Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. makes football coaches and scouts respond the same way a wine connoisseur reacts to a new vintage. The reactions are strong, visceral and fall into two distinct camps: love or hate.
"He's a game changer," St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "That's what we're all looking for in this league, the guy who can change the game with one play, strike fear in the defense. He has that kind of speed. Everybody saw the national championship game."
Ginn returned the opening kick for a touchdown, shocking Florida in the first seconds of the BCS title game in January. At that moment, Ginn and the Buckeyes were on top of the football world. Then Ginn suffered a middle-foot sprain when teammate Roy Hall pulled him to the ground during the touchdown celebration.
Ginn, still recovering from the injury, was done for the game and so was Ohio State as Florida went on to dominate in a 41-14 victory.
"It's kind of like a high ankle sprain," said Ginn Jr., who has been clocked as fast as 4.28 in the 40-yard dash in college and was the Ohio 110-yard champion as a high school senior. "It's going to take a lot of rehab and a lot of rest to come back right."
The phrase "a lot of rehab" is about as palatable to an NFL coach as a 5-foot-10 quarterback.
Enter the haters.
"Soft," said an NFL coach who didn't want to be identified. "He's one of those guys that gets you killed as a coach because he's not going to be there all the time. You're going to design all these great plays for him and then he's going to miss five or six games and you'll spend more energy trying to replace him."
In fairness to Ginn, he didn't miss a game during his college career. Still, at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, he has the type of body that scares NFL types who envision him getting tossed around like a rag doll by corners and getting laid out by safeties.
"With the way the contact rules are enforced in the regular season, he'll get off the line OK and get his catches," a general manager said. "But watch what happens in the playoffs when [the officials] let more stuff go and when the safeties really get to pound you. This kid is a tease that way."
Maybe, but his performance suggests otherwise. Although he caught only 59 passes for 781 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, those numbers were suppressed by the fact that Ohio State won eight games by more than 20 points and generally didn't rely heavily on its passing attack.
Moreover, Ginn was best in big games. There was the touchdown against Florida. Against archrival Michigan in the regular season finale, he caught eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Against Texas, in what was a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, he had five catches for 97 yards and another score.
In 2005, he had nine catches for 89 yards against Michigan and then put on a show against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. He had eight catches for a career-high 167 yards and ran it twice for 73 yards, scoring two touchdowns along the way in a victory over the Irish.
In addition to his own abilities, an outside influence could positively affect how some evaluators view Ginn. Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester, who had six returns for scores in the regular season and another in the Super Bowl, reminded teams once again of the importance of a playmaker on special teams.
"He helps me out a lot, the things he does as far as punt return and kickoff return," Ginn said of Hester. "Me being in that field, it helps me out a lot … If he can do it, I believe I can do it. I'm not trying to be cocky, but we do have the same abilities and same type speed."
Still, the NFL is a different game and skinny receivers can be just as frightening to live with as they are difficult for defenders to play against.
"In the perfect world, you want that 210-pound guy who can't get knocked off his route," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "I think this kid is a great player. Hopefully, he grows into his frame a little more, gets stronger and there you go. If he doesn't, you'll see if he finds another way to make it work."
Then again, some guys will take what's already available.
"I like fast guys," Miami Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller said. "Those guys who can scare the defense and force the defense to take a couple of steps back, you can't have enough of them."
- Ohio State