October 15, 2002
Fab Fifty Not Flawless
by Keith Weiland
In August, the staff here at HoustonProFootball.com profiled 50 of the best college players with pro potential in The War Room. Just two months later, a few of those fab 50, plus a couple others who weren’t too far from making the list, are falling from preseason’s good graces.
Headlining that list is a pair of quarterbacks who are being exposed as over-hyped prospects from big schools. Longhorn prodigy Chris Simms failed (again) to prove he is capable of winning against good defensive pressure from a top 10 opponent. His team’s loss to Oklahoma does not fall squarely on his shoulders, but Saturday’s game against the Sooners was an excellent opportunity for Simms to prove he belonged near the top of the 2003 draft class. He doesn’t.
Rex Grossman, Florida’s junior quarterback, is still struggling through inconsistent play. Against LSU on Saturday, he threw four interceptions (for the second week in a row), raising his season total to a whopping 14 picks. For Grossman and the Gators, it was an embarrassing 36-7 home loss. His situation has been chronicled in this space before so I won’t go into the details again, but it’s safe to say that the next time someone finishes second in Heisman balloting with a chance to bolt for the NFL, that someone should bolt.
At running back, Arizona’s Clarence Farmer needed surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. He’s out for the rest of the year. If he had performed well in 2002 and continued his progress from last season, Farmer may have been a hot commodity in the ’03 draft. Now it appears he will return to the Wildcats next fall. At Nebraska, Darren Diedrick is failing expectations. Without a Heisman quarterback, defenses aren’t giving Diedrick much room to play with. He’s more than a yard per carry behind last year’s average, and he only has two touchdowns this season.
A couple of other running backs who fell just short of the list are also seeing their stock fall because of injury. LSU’s LaBrandon Toefield broke his arm and will miss six weeks of action. Maryland’s 5’9″ little man, Bruce Perry, has yet to play a down this autumn because of a groin injury.
Another Texas player, this time at wide receiver, may be slipping some in the draft. Roy Williams suffered yet another nagging injury a couple weeks ago, this time to his hamstring. The injury has limited Williams’ big play ability, and his absence has allowed fellow junior wideout Sloan Thomas to emerge as another legitimate pro prospect from the Longhorns. Kelley Washington is passing Williams on several scouts’ early draft boards despite the Tennessee sophomore’s sprained knee at the beginning of the season.
Wisconsin receiver Lee Evans, who would have made the August list had he not injured his knee in the spring, has still not played a game for the Badgers this season. Reportedly, Evans will not pursue a medical redshirt and should return to the field soon, but his draft status might be irreparably damaged, even if his knee isn’t.
The fab fifty’s defense hasn’t been as maligned, but it hasn’t been completely exonerated of injury, either. Georgia Tech’s elite pass rusher, Greg Gathers, is suffering from a kidney ailment that will keep him out of games for the remainder of the season. He will probably receive a medical redshirt and return to the Yellow Jackets next fall.
At linebacker, Maryland’s E.J. Henderson’s woes were known when the list was released, but a recent article in Sports Illustrated casts additional doubt on Henderson’s long-term pro potential. The story chronicled his fall from a possible early entry in the 2002 draft because of mysterious back pains and less-than-impressive combine-type numbers. Those back pains were diagnosed as a stress fracture of his fifth lumbar vertebra, and he has since had surgery to heal it. Henderson leads his team in tackles this season, but his status as a certain top ten pick is definitely in question.
Tune In, Drop Out The weekend docket of televised games is not as rich as the one we enjoyed last week, but there are a couple games worth keeping an eye on.
Northwestern @ Penn State, 11am, ESPN2 – Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy is the highlight here. Fast for a big guy, Kennedy can stuff the run and apply some pass rush. Watch to see if you think he can anchor the Texans’ d-line. Kennedy’s play is also showing scouts that linemate Michael Haynes is worthy of draft consideration. Haynes’ 8.5 sacks to go along with his size (6’3″ and 260) could make him a mid-round candidate as an OLB in the 3-4 scheme. And when the Nittany Lions are on offense, watch RB Larry Johnson. He’s big (6’2″ 225) — just like Casserly likes ’em — and can catch a pass, but he’s also quick enough to have returned kicks, too.
Washington @ USC, 2:30pm, ABC – In the Houston area, this game will require ESPN GamePlan (or a visit to your favorite watering hole) since it won’t be televised. It’s worth the trip though, because strong safety Troy Polamalu is a treat to watch in the Trojan defensive backfield. Polamalu is a speedy, big time tackler. Is he the answer at safety for the Texans? And though he’s not draft-eligible until 2004, Washington sophomore wideout Reggie Williams could be the next, well Charles Rogers. Last week, Williams caught eight passes for 184 yards and three scores against Arizona. It’s never too soon to look ahead!
Hey kids with the injury bug flittering about, Keith Weiland wants you to play it safe and look both ways when crossing the street.