Broncos put an end to back's misery
NEW YORK -- Christmas came early to Maurice Clarett and Mike Shanahan played the part of Santa Claus.
Instead, the Broncos rescued him from his purgatory by drafting him as a third-round compensatory pick. For months Clarett worried whether he would be drafted. Thanks to Shanahan, he enters the NFL with a certain degree of respect along with the fortune of going to the best halfback factory in football.
"Maurice couldn't have found a better franchise," Josh Luchs, one of Clarett's agents, said. "This is perfect. Nobody was thinking he was going to be drafted this high. We are thrilled."
Luchs and veteran agent Steve Feldman took on Clarett as a client two weeks before the February combine, and they performed miracles. They had him work with a lawyer who helped prepare him to come across better at press conferences. They tried to get him to change his workout routines, but they had to wait to see how things turned out in the combine.
Things didn't go well there. Clarett ran horribly. His 40 times were 4.72 and 4.82 and the fullbacks in his group ran faster than he did. His training didn't prepare him, and Clarett infuriated running backs coaches by quitting and not finishing the workouts.
It appeared he was doomed to a late-round pick.
Feldman and Luchs changed his training, and Clarett worked harder and performed better. He lowered his times to the 4.6 range and suddenly, Clarett had a chance.
Q: Why would Denver use a third-round pick on RB Maurice Clarett, projected by most to be a late-round pick at best?
Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.: Obviously Denver has had great success with RBs in the middle to late rounds, so it's hard to criticize them. But you certainly had the feeling Clarett was going to be there until the fifth or sixth. However, the teams that liked Clarett probably would have restacked their boards, and Denver may have had the feeling he could go early in the fourth round -- and decided not to take a chance. No question, it is a surprise pick, and a roll of the dice. Despite the fact they have a lot of bodies at RB, the Broncos don't have any franchise guys. Clarett will certainly get a chance. From his standpoint, he should be ecstatic.
Randy Mueller, former NFL GM: I'm very surprised, just from a character standpoint. You can't challenge Denver Coach Mike Shanahan, but I'm really surprised. I'll be shocked if Clarett steps in like the other guys. I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. I thought he would be a sixth- or seventh-round pick, at best. The 40 times, the character issues, all those concerns. I just didn't see him going this early. This guy has issues.
ESPN Insiders Horton and Mueller also played 20 Questions with the first round of the NFL draft.
"Bill Parcells said he would take him in the fourth," Luchs said. "There have been some teams sneaking around, showing interest. Jerry Jones and Bill put in a lot of time checking it out."
The Broncos' selection came as a bigger surprise because no one from the organization even came to Clarett's workout earlier this month in Ohio. Shanahan has a feel for backs, and he apparently wanted to take a gamble.
"Denver called and told us that Maurice was their pick," Luchs said. "It's a perfect fit. Their running game is geared for a cutback runner. Maurice is a cutback runner. They are getting a player who is undervalued, but they are getting a player who will be ready for mini-camp and training camp."
The Broncos called with some questions, though. They asked Feldman if Clarett was in good shape physically. Feldman said he was. Then they asked if Clarett's head was on straight. Feldman said it was.
The decision was made. Clarett would be a Bronco.
Clarett sued the NFL and lost. He stumbled in workouts and appeared to lose. Now Shanahan is giving him a chance. A victory is up to Clarett.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.