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ESPN: Williams tops '04 draft class


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Interesting mention of Clifton Smith...


Monday, June 2

Updated: June 4, 5:05 PM ET

Williams tops '04 draft class


By Len Pasquarelli


His longtime nickname, "Legend," clearly reflects the kind of esteem afforded University of Texas wide receiver Roy Williams. And his springtime rating by National Football Scouting, Inc., one of the two combine services to which the majority of NFL franchises subscribe, speaks volumes about how personnel directors view the Longhorns star.

Regarded for the past two seasons as one of the country's premier playmakers, Williams is currently the highest-rated senior prospect for the 2004 draft according to the grades by National, which recently concluded its annual spring meetings. The speedy wideout, who averaged 16.3 yards and scored 27 touchdowns in his first three collegiate seasons, has a grade of 7.9 on a system in which 9.0 is the highest possible score.

Cream of the '04 crop

There are 15 rising seniors who were awarded springtime grades of 6.5 or higher at the recent meetings of National Football Scouting, Inc., one of two combine organizations to which NFL teams subscribe. In recent years, a 6.5 grade has generally equated to a first-round score. Here is a list of those 15 players:

Player School Grade

WR Roy Williams Texas 7.9

WR Lee Evans Wis. 7.7

OT Robert Gallery Iowa 7.5

RB Greg Jones FSU 7.3

QB J.P. Losman Tulane 7.2

OT Vernon Carey Miami 7.0

RB Tony Hollings(a) G.T. 7.0

TE Ben Watson Georgia 7.0

LB D.J. Williams Miami 7.0

WR Rashaun Woods Ok. State 6.9

OT Max Starks Florida 6.8

DT DeMarco McNeil Auburn 6.5

OT Jacob Rogers USC 6.5

DE Will Smith Ohio State 6.5

LB Jonathan Vilma Miami 6.5

Note: (a) Recently declared academically ineligible for '03 season.

The closest player to Williams is another wide receiver, Lee Evans of Wisconsin, who has a 7.7 grade. A third wide receiver, Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods, has a grade of 6.9, the 10th-highest among the senior prospects analyzed by National scouts.

This year's draft was historic in that two wide receivers, Charles Rogers of Michigan State (chosen by the Detroit Lions) and Andre Johnson of the University of Miami (by the Houston Texans), were among the top three players picked. With three wide receivers in the spring top 10, the position could be a rich one in the '04 lottery, as well.

In all, there are 15 seniors with ratings of 6.5 or higher, which in recent drafts usually has translated into first-round status. The National grades were obtained by ESPN.com from a number of league sources.

Notable is that there are four offensive tackles, a key position that continues to grow in stature, among the top 15 prospects. Tackle and wide receiver are the lone positions with more than two players in the elite group. Georgia Tech tailback Tony Hollings, graded as the No. 7 prospect despite a catastrophic knee injury in 2002, already had been declared as academically ineligible for this season.

Hollings is considering his options, sources said, including the possibility of petitioning the NFL for entry into the supplemental draft this summer.

Recent history has indicated that a solid grade in May doesn't always translate into a lofty draft position the following April -- the top-rated linebacker prospect last spring, Clifton Smith of Syracuse, wasn't even selected five weeks ago -- but no one expects Williams to experience any such fall from grace. In fact, most scouts feel the Texans star would have been a top five choice this year, had he decided to forego his final season of eligibility.

"The guy," said one NFC college scouting director, "is the real deal. He probably would have been the top wide receiver this year, had he gone into the draft, and a lot of people were shocked when he announced he was staying in school. Unless something dramatic happens to him, he's a top five pick next year, no doubt about it."

Only twice since 1968, when the AFL and NFL agreed to the common draft, has a wide receiver been chosen with the first overall selection. The New England Patriots chose Irving Fryar in '84 and Keyshawn Johnson went to the New York Jets in '96. Depending on which team owns the No. 1 pick next year, Williams certainly has the potential to be the first name called, when commissioner Paul Tagliabue steps to the podium.

As was the case with Rogers this year, Williams' physical "measureables" aren't quite as advertised, according to the National report. Listed in the Texas media guide as being 6-feet-4 and 210 pounds, his verified height and weight are 6-feet-2 ¾ and 208 pounds, and his 40-yard time according to the combine documents is 4.48 seconds. The numbers are more than sufficient, of course, for a player as talented as Williams, a very physical receiver who goes strong after the ball.

If there is any discernable shortcoming, it might be that Williams appears to be a bit of a longstrider, but scouts don't seem overly concerned about that. He is a big-play presence and, in many ways, an intimidating offensive force, the kind of player against whom most offensive coordinators must devise special coverage packages.

But if the scouts assess Williams as a prototype wide receiver in the pro game, he speaks often about perhaps not even being the best pass-catcher on the Longhorns roster, citing the talents of teammates B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas. Having another year with them, the prospect of the trio of standouts challenging each other, is one key reason he opted to return for his senior campaign.

The other is another chance at a national championship, a goal that has eluded Texas, despite the tremendous assemblage of talent the past few years. This year, the Longhorns again have a deep roster, with three seniors possessing grades of 6.0 or higher according to the National springtime rankings.

"It's funny (being rated as the top prospect) because, to me, I'm not the best," Williams said. "I have things I still have to prove to myself. Hopefully, when I leave here, I'll have all the (receiving) records, and people will have to chase me. But for now, at least, there's a lot I still want to accomplish."

In three seasons, Williams has 171 receptions, 2,787 yards and 27 touchdowns. Despite a hamstring injury that hampered him for much of the 2002 season, he still caught 64 balls for 1,142 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns.

He has a remarkable ability to adjust to the ball in the air, is clever in using his hands to nudge cornerbacks away from him, and powerful enough to fight through the initial jam at the line of scrimmage.

"A real beast" is the way former Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman, the Dallas Cowboys' first-rounder this year and the fifth overall player chosen, referred to Williams, despite holding the Texas star to three catches for 16 yards in 2002. "He can overpower you or (finesse) you and he's very mature as a receiver. I can't even imagine how good he'll be in another year."

Given his springtime grade, NFL scouts feel Williams is plenty good enough already, and that opinion isn't apt to change in the next 10 months.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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