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Catching up: DC at the top of the NFL Draft


Normally, draft projections – much like those made for recruiting – are nothing more than argument-starters. After all, they attempt to predict the future, and I haven’t seen a crystal ball in a scout’s or a recruiter’s office.

But when colleague Jeff Nelson made mention of Scouts Inc.’s latest projection of the top prospects for the 2010 NFL Draft, it was hard to look away. The DC area is remarkably well represented.

The top-rated local player is Florida junior defensive back Joe Haden (Friendly), who places seventh. At Nos. 19 and 20 are Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman (Suitland) and Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn (Dunbar). Both, like Haden, are juniors, but would likely declare early if they are projected high enough. Another junior on the list is North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin (Ballou) at No. 24. Penn State junior running back Evan Royster (Westfield) clocks in at No. 48.

(After seeing what happened to Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford – who was projected to be a top-five pick had he declared for the draft after winning the Heisman Trophy last year, but struggled with a shoulder injury this season - don’t be surprised to see many highly-touted juniors give the draft a long look this year.)

DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor, who has certainly seen his fair share of talent not only in his 28 years on the Stags’ sideline, but also throughout the Washington area, said he took notice last spring, when the area touted two first-round picks – Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin (Mount Hebron) going 11th overall to Buffalo, and Illinois defensive back Vontae Davis (Dunbar), who went to Miami at No. 25. In addition, three other local products – Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim (Gar-Field), and Penn State wide receivers Derrick Williams (Eleanor Roosevelt) and Deon Butler (Hylton) - also went in the first three rounds.

“That was almost unheard of, to have two kids from the same area going in the first round,” McGregor said. “It used to be, if you had a few kids drafted altogether, it was a good year for the area … If all these kids come out this year, it’s going to be a banner year.”

Haden, Bowman and Benn all graduated from high school a semester early, in order to enroll in college for the spring semester, so as to get a head start on the rest of its graduating class. It was a big reason why Haden and Benn didn’t redshirt their freshman year and jumped right into significant action.

“Getting to spring practice, that’s the big thing,” said Dunbar Coach Craig Jefferies. “It’s big for them to get acclimated to the system and the pressure before you have a game, so that when the season starts you can step in as a true freshman. You’re used to the routine by then.”

While most of the aforementioned players seemed destined to play on Sundays before even setting foot on a college campus, too many standout athletes let their imaginations run a little wild and limit their college plans to Division I schools. Several ultimately wind up disappointed by lack of playing time, and wonder what happened to their careers. Deante Steele, a 2006 All-Met at Potomac (Va.) felt just that, to some degree, coming out of high school. But when no major offers materialized, he joined a host of other area players at Division II Shepherd (Va.), about a 90-minute drive from downtown Washington.

And, rather than riding the pine at some higher-profile school, Steele is setting national records for the Rams. With his three punt returns and two kickoffs returns for touchdowns this season, Steele has brought back a combined 10 kicks for scores in his career, tying a Division II mark held by three others. Throw in the interception he brought back for a touchdown this season and his six runbacks also tie a single-season Division II mark (the career record is 13, and Steele is one shy of that total). He also has 40 solo tackles, 10 passes defended and eight pass break-ups this season.

Steele’s kickoff-return average of 31.3 yards ranks sixth in Division II and his 17 yards per punt return are seventh. Last season, Steele averaged 20.2 yards per punt return, good for second in the nation, and brought back two kickoffs and two punts each for scores.

Among the other Shepherd standouts with local ties are sophomore running back Thomas Addison (Quince Orchard), who leads the Rams with 797 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns; sophomore wide receiver Neal Hardie (West Potomac) with a team-best 24 catches and five receiving touchdowns; and junior defensive back Ben Minturn (Damascus) who has a team-high 64 tackles.

By Alan Goldenbach  |  October 28, 2009; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  Catching Up , Football  
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