Vernon Gholston dominated the Big Ten. Glenn Dorsey was an unstoppable force in the SEC. Chris Long made life miserable for blockers and ball carriers in the ACC. All three could go at the top of Saturday's NFL draft, just behind Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, who already has signed with Miami.
None is worried where he winds up.
"This isn't a recruiting process to me," said Chris Long, an All-America defensive end for Virginia and the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long. "Wherever you go, you go. The process is not competitive. The draft is an achievement, but the real achievements you make on the field."
The accomplishments of this defensive trio were impressive: Gholston played for the past two national championships at Ohio State; Dorsey helped LSU win the 2007 title; Chris Long might have been the best all-around defensive lineman in the nation.
The St. Louis Rams are up next and are considering all three defenders.
"If there was a gap between one guy and the other two, he would have been eliminated already," Rams vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney said Thursday. "That's why all three are right there clumped together."
Chris Long certainly has the pedigree, and he spent some time being interviewed by the Raiders in Oakland, where his father was a perennial Pro Bowl lineman. The Raiders pick fourth on Saturday, after St. Louis and Atlanta, and have expressed interest in improving their defense immediately.
But they also are enamored of Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.
Would Howie's son be intimidated by joining the team for which his dad was so dominant?
"I'm not afraid of it," he said. "I wouldn't run from a challenge like that.
"It was an honor to meet Al Davis. He's been around the game so long and has done so many things. To hear the stories he has, it was fun."
Could being Howie Long's son give him an edge in the Raiders' minds?
"It's not a matter if they like me as a person, it's if I can play football the way they want me to," he said. "It's not a real big deal for me to wear the Raiders' helmet."
There's also the chance the Raiders, who love offensive players with big-star potential, will go for McFadden, the breakaway threat who also can return kicks and has a knack for throwing option passes.
"They asked me about it," McFadden said of special teams work with the Raiders. "If anyone wants me to do it, I enjoy returning kicks. I did it in school and would do it in the NFL."
"I'll try it," he said with a laugh.
Of course, Boston College's Matt Ryan is the main passer in this draft, and he's been projected to go to the Falcons, the Chiefs at No. 5 or the Ravens in the eighth spot. There's more uncertainty about Ryan than usual for the draft's highest-rated quarterback , although nobody expects him to plummet the way Aaron Rodgers did in 2005 or Brady Quinn spiraled last year.
Ryan isn't necessarily encouraged by the apparent opening behind center in Baltimore, where Steve McNair recently retired. He was in New York at a Yankees-Red Sox game when he heard the news, and it made little impact on him.
"I thought maybe they'll be looking for a quarterback," he recalled, "but I don't think it's changing anything or their thinking. If they were looking to take a quarterback before, they still are. If they were not looking for a quarterback, then maybe not."
One thing Ryan can be sure of: sometime, somewhere, he will meet up with Gholston, Dorsey and Chris Long in the NFL. It won't be nearly as friendly as the time they've spent together this week.
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