TWO DAYS before the NFL draft Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards sat at a table inside a crowded Times Square sporting goods store signing photos, jerseys and hats for fans as well as tourists happy to escape the horde of teenagers screaming for MTV's TRL cameras across the street. With his 10-year-old brother, Berkley, by his side and his proud father, Stan, standing a few feet away, Edwards firmly shook hands with and chatted up every person who stopped in to meet him. "So you've been to the last two Rose Bowls?" he asked one middle-aged woman. "Well, I'm sorry we couldn't have won one of those."
One of six college stars who had accepted the NFL's invitation to go to New York City for the draft, Edwards made the most of the opportunity: His marketing agent set up a meeting with the ad agency BBDO as well as this appearance at the store, where he spent an hour sharpening his public relations skills. A good idea, considering he might have to deal with pro football stardom sooner than any other draftee. Although Alex Smith and Ronnie Brown were drafted ahead of him, Edwards, chosen by the Cleveland Browns, was widely considered the most talented player in the pool. He might also be the most confident.
"I know if I work hard enough, I'll be an impact player," says Edwards, the 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver. "Anquan Boldin [Arizona, in 2003] and Michael Clayton [Tampa Bay, in '04] had 1,000-yard receiving seasons as rookies. Why can't another rookie do the same?"
Cleveland gets a 6'3", 211-pound speedster with great body control and leaping ability. Oakland Raiders cornerback and fellow Michigan alum Charles Woodson says Edwards "is exactly the type of big receiver that NFL teams love, because he can make the big catch or draw a pass interference call when the ball goes up. He'll create a lot of mismatches."
A one-time All-America who holds Michigan career records for receptions (242), receiving yards (3,542), touchdown catches (39) and 100-yard receiving games (16), Edwards further impressed scouts when he didn't drop a pass during his workout in mid-March. "He's an aggressive receiver--he'll go up to get the ball and make the play," says new Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel. "His aggressive attitude also carries over into his blocking. He'll bring a lot to the table for us."
Perhaps no other player in this draft was better prepared than Edwards, who six weeks ago celebrated his impending riches by buying a $140,000 Bentley. In 1982 his father, who also starred at Michigan, was selected by the Houston Oilers in the third round and played five seasons in Texas and one with Detroit. In addition to Woodson, Edwards counted Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, a fellow native of Detroit, and St. Louis Rams wide receiver Torry Holt, a friend of his dad's, among his mentors.
When the draft finally got under way last Saturday at the Jacob Javits Center, Edwards remained calm while soothing the nerves of his mother, Malesa Plater. They had heard rumors that the Dolphins might draft him at the No. 2 spot, but Miami chose Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. "I wasn't disappointed," Edwards said. "I was just happy to be in this situation. And when Cleveland got me at Number 3, I was proud to be going there."
Shortly after the choice was announced, Edwards received a text message from four-time All-Pro receiver Cris Carter, who was an analyst for a satellite radio station at the draft. "I told him they won't cheer for a Michigan man on Saturdays in Ohio," Carter, an Ohio native who starred at Ohio State, related later. "But they'll definitely be cheering for him on Sundays."¬†-¬†Jeffri¬†Chadiha