Rodgers-Cromartie Could be First Division I-AA First-Rounder in Eight Years
INDIANAPOLIS - He is aware of his situation, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said he knows the odds have been against him.
He didn't play college football at a big-time Division I school.
He has only one kidney.
So, the senior cornerback said when it came to his NFL aspirations, he knew what he did in the months following his final collegiate season would be as imant as what he did during it.
Rodgers-Cromartie, who played at Tennessee State University, is one of the 2008 NFL Draft's most intriguing stories. After playing for four high schools, after not being recruited by any big-time schools, his athleticism and perseverance – and his pre-draft workouts, performances, etc. – are expected to make him the first so-called "small school" player selected in the first round in eight years.
"Coming from a small school, I was like a guy that was going under the radar," Rodgers-Cromartie said during the NFL Scouting Combine, held in late February at the RCA Dome in downtown Indianapolis.
"Then in the Senior Bowl, I had a good week and a pretty OK game. Now people are starting to recognize me and I'm starting to get a little more attention."
Actually, he has received more than a little attention.
Rodgers-Cromartie, the cousin of San Diego Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie, has developed into one of the top players in what many analysts and observers consider an above-average class of cornerbacks in this year's draft.
While many observers rate Leodis McKelvin of Troy as the top corner, still others rate Rodgers-Cromartie there, along with Mike Jenkins of Central Florida and Aqib Talib of Kansas. A few mock drafts have Rodgers-Cromartie being selected late in the Top 10, while others have him going No. 11 to the Buffalo Bills.
Few analysts projected him being selected later than Nos. 20-25.
What has enabled Rodgers-Cromartie to emerge as a solid first-round selection is above-average athleticism, which he has shown throughout the pre-draft process.
Rodgers-Cromartie, who was the Defensive Most Valuable Player at the Senior Bowl, had an interception and a pass breakup in that game. He also played safety during the week.
"It was supposed to be a case of four-on-four, but we had five corners and three safeties and they thought I'd be a good fit at safety, so they moved me there," he said. "They were just trying to get a feel for me. They said they had been hearing a lot about me. They really didn't know who I was.
"But from the time I got in, they embraced me as one of theirs."
Several weeks later, he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine – third among players at his position – and also turned in a 38.5-inch vertical leap.
"He stole the show," one NFL front-office official told the Chicago Tribune.
Rodgers-Cromartie performed well again at his Pro Day on March 24. With more than 20 scouts attending, he recorded a 37-inch vertical and according to most analysts, performed well in the short shuttle and cone drills that test agility.
"I feel like I've got to go out and put up huge numbers just to get an opportunity," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Rodgers-Cromartie, who didn't meet his cousin – a Pro Bowl cornerback this past season – until recently, worked to get that opportunity.
After attending four high schools in four years, he said the only school that recruited him was Tennessee State, an Ohio Valley Conference school that plays in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA (the lower of two levels of Division I football).
No FCS player has been selected in the first round since 2000.
Early on at Tennessee State, Rodgers said he began to believe he had a chance to play in the NFL.
"Coming in, I thought I needed to redshirt and put on a few pounds," he said. "But in camp, I did a tremendous job and every day I got my hand on a ball.
"And the first game, the first time I got my hands on the ball, I got an interception and scored a touchdown."
In 44 games at Tennessee State, he started 39 times, registering 158 tackles (121 solo) with eight stops for losses of 30 yards. He recovered four fumbles, one of which he returned for a touchdown and he also blocked eight kicks.
He defensed 26 passes and had 11 interceptions, returning them for a 28.5-yard average and four touchdowns.
During the off-season before his senior season at Tennessee State, he worked extensively with Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green. Rodgers-Cromartie's father met Green through a friend, and the former Washington Redskins cornerback invited Rodgers-Cromartie to work out with him for a week last summer.
"He changed my whole style of game as far as coming out of my back pedal and coming out of breaks," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He made me faster and quicker coming out of breaks – all technique stuff."
And while he said the removal of his kidney at age eight has been an issue for teams during the pre-draft process, he also said he has long since been cleared by doctors and "I've been doing physical activity since I can remember."
Soon, that activity will take place at the highest level of football, a place he will be playing next year despite some pretty serious odds.
"I know I've got a hurdle I've got to jump coming from a small school," he said. "It's not a personal thing, but I know I've got a lot to overcome coming from a small school."
Breaking Down the Top Cornerbacks
This is considered a very good draft class for cornerbacks and to many, there is little difference between the top four players at the position, all of whom are expected to be selected in the first round. While some analysts project Leodis McKelvin of Troy as the top corner, others say it's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Tennessee State. Still others project Mike Jenkins of South Florida to be the first corner selected and Aqib Talib of Kansas also is considered a certain first-round selection. Brandon Flowers of Virginia Tech also is projected by many analysts to be a potential first-round selection, as is Antoine Cason of Arizona. In all, some analysts expect at least four corners to be selected in the first round and four more in the second.
Cornerbacks on the Colts' Roster
Marlin Jackson, fourth NFL season; Kelvin Hayden, fourth NFL season; Tim Jennings, third NFL season; Dante Hughes, second NFL season; T.J. Rushing, third NFL season; Michael Coe, second NFL season; Antonio Smith, second NFL season.
A look at the cornerbacks in the 2008 NFL Draft. Rankings and projected rounds are based on several national draft publications and in no way reflect the opinions of Colts personnel.
Rank, Player, Ht., Wt., School, Projected Round
1, Leodis McKelvin, 5-11, 190, Troy, 1
2, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, 6-2, 184, Tennessee State, 1
3, Mike Jenkins, 5-10, 197, South Florida, 1
4, Aqib Talib, 6-1, 202, Kansas*, 1
5, Antoine Cason, 6-0, 191, Arizona, 1-2
6, Tracy Porter, 5-11, 188, Indiana, 1-2
7, Brandon Flowers, 5-10, 189, Virginia Tech*, 1-2
8, Justin King, 5-11, 192, Penn State*, 2-3
9, Patrick Lee, 6-0, 200, Auburn, 2-3
10, Chevis Jackson, 6-0, 184, LSU, 3-4
11, Charles Godfrey, 6-0, 207, Iowa, 3-4
12, Terrell Thomas, 6-1, 202, USC, 3-4
13, Terrence Wheatley, 5-10, 187, Colorado, 4-5
14, DeJuan Tribble, 5-9, 189, Boston College, 4-5
15, Trae Williams, 5-9, 193, South Florida, 4-5
16, Zack Bowman, 6-0, 197, Nebraska, 4-5
17, Jack Ikegwuonu, 5-11, 194, Wisconsin, 4-5
18, Tyvon Branch, 5-11, 204, Connecticut, 4-5
19, Jack Williams, 5-9,