Cal running back Jahvid Best made the right call Saturday in declaring for the NFL Draft. His explosive speed and play-making ability will be cherished by whichever happy team selects him April 22, likely in the lower half of the first round.
Best was an ideal ambassador in three seasons at Cal, not to mention his preceding prep career at nearby Salesian High School.
NFL executives fawn over "character" guys. Best fits that mold. He shied away from self-promotional propaganda, came across as a team-first player and matched his on-field talent with all-around class.
"Frankly I kept praying about it. It was kind of a feeling, a gut feeling, that's how I make my decision," Best said on a media conference call. "I feel like I'm ready to play in the NFL and I can be successful."
Can he succeed as an every-down back? He drew comparisons throughout his Cal career to USC product Reggie Bush, who's more of a complementary asset than a mainstay back with the New Orleans Saints' prolific offense. Best will work hard to find his niche, and he has the mentality to match his phenomenal physical tools.
While Best's speed will be coveted in the fast-fast-faster NFL, his durability will be questioned. Injuries dotted his super-hyped Cal career, which ended on a frightening touchdown fall Nov. 8 against Oregon State.
Best said his injury history played a "small" factor in his and his family's decision to move on to the NFL.
NFL teams certainly will inspect whether Best has made a full recovery from neck and back injuries sustained in that fall. But they'll also scrutinize their stopwatches just as much when he runs for them, either at the scouting combine in Indianapolis or at Cal's pro-day workout.
A potential rookie salary scale in 2011 gives top prospects like Best a wise reason to jump to the NFL rather than exhaust their collegiate eligibility.
Some suitors might get scared off by Best's track record in big games at Cal. He never scored a touchdown in three games (three defeats) against USC and never ran for more than 100 yards in a game against them. He had 14 carries for 47 yards in this season's 30-3 loss.
Best opened his junior season in loud enough fashion to put him in serious Heisman consideration. He rushed for over 130 yards every game during Cal's 3-0 start, including a five-touchdown effort at Minnesota.
But he had 16 carries for only 55 yards in a 42-3 rout at Oregon on Sept. 26, the Bears basically abandoning him and turning to a passing attack that failed in their lackluster comeback attempt.
He missed Cal's final four games, the last being a 37-27 Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah.
That exit won't totally overshadow earlier sparkling efforts. He had 50 plays of more than 20 yards. His sophomore season offered these jumbo outputs: 311 yards rushing vs. Washington, 201 vs. Stanford and 200 at Washington State.
NFL teams will look highly upon that monster production. Such play-making ability, combined with his speed, likely will make him a more enticing option than Stanford superstar running back Toby Gerhart, who deserves to go in the first round but very well could drop out of it. Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer also will be Best's biggest challengers when it comes to the draft board.
Shane Vereen is certainly capable of filling Cal's starting tailback role for 2010. "Shane Vereen is very comparable," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "Those two guys did a nice job complementing each other. Shane when healthy has a lot of the same characteristics that Jahvid does."
Cal's program has many more worries than figuring out how to replace Best. Tedford admitted as much in a recent interview with Bay Area News Group beat writer Jonathan Okanes. Tedford made a desperate appeal to Cal fans to hang in there while he tries figuring out the Bears' constant collapses. It wasn't an "I'm mad as heck and not going to take it anymore" fight call. It was a sorrowful plea.
And Cal fans should trust Tedford. This program was in shambles before he arrived. Did he get enough out of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Marshawn Lynch, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Best before they headed to the NFL? Football is too team-oriented to provide a definitive answer to that question.
Best received an open-ended answer when feeling out where he might get drafted. Although the first round is his achievable goal, he also heard he might go as low as third round, and it might be predicated on how he performs in workouts over the coming months.
"I have no doubt in my mind I'll be ready to workout and perform the way I should be by that time," Best said.
His favorite NFL team: His "hometown" Raiders. Memo to Al Davis: Best said he's never run a legitimate 40-yard dash.
Saturday's dash to the NFL is a legitimate one that should be applauded, both for him and the university he's represented so well.
Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at email@example.com. You can follow him at twitter.com/CamInman.