Ties generate interest, but talent is bottom line

During a break in practices at the East-West Shrine Game three months ago, the sons of two former Chicago Bears stars wandered over to each other, and for several minutes on the sideline swapped notes on the pressures inherent to being a second-generation player.

The conclusion of tailbacks Quincy Wilson of West Virginia and Jarrett Payton from the University of Miami: It takes game, not just a familiar football name, to make it to the next level.

"Probably the positive is that, once people find out whose son you are, they're naturally going to keep a little closer eye on you," acknowledged Wilson, the son of former Bears linebacker Otis Wilson. "But then there's also all the 'Hey, Little Otis,' stuff. Well, I'm proud of my dad, but I'm not Otis. My name is Quincy, I'm not a linebacker, and I'm not going to make somebody's roster on my (family) name."

And that is, despite the justifiable attention over family ties that has become a compelling subplot to the 2004 draft, the brutal bottom line.

Unlike many other professions, a recognizable surname doesn't even get you entre in the NFL, let alone the benefit of the doubt. So while the 2004 draft is chock-full of prospects whose fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins preceded them into the league, their careers will still have to be earned with something other than just a DNA match.

What the family ties do provide the prospects, at least in some cases, is perspective on the league. Which means, in this draft, there is a ton of perspective, given the unusually high number of second- and third-generation prospects.

At the running back position alone, there are five sons or brothers of past or present NFL players, and all figure to be selected during the seven rounds. Besides Wilson and Payton, the son of the late Walter Payton, of course, the list includes Julius Jones of Notre Dame, Florida's Ran Carthon and Nebraska's Josh Davis.

Jones is the younger brother of Bears tailback Thomas Jones, the first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2000. Carthon is the son of former New York Giants fullback Maurice Carthon, now the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator. Davis' father, Tony, was a running back with the Bengals and Bucs.

Said the younger Carthon: "Maybe this running back thing is in our blood, huh?"

In all, there are about 20 players whose fathers or brothers are past or current players at the NFL level. And there are a spate of other players who have uncles or cousins who are NFL alums. The common denominator is that none of the prospects expects a team to have much more than cursory interest in bloodlines.

"It's an ice-breaker, a conversation starter, and that's about it," said Josh Harris, the former Bowling Green quarterback and son of former Cincinnati tight end M.L. Harris. "My dad was a good player. But I'm going to have to be a good player in my own right to make it (in the league). I mean, familiarity isn't going to breed me a roster spot."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.