Jahvid Best is finally getting his first trip to New York. He wanted this to be his second.
Cal's former star running back is one of 16 players who will be in attendance at Radio Music City Hall for this week's NFL draft. The draft comes four months after the presentation of the Heisman Trophy several blocks away at Nokia Theatre in Times Square.
Best was an early Heisman favorite during the 2009 season before a dropoff in production and a season-ending back injury derailed those hopes. Now, Best hopes to be a first-round pick in this year's draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
"I'm feeling pretty good about it," Best said. "It's a long process. I'm just ready for it to be over with."
In the past, players were invited to attend the draft in person if they were believed to be first-round picks. But now that the draft is spread over three days, that may not be the case.
Most mock drafts have Best going early in the second round, although some project him coming off the board late in Thursday's first round. Rounds 2 and 3 are Friday, and Best would give the NFL a high-profile pick in person if he lasts until the second round.
"I think he's solidly somewhere between the middle of the first round to early in the second," said Best's agent, Tony Flemming. "I think (getting invited) is definitely a sign he could go in the first round. They know he's a good draw and a great individual, and that's the kind of guy they want at the draft."
The consensus around the NFL seems to be that Best is a first-round talent who may drop into the second round because of durability concerns. Best had various ailments during each of his three seasons at Cal, most notably the back and head injuries he sustained last season after a frightening fall in the end zone at Memorial Stadium against Oregon State.
Best was sidelined for the final three games of the 2007 season with a hip injury, and he sat out one game and parts of three others with elbow, foot and ankle injuries in 2008.
That being said, Best rushed for 1,580 yards and averaged 16 carries a game in 2008. He also assumed a full workload as an every-down back last year before the injury against the Beavers.
"Right now, his medical history has no bearing on whether we're going to draft him or not," 49ers director of player personnel Trent Baalke said. "What the other 31 teams think, I couldn't tell you."
NFL teams likely are more leery of Best's collective medical history than any lingering effects of the disk injury and severe concussion he suffered against Oregon State. Flemming said Best "checked out 100 percent in every way" after going through medical evaluations at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Flemming said he has talked with every NFL team to make sure they have all the accurate information about Best's medical history.
Most draft analysts have Best as the third-rated tailback in the class, behind Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Fresno State's Ryan Mathews. Spiller is expected to be among the first 15 picks.
One way Best could crack the first round is if Houston, which is believed to be in the market for a running back, took Mathews at No. 20. That could open the door for Best to go to San Diego, which cut ties with LaDainian Tomlinson, at No. 28.
"It's going to be more of a relief than anything else because all I've been doing since January is just been working for this moment," Best said. "Now it's just waiting to see where I end up. I just can't wait to get the ball rolling."
Cal players and the projected round they could be taken in the NFL draft:
Player Pos. Rnd
Jahvid Best TB 1-2
Tyson Alualu DL 2
Syd'Quan Thompson CB 4-5
Mike Tepper OT 6-7/FA
Projected free agents: WR Verran Tucker, WR Nyan Boateng, S Brett Johnson