The Norman Transcript

April 25, 2008

Former Sooners ready for draft day

John Shinn

• Once considered high picks, Kelly, Lofton and Smith face draft uncertainty

Since 2002, there’s been a constant during the first round of the NFL draft. At some point, the league’s commissioner was going to call the name of an Oklahoma player.

It started with Roy Williams in 2002, continued with Andre Woolfolk in 2003 and Tommie Harris in 2004. Jammal Brown and Mark Clayton extended the streak in 2005. Davin Joseph kept it alive in 2006 and Adrian Peterson ran it to six straight years last year.

But that streak will be in jeopardy when the first and second rounds of the 2008 NFL draft begin at 2 p.m. today in New York.

Neither wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, defensive back Reggie Smith or linebacker Curtis Lofton have solidified themselves as first-round picks.

It goes to show being a great college player isn’t enough in the eyes of the NFL. The three months of evaluation that follows can either build you up or tear you down.

“It’s a crazy process that I’ve never been through before,” Smith said. “You only go through it once a lifetime and you have to enjoy it.”

Smith, along with Kelly and Lofton, opted to forgo their final seasons of eligibility to enter the draft. All three were All-Big 12 selections during their time at OU and Lofton was the conference’s 2007 defensive player of the year.

But each picked up the same knock along the way that will likely keep them out of the first round. Speed has been the issue with all three.

Kelly’s issues have been highly publicized. A thigh injury kept him from working out for pro scouts until April. He was still considered the top wide receiver in the draft. Then he failed to run a 40-yard dash time in under 4.6 seconds, and the red flags went up.

The same thing happened to Smith, who had to wait until April to work out due to a broken toe. He failed to display the blazing speed NFL teams covet from defensive backs.

Only Lofton was able to participate in the NFL Combine in February and had been healthy throughout the whole process. But he still failed to wow scouts with his speed.

Nonetheless, all three are expected to hear their names called by the end of the first day.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper lists all three as top 5 players at their positions. Scouts Inc. has Kelly and Lofton in the top 5 and Smith as the 11th best defensive back.

How that all translates into their draft position is up to the teams. Usually after the first 10 picks, need at a certain position becomes the biggest factor on who is selected and when.

“I’ve heard from a lot of different coaches and stuff like that. But you never know,” Kelly said. “Somebody’s going to be a top five pick and they end up going 23rd or somebody’s going to go first and they go second. You never know; it depends on what a team needs.

“Somebody might like you and love you to death and think you’re the best player on the board, but they don’t need you. They’ve already got a great wideout. They need a left tackle or something like that. You’ve just got to hope that everything falls into place for you.”

There’s no sense worrying about it now. None of the three expressed regrets about coming out early. The work has been done. What happens today is out of their hands.

They’ll be hanging around with friends and family today, hoping the phone rings sooner rather than later.

“It’s going to be a good deal to sit down with them and enjoy the moment you’ve been dreaming about since you were younger,” Kelly said. “Finally get a chance to make it happen.”

John Shinn