Friday, February 6, 2004

Injuries, age make first-round selection unlikely


Clarett's draft outlook

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Back in the summer, Maurice Clarett was considered a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football's best player.

Yet he now has such shaky standing, he would be lucky to be taken on the NFL draft's first day.

A season away from the sport, durability questions, character issues and Clarett's age probably will keep the Ohio State running back out of the first round. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Clarett would be a second-round pick at best. Jerry Jones, the former Mariemont druggist who authors The Drugstore List, projects Clarett to go late in the second round or in the third round.

"He has not really proven durability," Jones said. "And with the off-field stuff (that caused a one-year suspension), there's going to be some serious questions."

Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and leading OSU to the 2002 national championship. But he missed three games and most of two others because of injuries.

He's listed as 6 feet, 230 pounds, yet the key figure could be his age: 20. Plus, he might be a target for some defensive players.

"Because of the way he's done all these things, some people here see it as disrespectful," Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said at the Pro Bowl. "I'm sure guys are going to break his tail, try to break him in.

"Either he'll succeed, or he'll be a total bust. If he can make it that rookie year without being assassinated, he'll be all right."

Clarett isn't the fastest back. His greatest attribute is an instinctive ability to find the hole and break tackles.

Jones said the holes don't stay open as long in the pros. "I think he'll be blown away by the speed in the NFL," he said.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis talked to SportsIllustrated.com early Thursday, before the league told its teams not to discuss Clarett with the media.

"He's a little guy. ... I've never even seen him on tape, but I just know that there haven't been too many little guys who made it big in the NFL at running back," Lewis told the Web site. "You could probably count them on two hands. Remember, Ron Dayne ran for a lot of yards in college."

Clarett, at his news conference in New York, said he didn't fear the transition: "It'd be just like (the jump from) high school to college all over again," he said.

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.




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