Multiple first-round picks create dilemmas
Monday, April 21, 2003
By John Clayton
This year, the four teams with multiple picks in Saturday's first round at least share a common need: defensive tackle. Their common problem, however, is trying to maximize their clout in the first round to get the best inside help.
The Jets don't plan to trade up in the first round because they are confident they can get one of the top four defensive linemen with the 13th pick, either Kevin Williams or Johnathan Sullivan. Of the four teams, the Patriots have the best chance of trading up because they are almost like an expansion team. They have 13 choices and, in many ways, the Patriots have those choices in better places than the Houston Texans.
"We've got 13 picks at this point, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see us not keep every one of those picks," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said last week. "What direction that goes, I really have no way of knowing."
Advice to Belichick: consolidate those picks to acquire quality, pretty much following the strategy of the offseason in signing linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and strong safety Rodney Harrison. Belichick has built up enough depth through two years of adding veteran free agents at a low cost. With 13 draft choices, including five in the first 78, the Patriots have plenty of clout.
That was the interesting twist to last week's Tebucky Jones trade to New Orleans in exchange for a third- and seventh-round picks this year, and a fourth-rounder next year. The Patriots have 13 picks this year, including two firsts and two thirds. They also have two fourth-rounders next year. The Saints, who started the offseason with nine draft choices, are down to six, and might be forced to use their two first-rounders to outbid the Patriots to move into the top 10.
How well the Jets, Patriots, Saints and Raiders work the phones will determine which team other than the Texans have the best draft. It's rare that a team with two picks in the first round grade lower than an A or B because they usually get top players at two positions. Draft grades go off the board, though, if the players can't eventually start.
Most teams have between 13 and 17 top players on their draft boards, and the Jets start at the bottom of the list with the 13th pick. If Dewayne Robertson, Jimmy Kennedy and Williams go in the first 11 selections, the Jets can take Sullivan at 13. Which is fine. Sullivan is the two-gap defensive tackle who fits what Ted Cottrell is looking for along his defensive line.
Unfortunately, Belichick knows that and could dangle a second-rounder to get the Pats into the top eight, or a third-rounder to at least get ahead of the Jets. Sullivan and Robertson better fit what Belichick wants. He needs a nose tackle to play next to Richard Seymour. The first-round defensive tackle has to have the strength and experience to play both gaps around the center.
If the Patriots don't trade up, they may have to settle for Ty Warren of Texas A&M instead of William Joseph of Miami, who is more of a movement, one-gap inside player.
What's the difference between one-gap and two-gap nose tackles?
"To take the Dolphins as an example who primarily use a four-man line who almost never has the center covered by a defensive lineman," Belichick said. "That's where Zach Thomas plays. When you look at our defense, we almost always have the center covered or at least shade in that center-guard gap somewhere. What we would ask a player to do in that spot and what they would ask him to do in that spot are not going to be the same thing."
Robertson, Sullivan and Warren are better fits for the Patriots than Kennedy or Williams. Hence, expect a trade.
The Jets don't plan to be too aggressive. At least for now.
"I think it's unlikely at this point in time that we will package our two number ones and try to move up," Jets general manager Terry Bradway said. "I don't feel like there is a player right now on the board that is probably worthy of that based on our evaluations. So in terms of movement, I think you're looking more at the possibility maybe a couple of spots up or maybe even a couple of spots down."
So expect the Jets to keep in touch with the Baltimore Ravens, who have the 10th pick to ensure getting Sullivan. Expect the Patriots to call the Ravens and even the Vikings about the seventh pick.
Here's the Saints problem. They have the 17th and 18th picks and few teams are going to want to jump out of the top 11 for just a second-round choice.
Saints coach Jim Haslett has already said he wants to trade into the top 10 to acquire cornerbacks Terence Newman from Kansas State or Marcus Trufant of Washington State or defensive tackle Robertson. To do so, though, he may not be able to do it with just a second-round choice, the 54th pick in the draft.
One option is offering both first-rounders and asking for a second-rounder in return. That might not sell, and the Saints may be stuck staying at No. 17 and 18 and just drafting. In that case, they could draft a center, Jeff Faine from Notre Dame and then take cornerback Andre Woolfolk. They could also trade back and pick up a draft choice. As far as finding that defensive tackle, though, the Saints may be troubled without trading up. Six could be taken before they select.
What becomes more unpredictable is what the Jets and Patriots do with their second of two first-round choices. It's not out of the question for the Patriots to take Willis McGahee. The Jets could take wide receiver Kelley Washington of Tennessee, but it's more likely they could luck into an offensive lineman such as Eric Steinbach of Iowa or tackle Kwane Harris of Stanford. If seven or eight defensive linemen go in the first 18 choices, thet Jets could luck into one or both of those players with the 19th pick.
Losing guard Randy Thomas to the Washington Redskins, the Jets could easily fit Steinbach into the starting right guard spot. A Sullivan-Steinbach draft would be a dream. Don't buy the idea, though, that the Jets are locked into finding the replacement for wide receiver Laveranues Coles in the first round. They aren't. Signing Curtis Conway took the pressure off them taking a receiver in the first round.
McGahee to the Patriots? Don't dismiss it. With Antowain Smith as the starter this season, the Patriots don't need McGahee to be a regular this season. McGahee would be the Patriots running star of the future. Plus, the Patriots have experience with running backs coming out of college with ACL tears.
"We took (fullback) Antwoine Womack last year, who had ACL surgery after the all-star game after his senior year at Virginia," Belichick said. "His rehab on the ACL injury was about what we expected it to be and it's turned out that way. He didn't play last year but should be ready to go this year."
Of course, Womack was a seventh-round choice, discounted several rounds because of the knee injury. Teams may not have the luxury to discount McGahee. Why? The Raiders could take him at the bottom of the first as the long-term replacement for halfback Charlie Garner, who enters the final season of his contract.
At 31 and 32, the Raiders don't have enviable draft positions. They will be paying first-round money for second-round rated players. Their early calls to teams are finding little interest in teams trying to trade down to 31 or 32. More teams are making contact with the Raiders about trading up from the second round whether it's for a McGahee, the third or fourth wide receiver or whatever.
The Raiders have eight picks, but all at or near the bottom of rounds. That's not real appealing to teams in trades.
Oakland may have a chance at some defensive end help if Chris Kelsay of Nebraska or Michael Haynes of Penn State fall down. Veteran defensive end Tony Bryant hasn't been cleared to play this season following back surgery last year. They would like a cornerback to replace departed Tory James. They need a defensive tackle to replace Sam Adams. Though they feel Adam Treu could replace Barret Robbins at center if they cut him, the Raiders may find it hard to pass on centers Al Johnson of Wisconsin or Bruce Nelson of Iowa.
The options for all four teams are endless.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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