NFL Draft: A Tale Of 2 Quarterbacks

Friday, April 27th 2007, 7:40 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Calvin Johnson knows people call him by far the best player available in this year's NFL draft, perhaps one of the best prospects in a decade.

So will it bother him that he most likely won't be the first pick on Saturday, when Roger Goodell calls to order his first draft as commissioner?

``I can't do anything about something I don't control,'' Johnson said Thursday during a gathering of five top draft picks.

Johnson, a wide receiver from Georgia Tech, is 6-foot-4, 237 pounds, runs a 40-yard dash under 4.4 seconds and can outleap almost anyone _ he's been called ``Spiderman.'' Comparison? Randy Moss without Moss' excess baggage and lackluster work ethic.

But he knows wide receivers are rarely taken first overall. Oakland, which has the first choice, is likely to take quarterback JaMarcus Russell of LSU, who starred in the Sugar Bowl, when his team beat Notre Dame and Brady Quinn.

Casual fans didn't discover Russell until that game. Neither, apparently, did some NFL scouts _ not to the extent that they're on to him now as the likely No. 1 pick in Saturday's draft.

In those three-plus hours, Russell's 332 yards and two touchdown passes carried LSU to a 41-14 win over Notre Dame. That performance helped propel him to the top of the 2007 class over the presumptive heir to that spot, Quinn. Never mind that LSU was simply the better team, Quinn's 15-of-35 for 148 yards with two interceptions put a huge question mark after his name.

The top of the draft is mostly about Johnson, Quinn, Russell, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas. That doesn't mean they'll be the first five players chosen. Gaines Adams, a pass-rushing defensive end from Clemson, could be chosen as high as second by Detroit if the Lions don't find someone with whom to trade down.

That's where Johnson could come in.

Atlanta covets him _ he grew up there, played at Georgia Tech and would love to be a Falcon.

``I couldn't even begin to dream that,'' he said. ``High school, college and the NFL all in one place.''

It could happen if the Falcons give up enough. They have 10 picks, seven in the first four rounds, that could be used as bargaining chips if Detroit thinks it can get Adams or another pass rusher, Jamaal Anderson of Arkansas, in Atlanta's eighth spot.

But who knows what this draft will bring? There's more uncertainty than usual, even at the top, where there is a consensus on the top 10 players.

There was one blip on Thursday, a report that Peterson's broken left collarbone hasn't fully healed and he might not be ready until training camp, if then. Peterson insisted he's fine _ ``95 percent healed,'' he said. That's standard predraft intrigue. Perhaps the information was leaked by a team below the top five that wants Peterson and hopes he'll drop.

Quinn is another question mark.

In the endless analysis that starts in early January and carries on for four months, Quinn's ``can he or can't he?'' status has been the focus, despite the fact he had a far more consistent college career than Russell. Suddenly he became a ``can't win the big one'' QB, a label that also was applied in college (and for a while in the NFL) to Peyton Manning.

So if Oakland doesn't grab Johnson or trade down to someone who wants him, the pick probably won't be Quinn. Oakland is likely to take the 6-5, 260-pound Russell, who at Thursday's luncheon looked like the biggest player there _ bigger than Adams, a defensive end. And he's what Al Davis has always coveted, a quarterback who can throw the ball 40-50-60 yards in the air.

Quinn might go second, third ... or 10th, as Matt Leinart, who spent almost two years at Southern Cal fighting the burden of being a potential No. 1, did a year ago. Such a drop could cost Quinn a lot of money.

``I don't care about money, I care about football,'' Quinn said. ``Look at it this way: the lower I go, the better chance I have a chance of playing for a winning team.''

The other subplot to this draft is behavior.

There is supposed to be increased scrutiny on players who misbehaved in college _ whether on the field or off _ following a season in which nine Cincinnati Bengals were arrested and a variety of other players were in trouble for a variety of other reasons. Earlier this month, Goodell suspended Adam ``Pacman'' Jones of Tennessee for a year and Cincinnati's Chris Henry for eight games for their misbehavior. More suspensions could be upcoming.

But at least one player with a checkered past, cornerback Eric Wright, is likely to be drafted in the first round. Wright was charged with rape while at Southern California, but the charges were dropped, he transferred to UNLV and seems to have passed most teams' character tests.

In an odd twist, after a report leaked out that three of the top players _ Johnson, Adams and Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye _ acknowledged at the scouting combine that they had used marijuana, the reaction to those revelations seemed to be positive. What college kid, many NFL types asked, didn't try the drug at some point? And weren't these three more honest than others who didn't acknowledge they used it?

Johnson wouldn't say anything about that, except that he's not a drug user and does not condone it. And if he was asked again about the past, would he answer the same way even though the information was leaked, he replied: ``Yes.''