In the FCS Huddle: In draft, Alford lines up against Crohn's

Robert Alford is like so many players with NFL aspirations - he faces a potentially grueling wait while the draft picks tick away one at a time this week.

The additional problem facing the Southeastern Louisiana cornerback is whether teams have become scared of selecting him.

Alford, who has the talent to be the first FCS player selected in the draft - possibly in the third round - suffers from Crohn's disease.

The disease, which is said to affect about 700,000 Americans, occurs primarily when the body's immune system attacks the digestive tract and causes inflammation in the walls of the large or small intestines. During an episode, it is all but impossible for food to pass through the body and the abdominal pain can make a person feel like his stomach will explode. There's no telling how long the attack will last, either.

While there's also no telling how much Alford or even if his playing career will be affected by the disease, the uncertainty probably means there are teams struggling to accept the risk that Alford's playing status in the future could be affected by a Crohn's episode.

Alford's abilities bring fewer questions. At 5-foot-10, 188 pounds, with sub-4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he offers an ideal mix of speed and physical play. Having excelled at the Senior Bowl, Alford likes to be up in press coverage, but he has the fluid hips to turn and run with a receiver. He also is sound in zone coverage, keeping a receiver within reach.

Alford, from Hammond, La., watched as his older brothers, Fred Booker (New Orleans Saints, 2005) and Duke Adams (Detroit Lions, 2003-06), played in the NFL. He would be Southeastern Louisiana's first draft pick since the school brought back football in 2003.

It's possible Alford will be a steal on Friday's second day of the draft, offering reward instead of risk. He might never miss time because of Crohn's disease.

Medication and a modified diet often bring Crohn's under control, and surgery can remove a section of the diseased intestines.

New York Jets quarterback David Garrard and former New England Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light are examples of players who have excelled in the NFL despite having Crohn's disease. Both were forced to have surgery, however.

With other people, Crohn's can be a continual problem. That's why NFL teams could fear that a third-round pick on Alford is too high. If enough teams do, Alford could slip to the third and final day of the draft on Saturday.

Alford will be drafted this week. He just might not be drafted as high as original projections.