T.A. – Truly the Poor Man’s Maurice Clarett

Well, it’s official – the career cycles of former Wolfpack tailback T.A. McLendon and former Ohio State freshman sensation Maurice Clarett have reached perfect harmony – neither back made it through their initial NFL training camp .

We can all remember the parallels – each player shooting up their team’s depth chart as true freshmen, bursting into the starting lineup and leading their respective squads to New Year’s Day (and beyond) bowl success. The future looked bright, and college football fans looked forward to their 2 forthcoming head-to-head clashes, starting in Columbus during September 2003.

Of course, these clashes – serving as a microcosm to their once-promising careers – never materialized, instead merely fizzling in the media spotlight. Attitude and work ethic questions dogged both players (obviously more so for Clarett), and both had no real choice but to enter the NFL draft when first eligible in 2005. NFL scouts – no doubt well aware of these players pasts, were doubly underwhelmed by their very poor workout performances. Simply put, their measurables indicated that they were not NFL material, and their already low draft stock (for what once seemed like certain first round picks) plummeted even further.

Fortunately for Maurice Clarett, he found a willing idiot suitor in my favorite team (and perhaps the poorest drafting franchise in recent NFL history, save for the Terrell Davis oil strike), the Denver Broncos. Denver shocked the world by taking Clarett with the last pick of Round 3, a good 2-3 rounds ahead of the “Hail Mary pass” stage of the draft. Respected, veteran draft-watchers immediately panned the selection, while draft novices and less discerning football fans praised the pick, as if 3rd round picks had no more value than a single purchased Powerball ticket. “Didn’t you see him his freshman year at Ohio State?” they exclaimed. “Those other teams will be sorry they passed him up.” On the other hand, my fervently held position was that he would never play a single down, or even be on the game day active list, in 2005. Only the fact that Clarett was a 3rd round pick would save his roster slot. But alas, even I was overly optimistic. Clarett, still delusional enough (thanks no doubt to what was left of his entourage) to view himself as “first round material,” foolishly turned down a standard 3rd round signing bonus in exchange for an incentive laden contract that would earn him NOTHING if the Broncos cut him, and only the league minimum 2005 salary if it kept him one season as a developmental player. Yesterday, the Broncos chose the “nothing” option.

As Day 2 of the 2005 NFL draft began, many NC State fans awaited the imminent selection of #44. After all, Clarett went much earlier than expected – and what did he have that T.A. didn’t? I agreed that T.A. was indeed a “poor man’s Maurice Clarett,” but doubted that another franchise would be as stupid as Denver, and thus T.A. would slide to the 6th or 7th round and be on the bubble to make so much as an NFL practice squad (after all, TA – like Clarett – seemingly would have no special teams value, which is how backup RBs stick on the 53-man roster). Again, my so-called “negative” prognosis was overly optimistic. T.A. barely lasted a few days in the Falcons’ camp, and nobody else came calling. I do believe T.A. got a $10-20K signing bonus, so in a sense he did better than Mo C (good luck paying your lawyer’s fees, Mo – and as an attorney, I’d sure hate to be THAT guy this morning. Talk about a bad write-off…).

Perhaps the gentle nation of Canada awaits both men, and we will finally see the two square off in Saskatchewan (instead of Columbus or Raleigh). At this point though, that’s probably wishful thinking.