Saturday, October 23, 2021

Atlanta chooses Duckett in NFL Draft

April 22, 2002
Junior running back T.J. Duckett talks to the media at Trippers, in Frandor Shopping Center, after being picked No. 18 by the Atlanta Falcons during the NFL Draft on Saturday. —

Lansing - While family, friends and reporters waited for T.J. Duckett to make a statement at Trippers on Saturday, his aunt June Smith asked, “Anyone like Georgia peaches?”

A short time earlier, Duckett was with friends and family at the Frandor Shopping Center sports bar when the Atlanta Falcons notified him that he was their selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Kalamazoo native was the No. 18 pick overall and the second running back taken in the draft.

Duckett, who skipped his final year of eligibility, was so excited he didn’t know who called him with the news.

“All I heard was ‘Atlanta’ and ‘the Falcons’ and that’s all that mattered,” he said. “They were like, ‘Do you want to be a Falcon?’ Sure, how can I say no?”

Four other Spartans also were selected in the weekend’s NFL Draft. Tight end Chris Baker was picked No. 88 by the New York Jets, wide receiver Herb Haygood went No. 144 to Denver, defensive tackle Josh Shaw was picked at No. 172 by San Francisco and punter Craig Jarrett was selected at No. 194 by Seattle.

Even though Duckett didn’t have to wait as long as his former teammates, he did wait two picks longer than he anticipated. The Cleveland Browns used its No. 16 pick to take the first running back of the draft, Boston College’s William Green. Duckett was projected by some as the No. 1 running back in this year’s pool.

He said he was nervous when the Browns selected Green.

“I didn’t know what other teams needed a running back or how far down I’d be,” Duckett said. “I had been watching the draft for almost three-and-a-half hours, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d have to wait to hear my named called. It was a relief when Atlanta called.

“I was shocked at being drafted by Atlanta - I didn’t talk to them, I didn’t work out with them and the Falcons didn’t express a lot of interest.”

Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves said that was because the Falcons didn’t think he would be available that late.

“T.J. Duckett is definitely a unique player,” Reeves said in a statement. “He was a guy we simply couldn’t pass up. I certainly expected him to be gone by this point in the draft, and I never imagined him being available for our selection.

“You can’t pass up a running back who weighs 250 pounds and runs like T.J. does. He is a heck of a running back, and I hope he turns out to be another Jerome Bettis.”

Duckett’s brother Tico played for Reeves in 1993.

“He’s a heck of a coach,” Tico Duckett said. “A perfectionist, he’s all about no mistakes. It even gets to the point where he doesn’t allow you to walk around the field without your chin strap snapped. All he expects out of his players is perfection.

“I’ll talk to him when I get down there. That’s going to be interesting, I’ll say, ‘Why did you cut me? But that’s OK, you picked up my brother, so that’s all right.’”

Duckett joins a loaded and talented Atlanta backfield, highlighted by last year’s No. 1 pick, quarterback Michael Vick. Veteran running backs Jamal Anderson and Warrick Dunn also make up the Falcons’ backfield.

That lineup may mean Duckett may see limited playing time during his first season in the NFL. MSU head football coach Bobby Williams said that situation could work out to Duckett’s advantage.

“There’s not going to be immediate pressure for him to step in,” Williams said. “Those guys are going to take him under their wing and teach him the ropes a little bit, so hopefully they’ll be able to bring him along.

“T.J. is going to bring something to their backfield that they don’t have, which is a guy with power and strength and all those things.”

Anderson, who is coming off of his second knee surgery, was interviewed on ESPN shortly after Duckett was picked.

“I am not going to sit here and say because we drafted a running back that my time in Atlanta is over,” Anderson said. “We signed Warrick Dunn and we draft a guy in the first round, the second running back overall, and so I would not say it looks really good for me either.”

While Duckett was the 33rd first-round pick in school history, he was the first Spartan running back selected in the first round since Lorenzo White was picked 22nd overall in 1988 by the Houston Oilers.

Justin A. Rice can be reached at ricejust@msu.edu.

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