tampabay.com

Leak's projection: rejection

By GARY SHELTON
Published May 1, 2007


No one expected him to go in the first round. If you have watched Chris Leak at all, you know he doesn't have enough arm for the first round.

It was not surprising that he didn't go in the second, either. After all, Leak is only 5-11, and as such, isn't tall enough to board a second-round ride.

If you wanted to push the point, well, no one was looking for him in the third round, either. He just wasn't fast enough for the third.

And, yeah, the fourth round was still kind of early to listen for his name. Maybe the fifth was beyond his reach. Maybe you even understood the early part of the sixth round.

But for crying out loud, didn't anyone notice that Leak played football last year?

The NFL chose up sides again over the weekend, and judging from the results, Leak may have been the most draft-resistant quarterback in college football last year. This is a league where no one agrees on anything, and yet, hundreds of scouts seem to have reached the same conclusion: Leak can't play.

Do the math: There were 32 teams and 255 available slots, some of which were spent on players who will trip and fall as they exit training camp next fall, and still, no one took Leak, the Florida quarterback. All that was left for him was one of those standard not-rich-and-not-famous free-agent contracts from the Chicago Bears. When you consider falls from grace, even Brady Quinn ought to feel bad for Leak.

Again, no one expected anyone to see a potential star in Leak. He's only 5-11, and he doesn't dazzle you with his speed or with his arm strength. There isn't anything special there. There is a lot about Leak that says he is one of those very good college players whose game doesn't translate to the NFL.

On the other hand: Tyler Thigpen.

You have heard, no doubt, of the legend of Thigpen, who just might be the finest quarterback ever to play for the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. No? How about Jordan Palmer of Texas El-Paso? Or Jeff Rowe of Nevada? Thigpen was drafted by Minnesota, Palmer by Washington and Rowe by Cincinnati.

Now tell me: Would you really take those guys over Leak?

For goodness sakes, how in the world did Florida ever win anything? And a follow-up question: Where would Tim Tebow have been drafted?

I know, I know. This is the NFL, where job applicants are rated by potential. Often, it is better to be tall than to be successful and better to have speed than intangibles. Considering that Florida fans always wanted Leak to be more than he was, the NFL's rejection seems like more of a disappointment than a reason to slam down your fist in anger.

Still, wouldn't you have thought that someone, anyone, would have taken a flyer on a player who was 29-9 while at Florida? Shouldn't winning a national championship game be worth something?

For crying out loud, history says these kinds of guys always get drafted. Jay Barker, after playing for Alabama's national champions, was drafted. So was Tee Martin of Tennessee and Josh Heupel of Oklahoma and Ken Dorsey of Miami and Craig Krenzel of Ohio State and Matt Mauck of LSU. Even Scott Frost of Nebraska was drafted, although he was a defensive back by the time he hung up the phone. You have to go back to Tommie Frazier of Nebraska (who had blood clots in his legs) and Charlie Ward of FSU (who had the NBA in his eyes) to find a championship quarterback who was ignored.

That's the thing you have to remember. Every year, the NFL drafts a great many quarterbacks who have proven they cannot find their way to a center's backside. And yet, Leak had to wait until ESPN had put Mel Kiper back into storage before his phone rang.

At least the Bears seemed to see something. Who knows? Maybe someone showed general manager Jerry Angelo a replay of the Super Bowl game late Sunday, and Angelo pulled a muscle reaching for the phone. Hey, Leak made Florida fans forget about Rex Grossman. Maybe he can do the same thing in Chicago.

In some ways, what happened for Leak over the weekend was something of a backhanded compliment. It said he was a man whose accomplishments outweighed his ability, an overachiever who won despite not having blow-it-out-the-doors talent. Considering that only three Gators went in the first three rounds, it said much the same about the draftable players from Florida.

Now, Leak gets a chance to prove everyone wrong again. He has a chance to stick as the Bears' No. 3 quarterback. He has a chance to prove he is bigger, faster and better than the stopwatches and tape measures would indicate.

It would help, of course, if the Bears could schedule a game against Ohio State.

You know, for old time's sake.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.

Fast Facts: Catching a draft
Where national championship quarterbacks wound up in the NFL Draft (with year of title; not all entered the draft the following year):
2006 Chris Leak, Florida -- undrafted
2005 Vince Young, Texas -- first round, Tennessee
2004 Matt Leinart, USC -- first round, Arizona
2003 Matt Mauck, LSU -- seventh round, Denver
2002 Craig Krenzel, Ohio State -- fifth round, Chicago
2001 Ken Dorsey, Miami -- seventh round, San Francisco
2000 Josh Heupel, Oklahoma -- sixth round, Miami
1999 Chris Weinke, FSU -- fourth round, Carolina
1998 Tee Martin, Tennessee -- fifth round, Pittsburgh
1997 Brian Griese, Michigan -- third round, Denver; Scott Frost, Nebraska -- third round, N.Y. Jets (as a DB)
1996 Danny Wuerffel, Florida -- fourth round, New Orleans