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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Some People Call Him The Space Cowboy

And some people call him Maurice.

As in Clarett, who, after the Indy combine, might have become known as the Space Clarett because of the disappointing performance he gave there. What made the performance especially disappointing was that Maurice Clarett needed to give an outstanding show. One worth, perhaps, of a claret jug.

He didn't.

But he fared better today, in private workouts for about a dozen teams. How well he fared ultimately will depend on whether he gets drafted at all. There are plenty of running backs in the draft, and most if not all of them haven't gone from helping their teams win a national title to putting their schools on the map for serious ethical violations in a matter of three seasons.

The only other Maurice of recent memory who played RB in the NFL, Maurice Carthon, the Browns' offensive coordinator, was there, and he gave Clarett a thumbs up. And before you think that only the NFL's doormats wanted to take a look at Clarett, you'll note that the list of those in attendance included Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New England.

I haven't done enough research on the NFL draft, especially in a retrospective sense, to figure out if there are any trends as to where the value really is. There is all sorts of conventional wisdom about the NFL draft, such as you don't need to take offensive linemen in the first round, you shouldn't take safeties with high picks (corner is the tougher position) and that you can develop a successful running game without a first-round pick (many, many years ago, the feature back was king; today the quarterback is). Still, you have to take someone in the first round, and the goal is to take a player who can step in and start or who can help you pretty quickly (even if he doesn't start right away).

Another part of the conventional wisdom says that teams fare better year-in and year-out the better they do on the second day of the draft. I don't follow enough teams closely to know whether this is the case, but the one team that I do follow, Philadelphia, hasn't been that successful in the late rounds. If you look at their starters, you'll notice a lot of high-octane players who were high draft picks (or free agents). Their defensive backfield is populated with first- and second-round picks. Same for their offensive line, at least when they had Jermaine Mayberry (first round), Shawn Andrews (first round) and Tra Thomas (first round) playing together. While that's just a synopsis of the Eagles' starters, the point is that there are probably several ways to put together an outstanding roster, whether you're a Jimmy Johnson or an Andy Reid.

Which brings us back to Clarett. Yesterday I wrote about another prospect with a checkered past in Adrian McPherson. In contrast to Clarett, McPherson has laid low since the days of his troubles, has kept his mouth shut, has worked out hard, and has wowed the scouts in workouts. His problems were of his own doing, and they didn't involve any booster-related shenanigans or classroom issues at his school. It appears that he has atoned for his past sins. Clarett, on the other hand, is trying to put the past behind him by blotting it out. It doesn't appear that he's addressed his past problems in a meaningful way, and that type of avoidance may cause teams to stay away from him in the draft (in a whole other form of avoidance).

But there will be at least one front-office staff who will recall what he did on the field for Ohio State several years ago, and who will argue that this magical past should trump the cold reality of the present. That staff will argue that taking a player like Clarett is what the draft is all about.
After all, where else can you get a power back on the last day of the draft?

But there will be those who will contend that taking Clarett will be just like playing the Powerball lottery. Where the holder of the ticket usually ends up a loser.

Because Indy, New England and Pittsburgh were hovering, many other teams will zoom in for a closer look. After all, those teams get credited with creative thinking, good roster planning and thinking outside the box. Which means that someone will probably use a late-round pick to select him.

You see, at the end of the day, we're all hoping to win the lottery.

Even with a kid who wore #13 in college.

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