering plays.
• DE Eric Moore, Florida State (chosen by New York Giants, sixth round): Seminoles teammate Chauncey Davis went two rounds earlier, to Atlanta, but the two ends seem very similar in skill level. In fact, Moore might be the more natural pass rusher of the pair and is clearly the better athlete, and that could earn him some situational playing time as the Giants try to get younger up front.
• DT C.J. Mosley, Missouri (chosen by Minnesota, sixth round): Finished his career with only four fewer tackles than teammate Atiyyah Ellison, who was chosen by Carolina in the third round. Mosley is more a nose tackle-type but has played well in a one-gap style and, given the manner in which the Vikings like to roll their front-four players, could work himself into the rotation if he works himself into better shape.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.