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Pro Football Weekly tracks the action from the college season through NFL draft weekend.

On the lookout for the next Antonio Gates

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Recent posts by Matt Feminis

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Posted April 24, 2010 @ 1:32 p.m.

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Updated Oct. 06, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m.
By Matt Feminis

For as much as evaluators, decision makers and fans alike cling to numbers in an effort to eliminate the unknown and hone in on predictive factors, scouting and the draft process remains more art than science. No matter the sport, the thirst for the competitive edge and the desire to win is so intense that one axiom has remained true from the days of George Halas and Branch Rickey: if you can play, they will find you.

With famous success stories such as Antonio Gates and Anthony Gonzalez, the search for the next diamond in the rough is as widespread as ever. Football scouts have their ears to the ground, open to tips about athletes on the hardwood, wrestling mat or even a rugby pitch who could have untapped gridiron potential.

The tight end position, in particular, is one where basketball ability can translate to the football field, as evidenced by Gates, who did not play college football, and, Gonzalez, who doubled as a small forward at Cal before the Chiefs drafted him 13th overall in 1997. An underrated aspect of athletic ability is adaptability, a byproduct of multi-sport experience. In the case of tight ends, the nature of rebounding, body position, posting up, leaping, hand-eye coordination and overall competitiveness lends itself to football potential if the athlete can apply the cerebral and fundamental adaptation. And shoulder pads, for that matter.

The same concept applies very much to wrestling and the offensive line, where a big key is knowing how to use your hands to control defenders. Linemen with wrestling experience often display a greater understanding of leverage, push-pull concepts and desirable balance and body control. In the trenches, body control and the shifting of weight is critical. The big men who consistently play on their feet are at an advantage, and former wrestlers generally show advanced proficiency in this area.

That is why the Patriots, with one of the best coaching staffs in the league, have been able to mold Stephen Neal into a very solid performer. It is why the Chiefs took a shot on little known Jermail Porter. It is why former Illinois wrestler John Wise has come onto the radar of a number of NFL teams. And while he does not figure to be drafted, a chance exists he could be the next great undrafted success story.

The 2010 draft class includes Miami's Jimmy Graham, who spent four years rejecting shots on the basketball court before trying his hand as a Hurricanes tight end in his final year of eligibility. Despite catching only 17 passes, his size (6-6 1/4, 260, 4.53) and athletic ability could vault him into the second round on upside alone. Houston TE Fendi Onobum (6-5 3/4, 252, 4.51), a former McDonald's All-American, caught two balls (due in part to injury) in his lone football season, but could be a very intriguing late-round project.

Several of this year's prospects have basketball and wrestling backgrounds, including Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham (high school basketball standout); Cal WR Nyan Boateng, who played with Sebastien Telfair in New York; Illinois WR Jeff Cumberland, whose dunking ability was well-known as an Ohio prep. Syracuse DT Mike Jones was a nationally ranked prep wrestler; Arizona State OLB/DE Dexter Davis won two state championships as an Arizona prep; and Idaho's Mike Iupati, the top offensive guard in this year's class, also wrestled in high school.

And it goes without saying that track and baseball athletes have long populated the NFL. This year is no different, as the draft class contains a world-class sprinter (LSU RS Trindon Holliday) and plenty of players who caught the eyes of Major League Baseball scouts, including Florida WR Riley Cooper, Notre Dame WR Golden Tate, Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, Minnesota WR Eric Decker, LSU S Chad Jones, Arizona State WR Kyle Williams, Alabama S Justin Woodall and Nevada S Jonathan Amaya.


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