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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Edwards' patience will be rewarded

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
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Braylon Edwards has never regretted his decision to stay at the University of Michigan for his senior year.

Not only was it a sensational year for him statistically, it prevented him from being caught in the shuffle of the 2004 NFL Draft, when seven wide receivers were selected in the first round.

A year later, Edwards is not only the No. 1 receiver in the draft; he's most likely the most complete player, regardless of position.

While the teams with the first two picks - San Francisco and Miami - probably have other needs, several teams are lining up to get a shot at Edwards.

The Cleveland Browns have the No. 3 pick and general manager Phil Savage said last week that Edwards "has a proven track record, a big-school pedigree, and he's produced in big games. At times, he was like a pro at the college level."

Minnesota, minus Randy Moss, wants Edwards badly enough to trade up, possibly with Miami to the No. 2 slot or, perhaps, with Cleveland if the Browns decide it's in their best interest to stockpile picks.

Edwards will simply watch and wait - but surely not for too long after the opening bell in Saturday's first round.

"I'm like a sports almanac," Edwards said. "I can tell you all about NASCAR, the NHL, college and pro football.

"I would love to go to a city like Chicago because of the Bears' tremendous tradition and my belief that [coach] Lovie Smith will turn things around.

"Washington would be a tremendous opportunity because of what I could learn from a guy like Joe Gibbs. And what can you say about the Browns and their fans? With Romeo Crennel as coach they're going to do nothing but get better.

"I don't see any negative picks out there. Wherever I end up, I'll be the consummate team guy. I'll be there in the clutch and make all the plays when they need to be made. I want to be the go-to guy right from the start."

Pro teams have seen him in that light since Michigan's incredible come-from-behind win over Michigan State when Edwards caught three touchdown passes in the final 6 1/2 minutes of regulation and overtime. He finished last season, his third straight with more than 1,000 receiving yards, with 97 catches for 1,339 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Completing his college eligibility helped his physical development and, said Edwards, "added some level of maturity. I just think going back for my senior year helped prepare me for the next level."

Braylon knows all about the next level. He is the son of Stanley Edwards, a one-time UM running back who played in the NFL for Houston (now Tennessee) and Detroit.

"That would be a pretty great thing, too, if I went to Tennessee and played for the same franchise my father did," Braylon said. "I'll just stay humble and learn all I can about the game from the veterans. It helps that I've been around NFL-caliber guys my whole life. My dad guided me along and helped me a lot."

While that guidance included the decision to return for a fourth season at Michigan, Edwards' top draft competition, among receivers, comes from players who abbreviated college careers.

Mike Williams of Southern Cal sat out last year after getting caught in the web of Maurice Clarett's aborted legal challenge of NFL Draft rules and then being ruled ineligible by the NCAA to return to USC. Troy Williamson decided to enter the draft with a year remaining at South Carolina because of a coaching change.

Williamson's stock has soared since the Combine despite never having more than 43 catches or 835 receiving yards in his three years at South Carolina. But he was electronically timed in a blinding 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which helps explain why he averaged 30-plus yards per touchdown catch for the Gamecocks.

Williams turned in a 4.56 time in the 40, which wasn't all that disappointing since he measures 6-4 1/2 and 229 pounds - Williamson, by comparison, is 6-1 1/2, 203. Williams is a huge target who should be a spectacular mid-range threat and nearly unstoppable on fade routes in the red zone.

In two years at USC, he made 176 catches for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns. Edwards noticed, and is one of Williams' biggest fans.

"I met Mike at the Rose Bowl two years ago and he just has tremendous ability," Edwards said. "Sitting out a year is hard for anybody, but he's a special player and I know he won't have any trouble making the transition."

There may be only one truly special player among the tight ends in this year's draft. The Browns traded up and used the sixth overall pick last year on Kellen Winslow Jr., and considering what players like Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap, Alge Crumpler, Jeremy Shockey and Antonio Gates have brought to the game, there is a healthy demand for tight ends.

But there isn't much of a supply after 6-5, 245-pound Heath Miller of Virginia, the only first-round talent with the full package of receiving and blocking skills.

Alex Smith of Stanford and Miami's Kevin Everett are the only other tight ends who figure to hear their names called on Day One of the draft.



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