Expect draft to be wild and unpredictable
By John Clayton
For weeks, I've been banging my head to figure out a draft as strange as this one.
Once a decade, there is a great one. Who could forget 1983 when underclassmen became a big part of the draft board and the first round spewed out quarterbacks such as John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, as well as running backs such as Eric Dickerson, Curt Warner and Gary Anderson? The 1990 draft was extra special because of Junior Seau, Cortez Kennedy, Richmond Webb and Emmitt Smith. Guys from that draft seemed to last forever.
On the flip side, there are drafts that just leave you cold. I didn't have a good feel before the 1984 draft because I wondered if the 1983 draft had left the cupboard bare. As it turned out, '84 was a good one, with Irving Fryar, Carl Banks, Wilber Marshall, Bill Maas and Keith Millard. But 1986 felt bad going in and it turned out to be. Bo Jackson blew off the Tampa Bay Bucs and played baseball. Tony Casillas was up and down. Chuck Long didn't last too long in Detroit. And Brian Jozwiak was one of those rare top 10 tackles who failed.
Then there was 1991, one of the worst in memory. Defensive tackle Russell Maryland negotiated his way into the top pick and turned out to be a leader and winner. But the lists of failures were endless -- Bruce Pickens, a cornerback, by Atlanta at No. 3; linebacker Mike Croel of the Broncos at No. 4; and Charles McRae of the Bucs at No. 7. The draft didn't feel right from the start.
Something is amiss in this draft, as well.
Carson Palmer is No. 1, but you can make the argument that Byron Leftwich or Kyle Boller have better potential. Charles Rogers scared off some teams except Detroit by drinking too much water before a drug test, becoming the first NFL H20 offender. The best cornerback, Terence Newman, has a dead nerve near the deltoid. The best pass rusher, Terrell Suggs, can't break a 4.8 in the 40. The best linemen come out of places such as Kentucky and Utah.
And if that isn't bad enough, second-round grades creep into the middle of the first round and extend to the 40th or 45th pick. Some team's 15th pick is another team's 39th and vice versa. When safeties and centers creep into the middle of the first round, you have to wonder.
Which is why those of us who mock drafts will be mocked by Saturday afternoon. In most years, mock drafters feel good about making hits -- direct or indirect -- on 25 to 27 first-rounders. Inaccuracies settle in those lower five picks in the round.
This year, the misses more than the hits may strike in the middle of the first. For example, a case can be made for center Jeff Faine going to New Orleans with the 17th or 18th pick. Good choice. He'll be a starting center in New Orleans for a long time and he will team up with LeCharles Bentley to make up one of the nastiest, most aggressive interior blocking combo in the NFL. But if the Saints don't take him, he could fall out of the first round. Centers usually do.
This draft is hard to predict.
1. Pity Kyle Boller
He's this year's Deuce McAllister. McAllister was a top 12 prospect who fell all the way to 23rd in 1991 when the Saints made the surprise move of taking him even though they had a young Ricky Williams. Boller is a perfect fit for Baltimore at No. 10, but he won't go there. Either Jimmy Kennedy or Jordan Gross could fall to Baltimore and kill the luxury of taking Boller. If that happens, Boller will fall like a bowling ball dropped out of a building and it won't be his fault. The teams from No. 11 to 25, including three that have multiple first-rounders, have quarterbacks and will pass on him. It will leave a top 15 prospect for the 49ers, Steelers and Packers to consider.
2. Top 5 tussle
Don't you love the potential gamesmanship in the top five. The Houston Texans would love to add Miami receiver Andre Johnson -- perhaps with next David Boston -- to their offense as a deep threat. The Texans could take him with the third pick, but what if the Cowboys want to trade to No. 3 to take Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, taking him away from the Chicago Bears, who covet him with the fourth pick. Well, the Bears could turn around and say, "Take that," and take Johnson, leaving the Texans with the option of going to cornerback Terence Newman or offensive tackle Jordan Gross. Nothing better than a potential in-your-face to kill a trade scenario.
3. What about the QBs?
Is this league so good on quarterbacks that half the teams in the top 10 need quarterbacks and three will wait until the second or later rounds to get them. HELL-NOOOOO. Why is it that Jeff Blake in Arizona, Kordell Stewart in Chicago and Chris Redman in Baltimore trump the idea of taking Byron Leftwich of Marshall or Kyle Boller of Cal? Has it come to the point that the Bengals are making the more sophisticated moves. They have Jon Kitna, yet they are talking Carson Palmer. Novel idea, indeed.
4. McGahee gets top billing
At the combine, it became apparent that Willis McGahee on one leg is probably better than any other running back in this draft on two healthy legs. McGahee will go in the first round. Don't know if it's the Raiders at No. 32. Don't know if it's the Patriots at No 19. Don't know if it's a second-round team trading into the low first to get him. You still have to feel, though, for Penn State halfback Larry Johnson. The guy ran for more than 2,000 yards in the Big Ten. McGahee might not play this season, yet Johnson may have to slip into the second round to accommodate the team that wants to take McGahee.
5. Tackling the possibilities
Six defensive tackles could go in the top 15 choices. That's right, six defensive tackles. Follow me. The Bears want Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky at No. 4. Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State will go between No. 7 and No. 10. Kevin Williams of Oklahoma State and Johnathan Sullivan of Georgia are interchangeable at No. 11 with Seattle or No. 13 with the Jets. That leaves the Patriots with Ty Warren of Texas A&M, a two-gap nose possibility and William Joseph of Miami with the San Diego Chargers at No. 15. Could and should happen.
6. Running no where
The Terrell Suggs slow 40 times could affect future drafts. Remember in 1985 when people thought the poor 40 times of Jerry Rice would affect his career? Rice is one of the best who's ever worn an NFL uniform. Receivers Al Toon and Eddie Brown went ahead of him and had good careers, but Rice was the pick in 1985. Suggs can't break a 4.8 40 unless there is a 90-mile-an-hour gale behind him and the clocks spring forward a couple of ticks in the spring. The Cardinals are worried about taking him at No. 6 because of the 40 times. If he drops, will teams be committing the Jerry Rice mistake? Maybe. Of course, teams worried about the slow 40 times of receiver J.J. Stokes and Peter Warrick and ended up being right in not investing a high first-round choice on them.
7. No Saintly justice?
Don't you feel for the Saints at No. 17 and No. 18. This is a 12 or 13 player first round, and they may have to sacrifice their two No. 1s to get the cornerback or defensive tackle who can make a difference on a potential playoff team. If they can get into the top 10, they may not get Dewayne Robertson, but they could get Marcus Trufant. But if they don't, they could take a center and a safety. Or they could take Jerome McDougle when they have Charles Grant and Darren Howard at defensive end. The Saints deserve a break.
8. Stuck in neutral
If you feel bad for the Saints, feel even worse for the Raiders. Not only did they lose to the Bucs in the Super Bowl, but they have the bottom two picks in the first round. They've made several calls, but few want to trade down to No. 31 and No. 32, knowing they might have to settle for second-round values and pay them first round money. If they want the one difference maker for a potential Super Bowl team, forget about it. They would have to give up their two No. 1s and that might not get them higher than the 20th pick. For value, they could trade into the second round, but it doesn't sound like the Raiders to retreat.
9. Right place, right time
As strange as it sounds, it might not be bad being between picks No. 25 and 28 in the first round. Good players will fall there and will be of good value. The 49ers, Steelers and Packers could get Kyle Boller. The Giants could come away with a pretty good defensive end, possibly Jerome McDougle, but if not, maybe Chris Kelsay or somebody else at No. 25. Those teams from 25 to 27 could have the third or fourth cornerbacks in the draft, but if they don't, they could come up with the second or third linebackers.
10. Unconventional wisdom
Don't always look to fill needs. The Browns need linebackers and will probably take a cornerback or offensive lineman in the first round.. Everyone outside the Jets believe they should use a first-rounder on a wide receiver to replace Laveranues Coles, but they only would take Kelley Washington or Taylor Jacobs if things go back. Teams should go wrong if they draft the best player available. The Jets feel as though they can get by with Curtis Conway working with Santana Moss and Wayne Chrebet. In Cleveland, though, Tom Cousineau would start for that group at linebacker. Draft one.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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