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OSU has prospects at every position

4/7/2004

Despite an injury stunted college career in which he caught just 41 passes and scored only one touchdown, wide receiver Drew Carter has lately become more than merely a blip on the draft radar screen. At least four franchises have requested individual auditions with him over the next couple of weeks.

The burgeoning interest was fueled by the fact that Carter, who measured 6-feet-4 and 206 pounds at the Indianapolis scouting combine in February, possesses the kind of size every team now covets at the position. It helped, too, when Carter posted a 4.36-second time in the 40-yard dash at his "pro day" workout.

And, oh, yeah, the fact Carter played at Ohio State hasn't hurt his draft chances, either.

Sometimes in football, as in life, you are judged by the quality of the company you keep. In the case of some lesser-known Buckeyes players, the sterling quality of the program's several high-profile prospects in the 2004 draft pool has cast the role players in a positive light, too, as NFL scouts flocked to Columbus in legions to scrutinize projected stars such as defensive end Will Smith, wide receiver Michael Jenkins and cornerback Chris Gamble.

No one is suggesting that players like Carter stole the spotlight but, while the scouts were assessing the Buckeyes' potential high-round choices, they couldn't help but notice Ohio State is rife with prospects across the board.

"People always tell you that, if you're a good player, the NFL will find you," said Carter, who averaged an impressive 16.4 yards per catch in 2003. "But it helps if you play in a program where the scouts are always around. There is a lot of talent here, it draws the NFL to campus, and that helps all of us get more (exposure)."

Indeed, in most seasons, Columbus is a must-stop for league bird dogs. But this spring in particular, the Buckeyes have so many draft prospects, scouts could petition for squatter's rights on campus. Armed with stopwatches and measuring tapes, they descended on the OSU football office again Monday, when tailback Maurice Clarett stages a long-awaited workout and a few other players get in one final audition before the draft.

The University of Miami could have as many as a half-dozen players chosen in the first round on April 24. But according to several general managers, it is Ohio State that figures to have the most prospects selected overall on draft weekend. For sure, teams will load up on the mother lode of talent the Buckeyes have assembled.

Since the league adopted the seven-round draft in 1994, only seven programs have had 10 or more players chosen in the same lottery. Miami, which sent 11 players to the league in the 2002 draft, holds the record for the seven-round lottery. The Buckeyes, though, could top that, with scouts estimating Ohio State could have 12-14 players chosen this year.

"The way we've got them stacked so far," said one NFL personnel chief, "Ohio State has players all over our draft board. Guys at every level. They could hit for the cycle, with at least one player in every round, you know?"

In fact, the Buckeyes, remarkably, could have at least one player chosen from each of the 11 position categories defined by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. Three of the four starting defensive linemen are certain to be chosen, probably all on the first day of the draft. Four of five offensive line starters could be picked. All three starting receivers, two wideouts and the tight end, are on all 32 teams' draft boards.

A developing offensive threat, and a youngster most personnel directors acknowledge still has his best football ahead of him, Carter is hardly the lone beneficiary of the Ohio State star system. The presence of players like Smith, a natural pass rusher who probably will be the first defensive end off the board, has had a trickle down effect, with linemates like fellow end Darrion Scott and tackle Tim Anderson also meriting attention.

Anderson and Carter are the late risers, however, with both having opened a lot of eyes during the school's "pro day" session last month. A member of the track team, who has performed in the long jump and the 4x100-meter relay team, Carter may be a nascent receiver, but his pure athletic skills are obvious. Anderson ran faster than scouts thought he would and bolsters a deep position in the draft.

"Let's face it, there's a treasure trove over there this year," said one regional scout of the Ohio State prospects. "The school is going to be prominent on (draft weekend). At their 'pro day, the place was crawling with (scouts), and with good reason."

Here's a quick rundown on the OSU prospects:

  • Receivers: With a 4.38 clocking on "pro day," Jenkins might have catapulted into the first round, even in a draft deep with wide receiver talent. He has superb size, 6-feet-4 3/8 and 217 pounds, is very fluid, and has really improved his pass routes. Certainly he is no worse than a high second-round choice. Carter is a likely middle-round choice, just on potential alone, and hard-working tight end Ben Hartsock should be a third- or fourth-round selection.

  • Offensive line: The best of the bunch is center Alex Stepanovich, who isn't quite as functionally strong as you'd like, but is a splendid technician. Tackle Shane Olivea is a strong run-blocker who lacks height and might project better to guard at the NFL level. Both he and Stepanovich should be first-day picks. One guard, Adrien Clarke, looks like a middle-rounder, and the other, Bryce Bishop, is probably a late-round choice.

  • Backfield: The fate of Clarett, of course, rests on his workout and his attitude. He could be chosen anywhere from the second to the fifth round. Quarterback Craig Krenzel, the brainy signal-caller, hasn't flashed much in workouts. But the last five drafts have all seen a run on quarterbacks in the sixth and seventh rounds and that could benefit him.

  • Defensive line: Smith is a sure pick in the top half of the first round and, depending on how things transpire in the opening stanza, could actually be a top 10 selection. He has bulked up into the 270s, ran a spectacular 4.58 time in his individual workout, and has innate pass-rush skills. Anderson isn't flashy but, at 306 pounds, ran in the 5.04 range on "pro day" and is the kind of inside anchor defender difficult to find in this draft. Scott isn't nearly as accomplished as Smith, but plays hard, and could be a first-day choice.

  • Linebacker: Robert Reynolds has rare size (6-feet-3½, 251), at least among the middle 'backer candidates in this draft, and has run in the mid-4.7s. Some teams feel he can play over the tight end on the strong side. Not especially instinctive, but a big motor, and will be a special teams contributor right out of the box.

  • Secondary: Gamble, who has played only about 1½ seasons at cornerback, could well live up to his surname. Coming out of the combine, a lot of teams had him rated as the top cornerback prospect. He is probably no better than third now on most draft boards and one personnel director to whom we frequently speak currently ranks him No. 5. But the erstwhile wide receiver does have natural instincts and also the kind of size (6-feet-1¼, 198) generally lacking in this year's cornerback pool. The guess is he remains a first-rounder. Free safety Will Allen also has nice size, runs well enough, is a sure tackler and a probable third-rounder.

  • Punter: In his only season as the starter, B.J. Sander won the Ray Guy Award and he averaged 43.3 yards. Sander has a strong leg but might need to improve his directional punting skills.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.