Combine casualty

What is the difference between a 4.40 and a 4.82 40-yard dash time? About one million dollars.

The NFL Combine began this week at the RCA Dome, home of the Indianapolis Colts. Prospects from around the country attended the program with hopes of upping their draft stock prior to the upcoming NFL Draft on April 23. Among the competitors are former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and University of Southern California wide receiver Mike Williams.

These two prospects are interesting because they were the two most high-profile athletes involved in last year’s underclassman raid created by Clarett and his lawyers.

Clarett challenged the NFL last year to allow underclassmen to enter the draft early rather than follow the NFL policy that players must be out of school for two years prior to declaring draft eligibility. His lawyers fought and won the case, allowing underclassmen to flood the NFL.

Clarett showed up to last year’s combine cocky and out of shape, most likely feeling that his notoriety alone would catapult him into the NFL. Williams was one of the underclassmen who joined the fray, and unlike Clarett, was slated to be a first-round pick. Mock drafts across the board had Williams going in the first round and Clarett possibly in the second or third.

Then things went south.

The day before the 2004 draft, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled in favor of the NFL, overturning the case by Clarett’s lawyers. The NFL’s underclassman policy stayed the same.

Clarett was left with nowhere to turn. Ohio State had banished him, so he had two years to prepare for this year’s combine.

Williams tried to get back into USC, enrolling in summer courses and appealing to the NCAA to reinstate his draft eligibility.

One can’t blame Williams, though; USC had just shared a national title and the millions of the NFL were luring. However, the Clarett case cost Williams a year of education and possibly some money when he is drafted because he’s been out of football for a year.

Back to the present.

Clarett showed up to this year’s combine cut and in shape. He seemed remorseful for essentially screwing all the underclassman out of their eligibility, even apologizing to Williams.

Again, everything was coasting smoothly until the 40-yard dash. Clarett attempted two, neither of which were under 4.70.

Suddenly, the world came crashing down.

Everything wasn’t perfect, and that wasn’t good enough, so a frustrated Clarett left the combine.

Analysts now predict that Clarett has dropped to the sixth or seventh round in the draft, if he’s even drafted at all.

No long-term contract, no signing bonus. Clarett has sealed his own fate, all because he couldn’t be patient. He had the opportunity to transfer to a Division-II school, where he likely would have blown away the competition. Grambling State University even contacted him, saying he would be welcome there. Instead, he spent two years fighting a league that now probably won’t even draft him.

Now Clarett sits with his future in question. Next time don’t take the free rental car. If you have two years to improve a 40-yard dash time, spend less time doing magazine interviews calling your former university out and hit the sleds.

Williams, on the other hand, has solidified himself in the first round after posting stellar numbers at the combine. He will never be the No. 1 pick in the draft, however, something that may have been attainable had he not left college early to pursue the NFL.

Williams will be fine though.

Clarett, on the other hand … well, there’s always the AFL.