Buried on draft day, now treasured

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Buried on draft day, now treasured

Postby BirdBrain » Sat Dec 16, 2006 4:06 am

December 15, 2006

While the elite of the 2006 NFL draft class were being squired around Manhattan, schmoozing with Donald Trump and staying in a posh Midtown hotel, UCLA running back Maurice Jones-Drew was elsewhere.

Jones-Drew was holed up in an economy hotel in Concord, his Bay Area hometown, waiting for his name to be read. And waiting.

He sat in one room with his two agents, watching the proceedings, getting increasingly angry as the day wore on. He started grumbling around the first selection and stopped just after the 60th, when he was selected by Jacksonville.

Next door, a roomful of family and friends patiently waited for an end to the torment.

Somehow, Jones-Drew resisted the urge to put his fist through the wall. Now, he seemingly channels that energy into his running and leads all rookies with 12 touchdowns — nine rushing, two receiving and one on a return.

It's not that he's bitter about being chosen 60th, but he is determined to make the teams that passed on him regret it.

"A lot of people still don't believe," he said, apparently referring to those NFL fans who don't have access to a TV. "It's going to take a while, but that's what I'm here for, to start converting people into believers."

Although Jones-Drew turned out to be a steal for the Jaguars, a second-rounder would not typically be described as a late-round pick. There are several outstanding rookies who were selected later, and some who weren't drafted at all. A look at 10 more gems who slipped by all NFL teams at least once before being chosen:

1. LT Marcus McNeill, San Diego, second round — It's hard enough to get a capable left tackle with the top pick in the draft, let alone waiting until the 50th spot to grab him. But the Chargers did even better than that. McNeill, entrusted with protecting Philip Rivers' blind side, could wind up being the best pick of this class. He's also a deserving rookie-of-the-year candidate. Just ask LaDainian Tomlinson.

2. DE Mark Anderson, Chicago, fifth round — A 6 feet 4, 258 pounds, Anderson was more of a linebacker in the eyes of a lot of scouts. But the Bears kept him at defensive end, and he has been tremendous. The Alabama alum has 10 sacks and is a key contributor to the NFC's top-ranked defense. Chicago had a terrific draft class, one that included two star second-rounders, returner Devin Hester and safety Danieal Manning, but Anderson was the best find.

3. WR Marques Colston, New Orleans, seventh round — Not many people could have guessed the Saints would be among the league's dominant teams at this point, or that an overlooked Hofstra tight end would emerge as a first-class receiver. Colston has seven touchdowns and is fourth in the NFC with 83.4 yards receiving per game.

4. RB Jerious Norwood, Atlanta, third round — Norwood was the fastest running back at the combine but a lot of scouts thought his legs were too skinny to make him an effective NFL tailback. Clearly, they were wrong. Norwood, almost angular at 6 feet, 203 pounds, has an upright running style some have compared to Eric Dickerson's. He ranks second to Tomlinson for yards rushing in the fourth quarter, having gained 373 of his 550 yards in the final period.

5. RB Leon Washington, New York Jets, fourth round — Small and speedy, Washington is the leading rusher for a team that frequently rotates its starting backs. The former Florida State back looks as if he could have a very productive pro career, although his biggest headlines this year concerned his apparent "double-bird" gesture on his rookie card. He claims he was simply making E's with his hands as a shout-out to his pals on the east side of Jacksonville. Ah, yes.

6. RB Mike Bell, Denver, undrafted — In the grand tradition of out-of-nowhere Denver running backs, Bell has risen from anonymity to become a respectable NFL player. It looked as if the rookie from Arizona might even be better than that — especially when he rushed for 136 yards against Indianapolis — but that was more attributable to the Colts' lousy run defense.

7. S Dawan Landry, Baltimore, fifth round — The Ravens have had a lot of success finding obscure talent — Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, Priest Holmes and Will Demps — and Landry is this year's example. He's starting on the league's No. 1 defense and has two sacks, three interceptions, four passes defended and a touchdown.

8. TE Owen Daniels, Houston, fourth round — With the way he started the season, it looked as if Daniels was on a Pro Bowl pace. He had five touchdown receptions through October for an otherwise struggling team. He's cooled since then, and has failed to reach the end zone in six consecutive games, but he has reliable hands and is improving as a blocker.

9. FB Oliver Hoyte, Dallas, undrafted — This is just the kind of player Coach Bill Parcells loves. Hoyte was a linebacker at North Carolina State who switched to fullback midway through this season. It's a big change, but he's quickly figured out which defenders to block and how to secure a spot on the team. If he can overcome his current knee problems, he can be an important factor for the Cowboys in the coming weeks.

10. WR Brad Smith, Jets, fourth round — A former record-setting quarterback at Missouri, Smith is Mr. Everything for the Jets, lining up at receiver, running back, quarterback and as a coverage man on special teams. In a game against Jacksonville this season, he played receiver, quarterback and running back on three consecutive plays. All that leaves one nagging question:

Hey, Brad, what about defense?

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