FROM THE end of thecollege football season to the draft in late April, NFL prospects are runthrough a gauntlet of tests, workouts and interviews as each team sorts throughthe talent and figures out where players fit on its draft board. But over thefour months, just how much movement up and down those boards is there? To findout, SI asked five men with the final say on their respective team's draftorder--two of whom agreed to talk for the record--to track the interest inhighly rated Louisville defensive lineman Amobi Okoye since his last collegesnap in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.
THE BROWNS set uptheir first draft board in December, based solely on players' on-fieldperformances. The chart is revised before the scouting combine in February andagain in early April, then refined in the week before the draft. Cleveland'spersonnel staff completed spring draft meetings on April 14, but late last weekgeneral manager Phil Savage was still tweaking his board. "Where a guystarts in December and where he ends up in April are never the same," hesaid. "The period in there is what we call 'the fog of confusion,' wherewe're trying to figure out exactly what kind of player and person the guyis."
The 6'2",302-pound Okoye is seen by most clubs as a tackle in a 4--3 defensive scheme,though there are some who think he can play right end in a 3--4 alignment. Hereminds several personnel people of versatile Chargers defensive lineman LuisCastillo, but with more potential. Okoye, whose family emigrated from Nigeriawhen he was a child, became a starter at Louisville as an 18-year-old junior in2005 and earned All--Big East honors last season; he graduated in December witha degree in psychology. At 19 years, 322 days on Saturday, he'll be thesecond-youngest player ever drafted--and if he debuts in the season-opener hecould be the youngest player in NFL history.
On the draft boardsof the five teams SI surveyed, Okoye ranked anywhere from 13th to "in thetop 50," as one player personnel director put it, at the close of thecollege season. In the intervening four months, thanks to his consistentperformances in the Senior Bowl, at the combine and in campus workouts, heclimbed steadily in the eyes of some execs and solidified his high ranking inthe minds of others.
One club that usesa 3--4 had listed Okoye 35th on its first board in early February but hasbumped him up to 19th on its latest chart because of his perceived versatility.The team that had slotted Okoye 13th after the season moved him to 11th afterthe Senior Bowl and to eighth last week. Colts president Bill Polian wouldn'tspecify where Okoye ranked throughout the process other than to say he startedon Indy's board as a first-rounder and finished as one. Savage said Okoyedidn't move much on the Browns' board, but because they're a 3--4 team, and hefelt Okoye was best suited to the 4--3, Cleveland put him in the low end of thefirst round. The fifth team that shared its opinion of Okoye, a 4--3 defenseclub in the NFC, said he'd risen from "top 50 to top 25" thanks tothree factors: the scarcity of good defensive linemen in the draft, the solidimage Okoye projects as a player and as a person, and his youth. "Enteringthe NFL at [his age] is a great thing," this NFC personnel man said."He's still maturing into his body, and whoever picks him will be able tosculpt him to the frame of the position they're drafting him for."
ONE POSSIBLE blackmark against Okoye was the report in Pro Football Weekly that during teaminterviews at the combine, he, Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson and Clemson'sGaines Adams admitted to having used marijuana. But none of the five NFLdecision makers SI interviewed expected Okoye's stock to be affected much, ifat all. Indeed, hard-liner Polian applauded the players' honesty. "When youlook into it [with Okoye]," said Polian, "I believe there's a certainamount of youthful indiscretion there." A knowledgeable source said none ofthe three players tested positive for banned substances at the combine.
"He's a uniqueplayer to grade because of his age," said Polian, whose staff wasfinalizing its draft board last Friday. "We talked to people in baseballand the NBA about the difficulties of a kid adjusting to life in the bigleagues at 19. How's he going to withstand the rigors of the NFL world at thatage? No one knows. But the best predictor of future success is past success,and he's been consistent on our board because, at 18 and 19, he's played wellagainst players three years older than him."
LAST STEP One reason Okoye moved up the draft boards is that his youth--he'll be 20 at season's start--adds to his pro potential.