Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What Dreams May Come: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

In order to prepare for the NFL draft (and survive the unbearably long offseason), we've decided to check in on this year's draft class from time to time and discuss some of the potential future characters of the League that stand out for some reason or another. Today, Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

One of the things that separate the NFL from either one of its domestic competitors is that unlike the NBA, a league that thrives on advances in the what a man is capable of doing with his body (Lebron sometimes looks like the next step in human evolution), and unlike Major League Baseball, so built on history that advances in the human physique played a role in bringing the league to its knees this past winter, the NFL represents a cross section of both history and evolution. It is both knee-deep in tradition and consistently striving to reach new levels of physical achievement. It is for this reason that players like Eli Manning and Chris Long attract so much attention; they represent a combination of these ideals that advances the league agenda in a safe, easy, consistent way. Eli is the younger brother of Peyton, son of Archie, all traditional quarterbacks. Chris Long’s mastery of technique is akin to that of his father, Howie. The advancement is largely one of time, and it is one that is fairly predictable.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie fascinates precisely because while he represents both a concentrated version of this intertwining of advancement and history, he also represents something of a threat to the traditions the league holds dear. After watching his older cousin, Antonio Cromartie (who thankfully avoided SAT name bubbling hell), turn the interception into a constant threat and make pass attempts scarier and, as a result more exciting, there was little doubt that Rodgers-Cromartie would be on the radar for his last name alone. Things became even more interesting when, at the Combine, he impressed in almost every event, showing a physicality that in recent history was matched only by…well, Antonio Cromartie. Given that he’s watched his cousin succeeded with allt he physical gifts that he possesses, teams would have to drool over the idea of a motivated, focused Rodgers-Cromartie coming into the league with both the talent to revolutionize their pass defense and the teaching (courtesy of his experienced relative) to avoid the long adjustment period of most rookies.

Yet the Cromartie revolution is not just one of technique; it is also just as much one of values in the NFL. Recall that Antonio Cromartie was drafted in the first round thanks almost solely to his performance at his pro day, as he’d only been a nickel back at FSU prior to an injury in his junior year. If that pick bucked tradition, one has to wonder what picking Rodgers-Cromartie as early as most scouts predict (top 10) would mean for a league that has always placed so much value on college pedigree. Antonio Cromartie, despite his lack of experience, still had logged hours at FSU playing against some of the nation’s top college stars, other players who would certainly find themselves in the NFL at some point. Dominique? He made his bones in the FCS, a league that sounded tougher when it went by what it was, Division I-AA, second tier college football. Because of this, he is more unpredictable than even Antonio was because of his short time at a major program. If he succeeds, let alone achieves the sort of heights that his cousin has started to touch, Rodgers-Cromartie could completely change the way the league drafts, shifting teams to a search for pure physicality to harness as opposed to more completed images that can be transitioned easily to the league.

It is in this simultaneous advancement and bucking of history that Rodgers-Cromartie becomes perhaps more unique than any other prospect this year. As much as some GMs are intrigued by him, you would have to imagine that they can’t relish the thought of what he may do to their profession. We stand on the verge of a league that scours the nooks and crannies of the world to find rare specimens, rather than football factory-made pieces. Of course, his inexperience against pro caliber talent could just as easily blow up in his team’s face, and the entire system would remain as it has been for years. Still, even with this potential for a firmly entrenched and inflexible tradition, the possibility for the league to embrace even more physical greatness, even as it advances the traditions its players carry and pass on, is worth some excitement come draft day.

1 comment:

Tracer Bullet said...

Nah. There's always been a handful of small college guys who successfully made the jump to the NFL. It's not like the careers of Walter Payton, Jerry Rice or Terrell Owens have resulted in scouts haunting every directional school in the country.