POSTED ON APRIL 14, 2010:
Waiting Game for Underdogs
Former TU football player James Lockett has the bark and bite. He hopes to leash an NFL call on Draft Day
When the annual National Football League draft gets underway on Thursday, April 22 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, many Oklahomans will be watching with an uncommon degree of interest. According to some analysts, as many as six state players could be selected in the first round, with Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford widely projected to be the top pick.
Local interest might wane after that, but the suspense for at least one Tulsan will only grow as the draft progresses toward its seventh and final round on Saturday, April 24 -- and perhaps even afterward.
Former University of Tulsa safety James Lockett knows he won't be among the Oklahoma players taken in the first round, or even the first several rounds. In fact, he knows he'll be lucky to be drafted at all.
But the Arlington, Texas, native -- a two-year starter for the Golden Hurricane who was known for delivering thundering hits -- has managed to attract the attention of a handful of NFL clubs, according to his agent, and hopes to land a free-agent deal even if his name isn't called at the draft.
That list includes the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers and Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
"I've been calling and e-mailing teams, again just trying to get him in front of as many decision-makers as possible," said Adam Mirkes, Lockett's Dallas-based representative. "The most positive feedback we've gotten is from those six teams. But they're not telling me a whole lot, other than they're considering him as a priority free agent."
Mirkes and Lockett have formed a unique partnership. As a player, Lockett is considered a marginal prospect, albeit one with enough intangibles to draw a fair amount of interest. Mirkes, in his early 30s, is trying to break into the sports agent business. The lobbying he has done on behalf of Lockett represents his first foray into an extremely competitive field.
Each needs the other to be successful if their relationship is to go any further. And the modest approach they have taken stands in stark contrast to the way projected top picks such as Bradford -- who has been working out for months at an elite training academy in Gulf Breeze, Fla., then wowed dozens of scouts and media representatives during an individual pro day workout in Norman on March 29 -- are prepped for the draft.
Those efforts took a step backward on March 8 with Lockett's performance at his pro day workout for former TU players. Not considered a promising enough prospect to garner an invitation to the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in March, Lockett was hoping to use his workout to move up the draft board by demonstrating increased speed, strength and agility.
Things didn't work out that way.
"He could've had a better day," Mirkes said, adding that Lockett's luck turned bad almost immediately when he tweaked his hamstring running the 40-yard dash, turning in a disappointing time of 4.7 seconds. Lockett had consistently run a 4.55 40 in the past and had been working with a speed coach in recent months in hopes of getting that time down to the 4.4 neighborhood.
Lockett said he believed his workouts leading up to the TU pro day had put him in a position to do that. But then circumstances conspired against him.
"It was cool that day, and I guess I didn't warm up good enough," Lockett said. "Toward the end (of the run), I felt it pull, but I kept going."
His other numbers -- he bench pressed 225 pounds 16 times and had a vertical leap of 31 inches -- were not the type to raise any eyebrows among the scouts for the nine NFL teams who were there, Mirkes said, especially given his 5-foot-9, 205-pound frame, small by NFL standards.
"He didn't grab anybody's attention, and he didn't shoot up anybody's draft chart," Mirkes said. "But it didn't hurt him too much."
Interest in his client doesn't seem to have waned as of late either, Mirkes said.
Lockett said he wasn't discouraged by his pro day performance, choosing to focus on the fact that several teams are keeping him under consideration.
"Yeah, I feel good about that," he said. "I think most scouts make their decision based on game film ... At the end of the day, they just want to know if you can play football."
If Lockett doesn't get any offers to play next season, he doesn't plan on sitting around and wondering about his next move. Last week, he lined up an internship for the summer with Northwestern Mutual and hopes to return to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to settle. Lockett graduated from TU in December and has been taking one class this spring, so he could claim a double major.
But he's hoping he'll be too busy attending his first NFL training camp to take advantage of the internship offer. Mirkes said Lockett is being considered a prospect both at strong safety and outside linebacker, and his client's reputation for hitting should serve him well, since his best chance of making an NFL roster and contributing would be as a special teams player.
"That would be a way for him to get his foot in the door while doing backup duty at safety and linebacker," he said.
Mirkes said the Saints, Falcons, Eagles and Chiefs seem to be the four teams he's been in contact with that have the most glaring needs at those positions. Lockett said he has no preference at this point where he winds up.
Mirkes said the feedback he has gotten from the teams that he's been in contact with is that Lockett still has a slight chance of being taken in the seventh round but is likely to have at least one opportunity to sign as a free agent.
The way the process has been explained to him, Mirkes said, teams will begin contacting free agents as soon as the draft is over -- or even earlier, if they have traded away their seventh-round pick. So Lockett won't have to wait long after the draft has concluded to see how much real interest there is in him. Mirkes said if a team does extend his client an offer, Lockett will typically have a 30-minute window in which to accept the deal or pass on it while waiting for a better one.
"Those teams know who they're going after," Mirkes said. "And their phones are blowing up, and they've got to make a rapid-fire decision."
The Lockett family will be gathering at Mirkes' office in Dallas on the draft's final day on April 24 to wait for a fateful phone call that may or may not come. There'll be lots of food and plenty of emotional support, but it's hard to say who'll be more nervous -- player or agent.
"It's hard to put a percentage on it, but it looks good," Mirkes said of Lockett's chances of drawing at least one offer.
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