Some of draft's gems have flaws to evaluate, too

New position, drug tests, size among outside factors

Pro Football

April 19, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Matt Jones doesn't have a position, but he has the NFL's full attention.

He is far from a polished pass-catcher - just four receptions in four years at Arkansas - but he might be some team's big catch on Saturday.

It's uncertain what place he held in the NFL's big picture last fall, but after running at the scouting combine in February, he scored a meteoric rise that improved his draft status by 24 hours.

Once considered a second-day pick, Jones ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds to move into first-day - if not first-round - consideration.

Dubbed "Jim Thorpe" by a scout after his sizzling run, Jones is one of a handful of alluring, yet flawed, choices in this weekend's draft.

There is Luis Castillo of Northwestern, one of the year's top defensive tackles, who tested positive for a banned substance at the combine, but salvaged his integrity by explaining his use of androstenedione in a letter to all 32 NFL teams.

There is diminutive Kansas State running back Darren Sproles, not quite 5 feet 6, who has drawn pre-draft comparisons to former New York Giants scatback David Meggett.

Then there is quarterback Adrian McPherson, kicked out of Florida State in 2003 after pleading no contest to charges of gambling on college football games on the Internet, passing bad checks and stealing one.

Were it not for his criminal activity and gambling allegations, McPherson might have been the first pick in this draft, such is his prodigious skill level.

It is Jones, though, who has captured the imagination of every offensive coordinator in the league with his size (6-6, 241 pounds) and speed.

At Arkansas, he played basketball for two seasons and was an option quarterback for four. By his estimate, he lined up at wide receiver for about 20 plays.

Jones' athleticism was apparent with his ability to make plays on the run. He rushed for more career yards (2,535) than any Southeastern Conference quarterback in history and threw for 33 touchdowns his final two seasons.

"He's going to be projected probably to another position, but I'll tell you one thing," said Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who faced Jones the past four years at LSU. "That guy won more games at Arkansas, with less players, than any other team in the SEC during the time that I was in it."

Jones doesn't have the arm to make the difficult throws in the NFL. Instead, he'll be on the receiving end as a wide-out, a flexed-out tight end or an H-back. His work at the combine was dazzling enough to possibly lift him into the bottom of the first round to a team with multiple picks or a need at receiver. In addition to the 4.37 40, he ran the 20-yard dash in 2.49, had a 39 1/2 -inch vertical jump and broad jumped 10 feet, 3 inches.

"His numbers at the combine were probably the best ... I've ever seen in 10 years for a guy 6-6, 250 pounds," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "[But] I don't know where he's going to play. It's just a true mystery ... because the guy hasn't run any pass routes and you don't get the chance to see him catch the ball."

Jones' attempt to make the conversion from quarterback to receiver is not unprecedented. Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Drew Bennett of the Tennessee Titans have made that transition.

Buyer beware, though. Jones has never blocked and may not be physical enough to play H-back or tight end.

Blocking is not a strength of Sproles, either. But the muscular 181-pounder is a threat out of the backfield as a runner or receiver. Literally playing below his offensive linemen, Sproles rushed for 4,979 career yards at Kansas State.

He could become a third-down weapon in the NFL and probably will get drafted on the second day despite his size.

Castillo is ranked among the top five defensive tackles this year, but his positive test for steroids makes him subject to reasonable cause testing during his entire NFL career.

A run-stuffer at 6-3 and 305 pounds, Castillo played last season with an elbow injury and took androstenedione to help him prepare for the combine. In the aftermath, he owned up to the mistake in a letter sent to every team.

Castillo could go as early as the second round or no later than the third if the test doesn't cause him to drop.

McPherson's college career effectively ended when he was sentenced to 30 months probation, 90 days on a work detail and 50 hours of community service. He was out of football for 1 1/2 years before joining the Indiana Firebirds last season in the Arena Football League, where he threw for 56 touchdowns and ran for 18 more.

He has admitted passing bad checks and stealing one, but insists he has never gambled.

"I don't think it's a situation where I'm defending [my past]," he said, "but it is what it is. I made a mistake, it's who I am. I was young, I made a mistake. I'm the first to step up and say I made a mistake. But I'm also the first one to say it's never going to happen again."

The NFL is most sensitive to the charge of gambling. Even though McPherson performed exceptionally well at the combine, he isn't likely to get drafted until the second day.

"I would bet most of the teams in the league would have interviewed him [at the combine]," said DeCosta, who acknowledged the Ravens had. "Then you make a judgment. A lot of times that judgment involves ownership, a general manager and/or head coach. It depends on the individual team's philosophy."

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