USC WR Dwayne Jarrett had 41 touchdown receptions in three seasons at USC, a PAC-10 record
(More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. On the weekend of April 28-29, the vast majority of those players will hear their names called in the 2007 NFL Draft. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will take a closer look at some of those names from the combine, and the stories behind them in our "Road to the Draft" series. These features are not meant to pinpoint the very top prospects in the draft, nor to reflect the Buccaneers' opinions or draft strategies. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Currently featured: USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett.)
Dwayne Jarrett is trying his best to be gracious, but on this one point he wants to make himself perfectly clear. He knows Mike Williams, and Dwayne Jarrett is no Mike Williams.
It is a comparison Jarrett has obviously found some difficulty escaping, and it is the first thing he is asked to consider when speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. Standing at a podium in a crowded media room, Jarrett is fighting the standard perception. The two receivers – one already in the NFL, one about to join him – share an alma mater (USC), exceptional size, gaudy college statistics and, most likely, a first-round entry into the professional ranks.
If it was as simple as that list of facts, Jarrett might not try to wriggle away from the association. However, Williams' NFL career has gotten off to a very slow start since he was selected 10th overall by Detroit in 2005, leading some to wonder if he might someday be known as a draft bust. Obviously, that is an image no incoming prospect wants attached to his name.
Jarrett is 6-4, 219; Williams stands 6-5 and weighs 239. In his one season as a Trojan, Williams caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and 16 touchdowns. In three collegiate seasons, Jarrett set a school record with 216 receptions, turning them into 3,138 and a PAC 10-record 41 touchdowns. Both receivers were known for their outstanding body control, great hands and big playmaking.
So what about the two Trojan prospects is different?
"Everything," said Jarrett. "The only thing we have in common is that we went to the same school. Mike did great while he was at USC, but I think we're two opposite players with totally different personalities. I respect him, he respects me, but we're different."
In two seasons with the Lions, Williams has recorded just 37 receptions for 449 yards and two touchdowns. His early struggles have surely been magnified by the attention paid to the Lions' decision to draft receivers with three straight high-first round picks from 2003-05, and the fact that only one of those three (Roy Williams) has panned out to this point. Williams still may prove to be an elite professional player. Still, it's safe to say that more was expected of the last Trojan receiver to be drafted in the first round.
"Mike, I can't talk about his career because everybody is their own individual," said Jarrett. "He didn't get off to as fast a start as everybody expected him to, but I'm sure he'll come along. Some players take longer than others."
Most mock drafts have Jarrett coming off the board in the middle to late portions of the first round. At that point, he expects his path to diverge from Williams' because he intends to be an immediate success. He describes himself as humble and believes the key to avoiding Williams fate will be hard work and focus.
"I'm a student of the game," said Jarrett. "Coming to this next level, you have to be a student of the game, know the ins and outs of the game. It's your job now, so I definitely take that seriously.
"It's definitely a learning process. You're going to go through ups and downs in the NFL; it's all part of the game. But it's up to you to keep working hard and stay focused. Some guys bounce back, some guys don't."
Still, with hundreds of players to evaluate and publish opinions upon, draft analysts prefer to find a quick and easy comparison, a way to sum up a player's NFL potential in two words. Interestingly, it's another former Trojan who appears in many of Jarrett's scouting reports: former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Keyshawn Johnson. He inspires that link because of his route-running and natural leaping ability.
Given Johnson's overall success – the first overall pick of the 1996 draft has over 10,000 NFL receiving yards and a Super Bowl ring earned with the Buccaneers in 2002 – that should be a flattering comparison for Jarrett. When asked for his own assessment, Jarrett chooses a player that is more his contemporary, a young man who recruited him to play at Pittsburgh just a few years back.
"I definitely like Larry Fitzgerald," said Jarrett. "I like his whole style of play, the way he approaches the game, his body control, the way he goes up and gets the ball. I definitely model myself after him."
Fitzgerald's name was tossed around by several receiver prospects at the Combine this year, and it could be apt for Jarrett. The Arizona Cardinals star (3,135 yards and 24 touchdowns in three NFL seasons) has similar size at 6-3 and 226 pounds and draws raves for his soft hands, like Jarrett. Fitzgerald may have come into the league with more raw speed and strength, but Jarrett is working to improve in those areas. At his USC Pro Day, Jarrett ran his 40-yard dashes in 4.67 and 4.62 seconds, which did little to quiet his critics.
As to those questions about his speed, Jarrett simply wants an opportunity to prove himself on the field.
"I say, 'We'll see,'" he said of such expected criticism. "That's all I can say. Everybody has their own opinion. I've been working out to get faster and stronger, and we'll see."
In fact, you can already see, he says. Even scouts will agree that some players play faster than they time on the track, perform in pads beyond what the workout numbers would suggest. Jarrett certainly proved himself at the highest level of NCAA competition.
"Just look at my body of work," he said. "I won a national championship. I've been All-American two times. I broke every record at USC. Fourth in NCAA history in scoring touchdowns – I had 41. I'd say look at the film."