McPherson must show his wares

At the combine in Indianapolis, it's a battle to be the third quarterback selected in the NFL Draft.

Updated: February 27, 2005, 6:25 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- There is little doubt that, no matter how well they throw the ball in a Sunday morning workout at the Georgia Dome, none of the other quarterback prospects in attendance for the annual predraft scouting combine figure to close the gap on the duet currently rated as the top two guys in the lottery.

Aaron Rodgers of the University of California and Utah's Alex Smith, in some order, are going to be the first two quarterbacks whose names are called on April 23. One of them, in fact, could be the top overall pick. And everyone else is battling, it seems, for the No. 3 spot in the quarterback pecking order.

"That's what everyone says and, yeah, I think it's a very fair assessment," said Georgia quarterback David Greene, who is among the several contenders for that No. 3 spot. "I think any of us other quarterbacks who tell you different than that is just lying, to you or to themselves. But it's going to be pretty intriguing to see who gets chosen once those first two guys are gone."

Along with Greene, some of the other possibilities include Charlie Frye (Akron), Andrew Walter (Arizona State), Jason Campbell (Auburn), Dan Orlovsky (Connecticut) and Kyle Orton (Purdue). Greene won't throw in Sunday's drills, preferring to save his arm for his personal on-campus workout next month. Campbell plans to throw but could change his mind by Sunday morning, while most of the others are undecided.

Adrian McPherson
McPherson can't change the past, but he's looking toward a new future.

But one quarterback prospect who absolutely has to participate in all the passing drills, as he continues to rehabilitate his reputation and his life, is former Florida State standout Adrian McPherson, a compelling guy who scouts are anxious to see. In his two days here, McPherson, like the 338 other draft prospects in attendance, has been poked and probed and prodded by team physicians. But it's likely that no other prospect here has had the depths of his psyche so plumbed by the NFL scouts who consider themselves amateur psychologists.

If your memory is short, a refresher course on McPherson, who has been out of the public eye for several months as he prepared for this audition: Twenty-seven months ago, he was booted off the Seminoles squad in the wake of charges he had gambled on college football games. The only high school player in Florida history to earn the prestigious Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball honors in the same year, the Bradenton native unsuccessfully attempted to resurrect his college career at Murray State and Tennessee State, and then last year signed with the Indiana Firebirds of the Arena Football League.

Not too far from the RCA Dome, maybe a 15-minute ride north, McPherson lived in a tiny apartment, with an index card taped to the wall above his bed. On the card was written two words: "New York." It was a daily reminder to McPherson, who thrived in the Arena league, that he should still pursue his dream of one day being on stage in New York, one of the top selections in the NFL draft. That won't happen, of course, but with a good workout on Sunday, the youngster can raise his stock in the eyes of scouts.

"And that's what this is all about, winning back their confidence, showing them what I can do with the football," said McPherson, who weighed just 175 pounds when he first enrolled at FSU, but who checked in at 6-feet-3½ and 218 pounds a few days ago. "I mean, some of the other guys, maybe they can afford not to throw. Maybe they feel they have something to lose. Me? Hey, I lost it, and now I'd doing everything I possibly can to get it back. So if they ask me to throw 1,000 passes, well, I've got no choice."

McPherson, 22, has been training months for this opportunity. He is in excellent shape, physically and mentally. While he was perhaps less candid in the media sessions here than in an interview with ESPN.com last May for a feature story, McPherson isn't trying to hide from his indiscretions of the past. He insisted Friday that he did not gamble on games but did float bad checks. McPherson eventually pleaded "no contest" to a variety of charges and was sentenced to jail time, community service and 30 months probation.

The probation period is coming to a close and, while McPherson would prefer to close the books on his past mistakes for good, he acknowledged they have been part of every one of his personal interviews with officials from most of the 32 NFL franchises. And he has told them all, McPherson said, the same thing.

"I made mistakes," McPherson allowed. "I was young but, you know what, that isn't an excuse. What I did, hey, it's on me. My biggest regret, like I told you last year, was that it brought a lot of hurt to my family. In all the interviews, when teams ask me about it, I don't dodge their questions. I look them right in the eye and tell them what happened. And I also tell them I'm a lot more mature now, more ready for whatever is out there for me, and am ready to move on."

Scouts and coaches surveyed here admitted that the gambling allegations are cause for some pause when considering McPherson. Many of them concede, though, that there have been bigger character risks taken by teams in the past. Gambling, no doubt, carries a certain stigma, and NFL officials scrutinized McPherson's recent past very closely before granting him draft eligibility as an underclass prospect.

"Obviously, there are some issues to deal with, no doubt," said Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. "But there's no denying he is a talented guy. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be here. It will be interesting to see how he does and where he ends up going."

Around the combine

  • League officials are forever griping about the number of prospects who annually decline to participate in all of the on-field drills here. The events of Saturday, though, might make it even more difficult for coaches and general managers to convince players that it is in their best interests to complete every event. Nebraska center Richie Incognito, a center prospect who bypassed his final year of college eligibility to enter the draft and who was considered a first-day pick, suffered what appeared to be a very serious knee injury in an afternoon drill. Incognito's knee caught in the artificial surface of the RCA Dome -- which was rated one of the worst surfaces in the league in a recent survey by the NFL Players Association, and which is scheduled to be replaced this offseason -- and he went down in a heap. Incognito was removed from the field on a cart and immediately scheduled for an MRI exam. If the injury is as serious as some scouts described it, there may be a chance Incognito doesn't even get drafted.

  • He was already projected as a prospect to be chosen in the top half of the first round, but Maryland defensive end/linebacker Shawne Merriman is a physical specimen who might be off the board in the top 10 picks now. Merriman measured 6-feet-4 and 272 pounds on Saturday and looked like his frame could handle another 10-15 pounds with no problem. He is certainly a "cut" player, a guy with a live-looking body and, in a league where so many teams are going to a 3-4 defensive front and seeking hybrid "edge" players, his stock figures to skyrocket. Merriman can play in a two-point stance, then move up to end and put his hand on the ground in "nickel" situations, and some scouts feel he could even play middle linebacker. The defensive coordinator for a team that went deep into the playoffs in 2004 suggested that Merriman is good enough to start for his unit right now.

  • One defensive end prospect who said he would like to try playing some linebacker in a 3-4 front, but probably won't be afforded the opportunity, is former University of Georgia star David Pollack, the leading sacker in SEC history. Pollack is 6-feet-2 and 265 pounds and might lack some of the athleticism to play in the two-point stance. Pollack seems to have alleviated the concerns of some scouts, though, that he might lack the overall size and quickness to play end at the NFL level. "What always jumps out about him," said an AFC defensive line coach, "is that he has a huge motor and he always make the big play at crunch time. He's one of those guys who might not look pretty, but he gets the job done."

  • Defensive end Marcus Spears of LSU, whose stock rose dramatically because of his strong practices preceding the Senior Bowl all-star game, suffered a minor knee injury during his preparations for the combine. As a result, Spears will not work out, and some teams feel he might need minor arthroscopic surgery. Spears still insisted Saturday that he will be ready for his on-campus workout next month.

  • Scouts are anxious to see quarterback Jason Campbell of Auburn throw on Sunday. One of the more physically imposing quarterback prospects here, Campbell checked in at 6-feet-4¾ and 230 pounds, and just looks like an athlete. Campbell progressed very nicely in the past two years, really made strides in his senior season, and seemed to quickly pick up the offense at the Senior Bowl game. With an eye-opening workout on Sunday, he could perhaps squeeze into the first round, but the second stanza is more likely. "He's just a kid who carries himself really well," said Houston Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. "There's a nice even keel to him, both as an athlete and a person. He isn't a guy who gets rattled."

  • Not surprisingly, the biggest quarterback here just in terms of physical size is former Arkansas standout Matt Jones, a four-year starter. Jones measured 6-feet-6 and 242 pounds and looked more like a tight end than a quarterback. It is obvious that Jones wants a shot to play quarterback in the NFL, but some teams have other plans for him. Jones lined up at wide receiver in the Senior Bowl game and, while he will work quarterback drills on Sunday, could get some "repetitions" as a pass-catcher, too. "I see what guys like Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El have done in Pittsburgh, two guys who were very successful college quarterbacks and made the move to wide receiver in the NFL, and that shows me it can be done," Jones said. "I'm not going to kid anyone because, if I had my [preference], it would be to play quarterback. But I'm going to do what scouts want me to do because, bottom line, I just want to play football."

  • Oklahoma defensive end Dan Cody was very candid in addressing the issue of a bout with clinical depression that actually forced him out of football during his sophomore year with the Sooners. "It's something that I think I've put in my past," Cody said. "But I think back about it sometimes, trying to understand it and how it all occurred, and realize that it made me a tougher person now. You have to lean a lot on your family, on God and, I guess, on yourself, too. It gives you a different perspective, I can tell you that."

  • The top tight end prospect, Heath Miller of Virginia, is a receiver capable of getting deep up the middle of the field and is also superb in "red zone" situations. But a few scouts reiterated on Saturday that Miller, an underclassman, must dramatically upgrade his blocking skills. "It looks," said one scout, "like he's a willing blocker at times. He just isn't a very good blocker. He's got to work harder at it."

    The last word

    "They're strange but they make sense. It's a thing where team psychologists have to take a look at it. If they show a picture and ask whether it looks like cat or dog, I don't know how I'm supposed to answer. I answer dog because I like dogs more. I'm sure that question means something to somebody. What that might be? Somebody smarter than me probably knows." -- Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton, commenting on the various psychological tests administered by NFL teams

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

  • ALSO SEE