- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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A simple scan of the crowd at any game at Ford Field last season would reveal plenty of sad faces and perhaps too many Barry Sanders jerseys. Despite the running back's greatness, the volume of No. 20s in part was due to the general lack of star power.
It is that void, combined with the fact that he is already recognized by virtually all football fans in the state, that makes the Detroit Lions new wide receiver Charles Rogers the early favorite to be the most marketable player among the 2003 NFL draft class.
Rogers went to high school in Saginaw, Mich. -- about 100 miles northwest of Detroit -- where he led his school to a state championship in football and won four individual state track titles. Even though he was ranked by many as the nation's No. 1 wide receiver entering college, he stayed home by going to Michigan State, located roughly 90 miles west of Detroit. In his three seasons with the Spartans, he set school records in touchdowns (27) and finished second in receiving yards (2,821).
"You're not a sports fan if you live in Michigan and you don't know who Charles Rogers is," said Rogers' agent Carl Poston.
Rogers already has gotten off to a good start in the business world. He was one of four rookies that signed a deal with EA Sports and was one of five rookies that signed a deal with Pepsi in conjunction with their NFL Rookie of the Year award.
As part of the deal, Rogers was wearing a lapel pin with a Pepsi logo as he stepped to the podium to shake NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's hand. The EA Sports commercial featuring Rogers and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis aired minutes after Rogers was selected as the second overall pick on Saturday. In it, Rogers bragged about his stats by rapping about them.
"I enjoyed (doing the commercial)," said Rogers, who won the 2002 Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best wide receiver. "Hopefully I get to do something like that more often. You're getting paid for it, so it beats college any day."
Although Rogers local "Q-Rating" in Detroit is high, he knows that the number of business opportunities he will receive primarily will depend on how he performs in the future.
"The marketing will come," Rogers said. "I'm a football player and I have got to produce on the field."
"In Detroit, the biggest investors -- companies like Ford and General Motors -- are suffering from the state of the economy a bit," Poston said. "So they're taking more of a wait-and-see approach."
Although Rogers tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, the results -- which Poston said was due to drinking a lot of water in order to produce the sample -- didn't affect what the Lions thought of him and likely won't overshadow his appeal with local business executives.
"He's the hometown hero and he plays an offensive skill position," said agent David Dunn, who represents this year's first overall pick Carson Palmer as well as Lions quarterback Joey Harrington. "And he definitely has the charisma that you need."
Helped by the fact that the Lions unveiled new uniforms with black trim for the 2003 season on Wednesday, expect to see plenty of jerseys sporting Rogers name and his new number -- 80.
"It's not about the number," Rogers said. "It's about making the number."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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