By Jay Heater
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
The magic number for Cal in this weekend's NFL draft is seven.
In 1977, six Cal players were drafted, and that remains a team record.
This year's crop has a chance to match the 1977 draft, and perhaps even surpass it. Having six or seven players drafted would make Cal coach Jeff Tedford very happy, since it would become one of his best recruiting tools.
Stanford also could find itself with a rather solid draft. Despite Stanford's 4-7 record in 2004, at least four Cardinal players should be plucked on Saturday and Sunday.
Both teams could have first-round picks. Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to be one of the top five players taken, and Stanford tight end Alex Smith could go near the bottom of the first round.
Cal tailback J.J. Arrington, the nation's leading rusher in 2004, and Stanford free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe also look like first-day picks. Rounds 1-3 are Saturday. The last four rounds are Sunday.
Cal should separate itself from Stanford on the second day of the draft when Bears defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander, defensive end Ryan Riddle, tight end Garrett Cross and wide receiver Chase Lyman should draw attention.
With Bears wide receiver Geoff McArthur, the team's all-time leader in catches and receiving yards, and all-Pac-10 rover Matt Giordano also potential picks, the record could fall.
"During the season, you never really stop to think about how many players we could have playing in the NFL," Rodgers said. "But now I definitely feel we could have at least five guys drafted and a number of other guys who can play in the NFL by going as free agents."
Lyman said he never noticed just how many potential NFL players were on board until the pro day workouts at Cal last month.
"You practice with the same guys every day and you never know how high the level of competition might be," Lyman said. "But once I began working out with guys from other schools, I could see that we did have a lot of talent."
Although Lyman missed all but four games as a senior season due to knee surgery, he is expected to be drafted in the middle to late rounds.
"I probably won't go the first day," he said. "I am looking at rounds five to seven. But whomever drafts me is going to think they got a steal. I just need an opportunity to show what I can do. The main question is the medical stuff and making sure they know my knee is fine."
Riddle has a different kind of question to answer, concerning what position he will play in the NFL.
"I'm getting a 50-50 kind of thing," Riddle said. "Some teams like me at linebacker. Some feel I can play defensive line. I feel linebacker makes a lot of sense because I have the speed for it. I might be raw, but I have the athletic ability."
Whether Riddle and Cross get drafted might determine whether Cal ties the 1977 draft of six selections. Both are considered a bit undersized. Even so, Riddle is confident they will be selected Sunday.
"I had just been thinking about how many great seniors we had in this class," Riddle said. "No wonder we had the success that we did."
Cross agreed. "I never really thought about our talent in terms of the NFL," he said. "But now when you look at it and see how many guys will get drafted or get into a camp, it's impressive."
While Cal's haul of potential draftees exemplifies why the Bears had a successful season (10-2), Stanford's draft number could indicate a team that underachieved.
"I definitely saw the talent around me," Smith said. "It was something that we wanted to take advantage of having. I still think my senior class was one of the best recruiting classes ever at Stanford. We've already had a couple of players leave early for the NFL, and I could see us having four or more guys getting drafted (this weekend)."
Stanford's poor season probably didn't hurt Smith's draft status, but it did make him worry about his decision to remain in college for his senior year.
"It's always hard when your team is struggling," Smith said. "You are not getting the notoriety and you're not getting the attention you deserve. You're not on TV, so it's hard for people to get a grasp on who you are.
"I thought about coming out for the draft after my junior year, but I wanted to fine tune and solidify my game. And, most definitely, I think I helped my stock coming back. Now I'm just wishing for the best. It's weird because you never know what will happen. Everybody tries to do mock drafts, but they really have no idea. I'm trying not to think about it much."
Detroit and Tampa Bay had Smith fly in for interviews, so those are two teams that are obviously interested.
Rodgers isn't sure where he will end up, either, despite being considered one of the top five selections in the draft.
"I am excited, but at the same time I'm ready for it to be over," Rodgers said Tuesday. "It's been a lot of fun, but there's also so many rumors."