When Cal Poly receiver Ramses Barden jukes and flounces at his pro day workout on Friday afternoon at San Jose State, he will no doubt hear from NFL scouts a familiar refrain:
Wow, this guy looks like Keyshawn Johnson.
"I was 13 and I was playing in my grandmother's backyard in St. Louis and came inside to eat," Barden said. "She had been watching TV. She said, `I saw this young man on TV, Keyshawn Johnson, you know him? You look like him.' That was the first time I heard it. It's 10 years later. And if I had one dollar for every time I heard it since, some people would conclude I should forget the draft and retire right now. I haven't met him. I guess he's heard there is this kid running around who looks like him. Some people call me his clone. I have great respect for his toughness and how hard he worked."
Ramses Barden, WR
The physical stature of these two men, their facial similarity is, indeed, astounding.
Johnson said: "Well, I have heard that every year since 1996 when I was drafted, that every guy that is 6-2 or higher that can play some is always the next Keyshawn or reminds them of Keyshawn. At the end of the day, none of them have panned out to be Keyshawn. I really wouldn't want to put that on my back if I was them. But this time it's someone who actually looks like me? That's interesting. I have to check him out."
And then Barden had a little "Keyshawn" for Keyshawn.
"I know he was a great possession receiver," Barden said. "I think I have that trait. But I think I'm a receiver that what you need, I can get. I think I'm a complete receiver, not a possession receiver."
Catchy stuff, but in the eyes of NFL scouts, it just might be true.
Among the top-rated receivers in this draft, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree is the unanimous No. 1 receiver, a splendid mixture of production and skill. Florida's Percy Harvin and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin are explosive pass catchers with unmistakable kick return skills to boot. Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey tore it up at the combine. And Ohio State's Brian Robiskie is a coach's son and a pass-catching dream.
But catch the consensus scouting report on Barden, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound pack of wonder:
"Big, great hands, athletic and can dominate. Great target. A certain No. 2 receiver with upside. Can take over a game. Tremendous body control. The best blocker of all receivers in the draft. Reminiscent of San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson but projected to become the better player. You need or want a big receiver, this player cannot be ignored. Could slip into the bottom of the first round. Should not last past the second round."
That is a sterling report for such a big player from such a small school.
His father, Al, was a forward on the NYU basketball team that toppled Jerry West and West Virginia en route to the 1960 Final Four. Barden played more basketball than he did football while growing up in Altadena, Calif., and, what with his striking height, excelled at fade patterns in the end zone. You toss it up, he goes and gets it. He scored a touchdown in 32 of his 46 Cal Poly games and scored a touchdown in 23 consecutive games.
"Something about basketball has always helped me in football," Barden said. "It prepared me more. Scoring became clear to me as what to do in both sports. Everything I did in basketball involved jumping and a lot of rebounding. I translate that to football. I don't have the luxury of coming from a big school where sheer talent and numbers shined everywhere. I am trying to make sure people know more about what I have.
"I spent five years around football in college since I was a redshirt my first year. Each year I became a more well-rounded receiver. I've worked on a variety of more routes, more slants and outs and comebacks and curls. I move like a 6-footer. I bend my knees to get the ball when I have to. I have a physical standpoint in my arsenal. I was taught at Cal Poly that you give great effort when the ball is not coming your way. You stay involved when you are not getting the football by blocking your tail off."
At his workout Friday and his final pro day at USC on April 1, Barden wants to excel at sharpening the top of his routes, exploding in his breaks and running strong out of cuts. He was told he was clocked in the 40-yard dash at the combine in ranges from 4.50 to 4.57. He wants to improve on that.
He gained his degree in business administration and marketing from Cal Poly on Dec. 13. Since then, he has turned heads at the Senior Bowl and the combine, and now looks to attract more eyes and interest.
All beyond the Keyshawn factor.
"I've played so many sports -- volleyball, track, soccer, baseball, basketball -- beyond football and I have dealt with many things in sports," Barden said. "I know you have to rebound and be tough and get through tough athletic experiences. You have to have a certain understanding about your mind and your body and how they work together. They go hand-in-hand. I have that understanding. I want to learn how to get better and I don't waste time in my work. I think I am the most complete receiver in the draft, better than a decent player and aspiring to be a great player."