Carter already No. 1 on the charts

April 21, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

When Earl Campbell was running his way to the Hall of Fame for the Houston Oilers almost two decades ago, his coach, Bum Phillips, once said, "Earl Campbell may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he's in, it doesn't take long to call roll."

It may be time to add another name to that roll call tomorrow when the NFL holds its annual two-day college draft.

After months of studying, testing and probing the background of all the top college players, the scouts have reached one conclusion.

The first player selected will be running back Ki-Jana Carter of Penn State.

The scouts have Carter ranked as not only the best player in this draft, but potentially one of the best runners in the game's history.

He's already being put on a plateau with the game's best runner today -- Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions -- and ranked with such Hall of Famers as Campbell, Gale Sayers and O. J. Simpson.

San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard ranks Carter ahead of Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys.

"Oh, man, I think he is great," Beathard said. "I don't know how you can get better than that at any position. He's as high as you go on the charts. I don't think you can compare him to Emmitt Smith. He's a great back, but when you're talking about this guy, I think you're talking the Gale Sayerses, the O.J. Simpsons, you're talking about that kind of back. He's got great speed. He's got great running talent. He's got everything and that's not taking anything away from Emmitt Smith, believe me."

Beathard isn't the only scout to rave about Carter.

Tom Donahoe of the Pittsburgh Steelers said: "There doesn't seem to be much argument about the fact he's the No. 1 pick. He'll bring a lot to everybody's offense."

Not all the scouts, though, have Carter ranked as high as Beathard does.

Bill Kuharich of the New Orleans Saints said: "He's the real deal, but if this were last year, I'd have him rated behind Marshall Faulk. But he's very close. They're in the same neighborhood."

Faulk was the second player picked by the Indianapolis Colts after the Cincinnati Bengals selected defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson.

In any case, there's no doubt that Carter will be the first running back selected with the first pick since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked Bo Jackson in 1985. Jackson spurned them for baseball and eventually played with the Los Angeles Raiders.

The expansion Carolina Panthers, who have the first pick in the draft, will make Carter the first pick unless they get an offer for him that's too good to pass up.

Although Carter may have problems making an immediate impact running behind an expansion line, the Panthers feel they can't give him up unless they get a great package for him.

It's always risky to trade away a back with Hall of Fame potential. The Seattle Seahawks learned that in 1977, their second year as an expansion team, when they traded Tony Dorsett to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick and three seconds. Dorsett made the Hall of Fame and the players the Seahawks got -- offensive Steve August was the first one -- became trivia questions.

The Panthers won't publicly admit they've targeted Carter.

"We're all pretty much agreed on one guy," said coach Dom Capers, who describes Carter as "Emmitt Smith with acceleration."

General manager Bill Polian also hasn't started negotiating with Carter's agent, Leigh Steinberg, even though the team with the No. 1 pick is allowed to sign a player before the draft.

"I despise people who negotiate in the newspapers," Polian said. "I'll leave it at that."

The other expansion team, the Jacksonville Panthers, is expected to name Southern Cal offensive tackle Tony Boselli as the No. 2 pick in the draft.

Carter and Boselli are virtually 1-2 on all the draft boards.

The guessing game will then start. The Houston Oilers, picking third after recording the worst record last year (2-14), are expected to take quarterback Steve McNair, but are also considering defensive end Kevin Carter.

McNair is considered a project because he played at a small school (Alcorn State), but he has virtually unlimited potential.

"I see a lot of Steve Young and Warren Moon in McNair," Kuharich said. "He's got Young's mobility and elusiveness and Moon's strong arm."

The Washington Redskins, with the fourth selection, figure to make the first controversial pick. They need help in their defensive line and could use defensive tackle Warren Sapp, but coach Norv Turner is an offensive coach and plans to go for wide receiver Michael Westbrook.

The Bengals, who have the fifth pick, would then be looking at Carter and Sapp, but since they took Wilkinson last year, they could trade down and take a running back.

Although there's likely to be a lot of wheeling and dealing during the draft, there hasn't been much trading action on the first round before the draft.

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