In the dead of winter, the most highly touted juniors decide whether or not they will indeed forego their last season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Most of these players are coming off of dynamite seasons and feel that they could be taken high if they enter the draft. It is almost unheard of, however, to come out early after suffering a serious injury, especially if your game is based on speed. Well, just consider Florida State cornerback Antonio Cromartie to be one of the lucky few who may actually be able to pull it off.
Cromartie lit the Atlantic Coast Conference on fire during his sophomore season of 2004, proving that he was one of the top defensive backs in all of college football. His junior year looked very promising, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and hamstring in his left leg during voluntary summer workouts; he did not see any action last season. Cromartie made his intentions known before the team's season-ending loss to Penn State in the Orange Bowl.
At Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla., Cromartie was named an All-American while leading his team to a 12-1-1 record in his final year. That season, he rushed for 242 yards with three touchdowns, caught 30 passes for 642 yards and six touchdowns on. He racked up 53 tackles and six interceptions on defense (he also ran back two kickoff returns for scores). Cromartie decided to become a Seminole, despite heavy recruiting from several high-profile Division I-A schools such as Auburn, Florida and Alabama.
In his freshman year of 2003, Cromartie saw significant playing time both on defense and special teams. He scored his first career collegiate touchdown against Duke off of an interception that year, while also ranking fifth in the ACC in kickoff return yardage.
His breakout season of 2004 really helped Cromartie establish himself as one of the best of the best. He was named to the first team All-ACC squad while ranking second in the conference with four interceptions. His athleticism and big-play ability helped him get even more publicity; it was easy to see he was a rising star.
The severe injury to his knee last July all but set Cromartie's return to Florida State in stone, at least up until the week before the team's Bowl game in January. Cromartie, despite not playing all season, announced he would enter the 2006 NFL Draft, which raised eyebrows around the league.
The junior commented on his decision, saying "My knees feel great and I have been working extremely hard... my plan now is to continue to work hard and get ready for the combine."
At 6-foot-2, Cromartie has the size that coaches covet in defensive backs in today's game. He also has great speed and athleticism to match with that size, which is a rare thing to see.
He surprised a lot of people with his showings at the NFL Combine and at his Pro Day, where he ran a scorching 4.36 40-yard dash.
His big-play ability has been evident since his high school days, which also give him value as a return man. In coverage, he has superior ball skills and great hands while also showing good fluidity in his hips during his backpedal. He's a hard-nosed player as well, who is not afraid to come up against the run and throw his body around with a big hit. He may have more upside than any other player at his position in the draft.
The knee injury is obviously something scouts will be keeping a close eye on, though he is obviously ready to return to the field. While he saw the field as a freshman, he has just one season of starting experience, so there are several areas that he'll need some refinement on.
He is an aggressive player who can be prone to falling for play-action and taking chances in coverage to make the big play. Though he isn't a stranger to contact, he needs to work on his tackling technique as well.
If Cromartie had stayed put at Florida State and been healthy next season, he would have been heralded as a top-10 pick. On draft day, however, he could fall out of Round 1, but only because of the injury issues. There is a chance, however, that a team falls in love with him towards the end of the first round and takes a flyer on him (teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars or Seattle Seahawks are legitimate candidates).
At this point, the highest Cromartie will likely go is to the Jaguars with their first-round pick (28th overall), especially after their loss of Kenny Wright (Washington Redskins). The junior shouldn't fall any lower than the Minnesota Vikings' pick in Round 2 (48th overall), especially considering they were one of the teams heavily scouting Cromartie at his Pro Day.
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