The plea is simple, yet the facts remain complicated.
Adrian McPherson wants three years. The same three years given Green Bay's Brett Favre and New England's Tom Brady. Three years to separate himself from his draft class – to outpace Cal's Aaron Rodgers, Utah's Alex Smith and any of the of the other quarterbacks destined to go ahead of him in the April 23-24 draft.
You want confidence? McPherson believes he can dispatch them all, just as Favre obliterated Dan McGwire and Todd Marinovich, and Brady rose above the six quarterbacks selected ahead of him. All McPherson asks is the gift of opportunity.
That's simplicity. The complication exists in history, and McPherson's past carries the gentility of a sledgehammer.
As Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith put it, "You hear a lot of things about guys. You never really know until you get information for yourself. [Adrian] just wants to show everyone exactly what he is."
Or more appropriately, he'd like to show exactly what he isn't: Gambler, thief, Florida State exile. That is why for the last few months, the former Seminoles quarterback has been working equally hard at making people forget about his past and focus on the future at his workouts. Now coaches and executives from across the league are weighing an abundant amount of raw talent against a dark cloud that, for the time being, isn't going away.
"Obviously you have to deal with the issues at hand," Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "But the talent is pretty unmistakable."
Two and a half years ago, McPherson was one of college football's most celebrated freshman talents. A one-time Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football in Florida, he committed to the Seminoles as arguably the most highly recruited prep athlete in the country. He began to fulfill that reputation when, as a true freshman, he fought his way into the quarterback rotation with Chris Rix and threw 12 touchdowns and one interception in only eight games.
But only a few months into his first season, McPherson was arrested for allegedly stealing a blank check from a Tallahassee business and making it out to himself for $3,500. During the course of the investigation, charges of gambling on the Internet on college and NFL games were added – including allegations that he wagered on FSU games. Over the course of the following nine months, it became one of the ugliest off-the-field spectacles in the school's history.
By July of 2003, McPherson had pled no-contest to the theft and gambling charges (a trial for the alleged betting eventually ended in a hung jury). He served 90 days in a prison work-release program, paid a fine and was sentenced to 30 months of probation. He also was kicked off the Florida State football team.
In the months that ensued, McPherson enrolled at Tennessee State but then left the school without ever playing a game. Eventually, he landed in the Arena Football League, where he spent 2004 compiling absurd numbers (80 total touchdowns passing and rushing) en route to Rookie of the Year honors. All the while, McPherson remained open, if not adamant, about his past. He admitted to and apologized for the theft of the check, but repeatedly and vehemently denied gambling on football games.
"I made a mistake," McPherson said. "It's who I am. I was young, I made a mistake. I'm the first guy to step up and say I made a mistake. But I'm also the first one to say it's never going to happen again. I don't put myself in situations where I allow trouble to come my way.
"[Teams can do a] background check. I was never in trouble before and I've never been in trouble after that. … I wasn't a problem child."
McPherson has undoubtedly gotten his wish. Following the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis – when he showed up in peak physical condition and showcased unmatched raw skills – one general manager suggested only Ohio State's Maurice Clarett would enter the draft under equal scrutiny from teams. And because McPherson was involved in a gambling investigation, his background has undergone uniquely intense investigation from NFL security.
That has clearly scared some away, yet six teams still turned up at his private workout in Bradenton, Fla. – the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and New York Giants. The Baltimore Ravens have also sought a private workout. What teams have seen is a supremely talented player with superb arm strength and mobility. But they've also seen a player who has yet to mature into his position, something that would be expedited by positional coaching in the NFL.
There appears to be plenty to work with. There's so much talent that McPherson has drawn athletic comparisons to both John Elway and Michael Vick. McPherson ran 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and registered a 40½-inch vertical jump, then showcased his arm by standing flat-footed and throwing a ball 75 yards. And at 21 years old, his 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame could easily bulk up to 220, allowing him to take the punishment of the NFL.
The devil though, is in the details. He still has to develop his reads and his footwork needs fine-tuning, as does his ability to make finesse throws. In a way, he's a little like Favre was early on, overcompensating with velocity as if he's trying to put the football through a brick wall. And although he played Arena football, he's been off the league radar for over two years.
"Anytime you have a guy out of the mainstream, it's difficult to judge," Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "This is going to be one of those."
That doesn't change the fact that it's been a rousing introduction to the NFL, or that McPherson has given teams plenty to think about. While his agent, Leigh Steinberg, has floated the idea that a team could pull a surprise and snatch him late in the first round, McPherson is far likelier to go somewhere near the bottom of the second. But there always remains the possibility that teams will shy away on draft day causing McPherson to slip.
While he may have the tools to be this draft's best quarterback in three or four years, McPherson is also clearly a project. And of course, he will always be under the watchful eye of his team and the NFL, which, for the sake of the game's integrity, can never forget the gambling allegations.
"Everybody has their trials and tribulations," said Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson, a former teammate of McPherson's who is expected to be a first-round pick. "He is young and should be given a second chance. It's like they say, he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Everybody has something on their record, something on their background. He has proven he is a good athlete. Whoever takes him should get something special."
Now McPherson waits for the opportunity to prove Johnson right – and to make hindsight something to embrace, rather than fight.
- Adrian McPherson