|For UCF's Smith, no safe choice on NFL draft|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 07 January 2008 11:07|
Stay in college and risk career-ending injury, or go pro and maybe fall hard in a rich running back class.
It took a while, but Smith finally chose to go.
``No one really knows,'' he said of the draft day crapshoot.
Smith has been projected anywhere from the first round to the fourth, and the lower end came from his coach.
Central Florida's George O'Leary, a former NFL defensive coordinator, advised against turning pro unless Smith was a certain first-rounder. But not all teams picking in the first round need a running back, and those that do won't necessarily take one with their top pick - particularly when there are so many good ones out there.
The crowded class already includes Texas junior Jamaal Charles and two seniors who also put up good numbers - Michigan's Mike Hart and Tulane's Mike Forte, who like Smith ran for more than 2,000 yards this year.
It'll get even tougher if Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall, West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Arkansas' Darren McFadden, a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, forgo their senior seasons. Rutgers junior Ray Rice, who also eclipsed 2,000 yards this year, is yet another possibility.
``You can put a lot of people in front of me (on the draft board),'' Smith said. ``To me, I've already won half my battle. Now, in my mind, the only thing I've got to do is show these people how well I'm going to do in that system.''
Smith stunned analysts by first announcing he'd stay at UCF for a senior season. His junior campaign was outstanding - 29 TDs and 2,567 yards - and a similar effort would have put the Miami native well within Ron Dayne's NCAA career rushing record.
But this year Smith also seriously challenged Barry Sanders' single-season record, and some said he had nowhere to go but down. His rushing total was higher than his previous two seasons combined, 2,112 yards, partly because he missed two games last year after hurting his shoulder.
Smith seemed to put the situation to rest on Dec. 18, announcing he'd stay at Central Florida. He now says he never reached a decision - he only wanted to dim the spotlight as UCF prepared for its eventual 10-3 Liberty Bowl loss to Mississippi State.
At 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, with good speed and great awareness, Smith became the first player in 63 years with three TDs of at least 80 yards in the same season.
But Smith isn't considered a burner, instead relying on vision and well-timed cuts to break long plays. He says he needs to prove to scouts he can run.
``I think I've gotten faster - I don't think I'm at my peak,'' Smith said. ``My speed is deceptive when I'm on the field. I'm not going to lie to you and say I run people on a straight line every time I ran 50 yards this year.''
Playing for a young program in Conference USA, Smith, like Forte, hasn't gotten the national attention that might otherwise come with their outrageous numbers.
But at the next stage everybody gets on TV, and Smith is eager to prove he belongs there.
``The only thing I can do is go out and train from now until that point,'' Smith said. ``That's all I do when I play anything - I'm giving my all, and the results are the results.''