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April 21, 2010
After months of evaluations, NFL Draft is finally here
TUSCALOOSA _ The ringing stopped with requisite "hello" from the other end, only the initial phone call didn't last long.
"Can I call you back in five minutes?" former University of Alabama cornerback Marquis Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm on the phone with an NFL team right now."
Although the calls have picked up of late, that's essentially the way it's been since the BCS National Championship Game in early January for those eligible to be selected in this year's draft. Although the long buildup has been exciting and nerve-wracking, mostly the players just want to get on with it.
"I'm ready to deal with it," said cornerback/punt-returner Javier Arenas, who could help make this a record-setting weekend for Alabama.
The most selections in Crimson Tide history was 10 in 1945, when the draft went 30 rounds and NFL teams were struggling to fill their rosters near the end of World War II. The modern record is eight in 1987, when linebacker Cornelius Bennett was the second-overall selection of the Indianapolis Colts and followed by Freddie Robinson, Greg Richardson, Curt Jarvis, Wayne Davis, Wes Neighbors, Chris Goode and finally Mike Shula in the 12th round to Tampa Bay (No. 313 overall).
Even though the draft is only seven rounds now, realistically Alabama could have anywhere from seven to 12 players selected.
"Just wait for my name to get called," said running back Roy Upchurch, who apparently rose on draft boards following his impressive Pro Day workout.
However, if there's one certainty about every draft it's the uncertainty. Everyone thinks and hopes he's going to get selected, but no one has a clue to where he may actually end up. Just one trade can change everything.
"I always say that the month of April leading up to the draft is really the start of the great liars' convention because I think everybody among teams tells just a few little white lies as far as what they're trying to do and how they're trying to do it," said Gil Brandt of the NFL Network.
Under a new made-for-TV format the draft will be held over three days beginning with the first round Thursday evening. An immediate change fans will notice is teams having just 10 minutes in the initial round, instead of 15, with the second and third rounds on Friday.
"I don't really think it'll be that dramatically different until the first round is over," said former Tampa Bay and Oakland coach Jon Gruden, who prefers old format but admitted that the first round "seemed like three weeks."
"I think you'll see a little more aggressiveness, possibly more trades at the start of day two, day three."
Hoping not to last that long are linebacker Rolando McClain, cornerback Kareem Jackson and nose tackle Terrence Cody. McClain, who turned down an invitation to be at the draft in New York to watch from his family's Decatur home, is considered the premier interior linebacker available and is projected to go between picks 8-15.
The other two will likely have much longer nights, waiting and wondering. If things go Jackson's way he could be selected a few picks after McClain, However, if he gets caught up in a numbers game, with numerous teams believing they can wait to grab a cornerback, Jackson could slide.
"I'm a huge Kareem Jackson fan," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "I know a lot of people think (Florida's) Joe Haden is a lot better, I don't know if there's that much of a difference."
Meanwhile, Cody needs to land with a team using a 3-4 scheme like San Diego at No. 28. However, the Chargers also need a running back due to LaDainian Tomlinson's departure.
"The guy I really like Dan Williams from Tennessee," Gruden said. "They've got some needs, really, for the first time in a long time. Knowing (San Diego general manger) A.J. Smith, he's going to do the right thing. If there's a guy there he really likes he'll entertain it. I wouldn't be surprised if they entertained one of these outside linebackers, a guy like Sergio Kindle, Jerry Hughes, one of these guys who can play on his feet, rush the passer and cover, and give them impact playmaking that this 3-4 defense is known for."
However, Haden and Williams are expected to be top 20 picks, with Kindle gone before No. 28. Besides, as McShay pointed out, "It's so hard to find big guys who can move," that Cody may be too tempting to pass up.
Friday figures to primarily be the Arenas watch. He's hearing second round while most mock drafts have him early third. Offensive lineman Mike Johnson will also be paying attention, even though some believe his draft stock has slid a bit. Nevertheless, his versatility and ability to play any position on the line will make him an attractive selection.
Saturday things will be even more unpredictable. Defensive end Brandon Deaderick, who played last season with a bullet hole in his arm, in the fifth round? How about tight end Colin Peek? Could Johnson be the surprise of the Alabama contingency and go before either of them?
"I'm in the positive," said Johnson, meaning optimistic, when he called back. "It's going good, really good. I lot of teams love me."
Johnson estimated he's heard from 20 teams this week alone, mostly making sure they have his phone number and know where he'll be Saturday (his family is planning a cookout). Although Johnson wasn't invited to the NFL Combine after tying teammate Mark Barron for the SEC lead in passes defended with 17, he's considered one of the draft's dark horses and thinks he'll get a call in the sixth or seventh round.
But you never know. It could come sooner, or not until the draft is over. The same holds true for safety Justin Woodall and defensive lineman Lorenzo Washington, while linebackers Cory Reamer and Eryk Anders are both thinking free agency but hoping for a call. Defensive backs Ali Sharrief and Chris Rogers would also like to extend their playing careers.
"There are so many unknowns," kicker Leigh Tiffin said. "I think I'm a later-round draft pick, sixth or seventh round. My whole view, regardless, is I have to go and compete whether I'm a late round pick or a free agent. You still have to win a job.
"I'll probably go home Friday and just hang out. I'll watch it Saturday, but whatever happens I'll go with it."