Round 1 proves a balancing act

Analysis: Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round, but several other positions also were well-represented.

April 18, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

When the fur started to fly in yesterday's NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints wound up with the running back of their dreams, the Arizona Cardinals enhanced Jake Plummer's arsenal, and the Minnesota Vikings looked to their quarterbacking future.

A first round that featured five quarterbacks -- the most in 16 years -- showed unusual balance. Also taken in the first 31 picks were five defensive ends, five cornerbacks and five offensive linemen.

This is how the first round unfolded:

1. Cleveland -- QB Tim Couch, Kentucky.

The Browns put Couch's agent, Tom Condon, on the clock and under the gun the night before the Couch draft. Only when they reached an agreement in the early-morning hours was it certain Couch would be the first pick. Browns coach Chris Palmer got on the Couch bandwagon after last week's 115-pass workout in Lexington, Ky. Until then, Palmer was caught up with Akili Smith's arm.

2. Philadelphia -- QB Donovan McNabb, Syracuse.

New coach Andy Reid got his man, even though Tom Modrak, director of football operations, favored Smith. Reid, a former Green Bay assistant, sought the advice of Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who endorsed McNabb. Now the question is how long before McNabb takes over for Doug Pederson.

3. Cincinnati -- QB Akili Smith, Oregon.

The Bengals have been unstable at quarterback since Boomer Esiason's days. Jeff Blake is in the final year of his contract, Neil O'Donnell is apparently out, and Smith, with tremendous potential, is the home-run pick. The Bengals could have traded down -- coach Bruce Coslet liked Cade McNown -- but owner Mike Brown was infatuated with Smith.

4. Indianapolis -- RB Edgerrin James, Miami.

The Colts passed on Ricky Williams because they feel James fits better in their offense. They wanted a runner/receiver at the position, like departing Marshall Faulk. James is probably a better receiver, but what will they miss in Williams? Maybe a Hall of Fame career. Colts president Bill Polian rejected a Saints' offer that featured three first-round picks, two of them futures.

5. New Orleans -- RB Ricky Williams, Texas.

Coach Mike Ditka put the future of the franchise -- and his own reputation -- on the shoulders of Williams. He gave Washington eight picks, including two first-rounders, to move up for the one player he wanted. With a rebuilt offensive line comprised of former No. 1 picks, the Saints should finally be able to run the ball. But will quarterbacks Billy Joe Hobert and Billy Joe Tolliver scare anyone throwing the ball? Only Ditka.

6. St. Louis -- WR Torry Holt, North Carolina State.

This was the chalk pick after the Rams traded for Colts running back Faulk. In one furious off-season, Dick Vermeil has revamped his offense, adding free-agent quarterback Trent Green, Faulk and Holt. The Rams needed a big-play wide receiver because Isaac Bruce has a chronic hamstring problem and because Eddie Kennison, whom they traded, was a bust. Passing over cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Chris McAlister was not easy.

7. Washington -- CB Champ Bailey, Georgia.

General manager Charley Casserly used his cache of picks to get the cornerback who should eventually replace Darrell Green. Anticipating Williams' drop to their No. 5 spot, the Redskins agreed to trade down to the Saints' No. 12 pick, then worked a deal to get back to No. 7 to get Bailey. They end up with an extra No. 1 in 2000, the player they wanted and a major first-round coup.

8. Arizona -- WR David Boston, Ohio State.

The Cardinals improved what they do best -- throw the ball. Boston gives quarterback Plummer a big, tantalizing target to go with Rob Moore and Frank Sanders.

9. Detroit -- LB Chris Claiborne, USC.

The Lions wanted to go for defense first and address the offensive line later. Claiborne, a top-five talent, dropped because of the offensive skill players. The Lions also considered defensive end Jevon Kearse and cornerback Chris McAlister.

10. Ravens -- CB Chris McAlister, Arizona.

The Ravens want to move Rod Woodson to safety and this pick allows them to do it. McAlister, 6 feet and 199 pounds, is the more physical of the top two corners in the draft and more equipped to play the big receivers.

11. Minnesota -- QB Daunte Culpepper, Central Florida.

The Vikings tried to trade up to get McAlister, but the logical target -- the Bears -- wouldn't trade within the division. For the second straight year, coach Dennis Green took the best available player and got his quarterback of the future.

12. Chicago -- QB Cade McNown, UCLA.

Trading down -- and passing over Culpepper -- the Bears got McNown and four extra picks. McNown, regarded as the most polished of the top five quarterbacks, may get an early baptism behind brittle starter Erik Kramer. Needing a pass rusher, they couldn't risk the chance that Kearse, an undersized end, would become the next John Thierry.

13. Pittsburgh -- WR Troy Edwards, Louisiana Tech.

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