NFL message to Davis: Take the Long route
"With the first pick of the (2010?, 2011?) NFL Draft, (fill in a team) selects offensive tackle An thony Davis of Rutgers."
Far-fetched? Hardly. Call it very near-fetched.
Rutgers has never had a first- round NFL draft choice, but the day keeps coming closer. It could happen next April if, say, wideout Kenny Britt has a big junior year, if quarterback Mike Teel doesn't bang his hand into a defensive end's helmet and fracture his throwing hand again, if he and Britt stay on the wavelength they showed this spring they can travel together. Britt at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, is big enough, fast enough and skilled enough to merit that kind of attention and that kind of pro contract.
But it's Davis over whom the pros eventually will salivate. If they aren't already. The Piscataway native was the top schoolboy lineman two years ago when he was No. 1 on the Ohio State recruiting list, was probably the best freshman lineman in college football last fall when he stepped into a right guard opening at Rutgers and played like a veteran, and who at 6-6 and anywhere from 330 pounds up that he chooses to play will be the nation's best sophomore left tackle come this autumn. He showed that in spring drills before twisting an ankle and sitting out the spring game to please a coaching staff just as happy to keep him out of additional harm's way.
The key two words in the above paragraph are "left tackle." It has become the most-sought commodity in pro football. The guy who keeps the quarterback upright. It has become the highest-paid position in the game. Ask Jake Long. Jake Long, the Michigan Wolverine left tackle who got a guaranteed $30 million from the Miami Dol phins as the No. 1 choice in Saturday's draft and who can more than double those earnings by playing up to his press clippings over the next decade -- which barring injury he should do. Jake Long at 6-7, 313 pounds, best at his position in a year where the ranks were not deep.
You go back and look at the preseason college football magazines and they're instructive. What, most wondered, was Jake Long doing, turning down certain first- round draft selection to return to Michigan for his senior year? The answer was more than just playing at a school he loved. The multi-million dollar answer was he was be coming the first overall pick, the one at whom the gusher throws millions. He played every card just right, and even if some questioned how great his play was as a senior, no one ever will question any check he ever writes.
Six other offensive tackles were chosen in the first round Saturday, all of whom will get fat bonuses, their reward for sustained growth spurts. Where you played didn't matter. The six come from Boise State, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Southern California and Virginia Tech. The names are Ryan Clady, Chris Willliams, Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Otah, Sam Baker and Duane Brown. Names, just names. It's the size of the bodies that count. And the size of the bonuses.
If you're Anthony Davis -- and who wouldn't want to be? -- the only name that matters is Jake Long. The only draft position that matters is No. 1. And if you are wise after your junior year, unless NFL teams are guaranteeing you'll go first of all, you have to weigh carefully coming back to Rutgers for that critical fourth year. Of the seven first-rounders this year, only Clady came out as a junior. The extra year can be critical.
But whether Anthony Davis is a first pick or not, whether he stays at Rutgers two more seasons or three, the local kid who stayed home, the one who earned coach Greg Schiano's undying admiration by not buckling to the recruiting pressures of Buckeye Nation, is going to leave a large legacy on The Banks. He'll prove among other things a New Jersey kid can stay home and hit the jackpot.
That only one Scarlet Knight besides Rice (offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah) was drafted this weekend was no huge surprise. It doesn't diminish Schiano's stature. In fact, it increases as it proved he could win with ordinary talents and should do even better as the number of future pros grows. Britt and safety Courtney Greene will get long looks this year, and if dynamic Notre Dame High graduate Tiquan Underwood is judged too frail to be drafted, perhaps some team will be wise to give him a bonus to join its front office.
And then there is the question of quarterback Teel. ESPN kept repeating on Saturday's coverage how any team needing a quarterback had better take one this year because the cupboard is empty in the next class. Maybe, but is there a chance Teel could fool them all? Healthy, stronger, more accurate, he looked like a big-time quarterback this spring, able to make all the throws and is blessed with a strong receiving corps.
Somewhere down the line, a talent like the quarterback arriving in 2009, Tom Savage from Cardinal O'Hara of the Philadelphia Catholic League, will keep the Rutgers brand prominent on draft day. And, be certain, there will be other future pros coming from the Schi ano school. He promised he'd build a national program that would get good kids, bring out their football potential, and graduate them as solid ciitzens. The promise is being realized.
And if you're the next Anthony Davis, the message will continue to emerge. Riches can await no mat ter your alma mater. Just keep eating and growing and working, kid.
Harvey Yavener is a Times special writer.