Sometimes the Best Can Be Overlooked

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 28, 2007

Virginia Tech's Nick Leeson is considered to be one of, if not the top NFL prospect at his position. But he doesn't plan on watching today's television coverage of the first three rounds of the draft, because he knows that his name won't be called.

Leeson is talented enough to have earned invitations to both the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine. But he is a long snapper, a position that rarely is drafted. Only 12 long snappers have been drafted since 1982, and none since the Cleveland Browns took Ryan Pontbriand in the fifth round in 2003.

"There's not too many long snappers that get taken, and teams are trying to see how far they can get me without having to draft me," Leeson said. "It's kind of rough and everything, but we'll find out on Sunday if somebody's going to take a chance on me. It's every kid's dream growing up to be drafted in a pro draft."

Adam Podlesh understands what Leeson is going through; the Maryland punter also is highly rated at a position that often is overlooked. Podlesh, who was named all-ACC four times, is rated as the top senior punter by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. He also participated in the Senior Bowl -- Podlesh and Leeson were teammates on the North squad -- and the combine.

But Podlesh is confident he'll hear his name at some point tomorrow, when the fourth through seventh rounds are held. At least two punters have been drafted every year since 2001.

"Everyone I've talked to has told me that I'll be drafted," Podlesh said. "But obviously, as a punter, the draft itself is a big-time crapshoot. Weirder things have happened than a punter not getting drafted."

The last four months have been hectic for Podlesh, who has commuted between his parents' home in Richmond and College Park, where he has been training. In the winter, his agent sent him to Atlanta to work with speed and strength trainer Chip Smith. Podlesh ties much of his punting ability to strength, explosiveness and fast legs, so he did a lot of speed work with Smith, often doing the same workouts as the running backs.

At the combine, Podlesh was disappointed that he didn't get to run the 40-yard dash or do the 225-pound bench press, like the prospects at other positions did. Podlesh, who is 5 feet 11 and 202 pounds, is a very consistent and accurate punter -- his career average of 43.1 yards is second all-time at Maryland -- but one of the things he prides himself on is his athleticism.

"I'm trying to promote that I do have athleticism," said Podlesh, who played fullback and linebacker in high school and has been timed in the 40 at 4.43 seconds. "I tried to work myself in there to run the 40 at the combine, but it got a little too hectic to be able to do that."

The Pittsburgh Steelers flew in Podlesh for a visit, and he also worked out for about eight other teams.

Leeson, on the other hand, hasn't worked out for any teams since the combine and his pro days at Virginia Tech. He was very happy with the way he performed in Indianapolis; his snaps were accurate and fast, and analyst Gil Brandt proclaimed him to be the best of the three long snappers who were at the combine.

So Leeson has tried to stay sharp on his own. When he was in Blacksburg, he could enlist the help of his roommate, place kicker Brandon Pace. At home in Charlotte, he dragged his father, Billy, into the back yard to catch snaps. He had to give his father a pair of gloves to protect his hands.

Leeson has talked to a handful of teams on the phone, and he's gotten about five calls this week from teams that were double-checking his contact information, just in case. Leeson plans on spending the weekend at his parents' house in Charlotte. They'll have a party; his grandfather is visiting from West Virginia, and some of his high school friends are in town.

"I'll probably play some golf on Saturday," Leeson said. "I really don't have too much to worry about on Saturday."

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