Fresh faces going places

Football: After David Carr goes to Houston with the No. 1 pick, the guessing game begins.

Nfl Draft

April 19, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The smoke will lift tomorrow for Joey Harrington and Donte Stallworth and a host of college players who have been timed, measured and psychoanalyzed - but not necessarily enlightened - about their place in the NFL draft.

Once the Houston Texans formally make quarterback David Carr the first pick in the 67th annual player selection meeting, the guesswork hits the clock.

That's when we'll find out how far Harrington, a polished, efficient quarterback at Oregon last season, drops in the first round. And how high Stallworth, a bewitchingly fast junior wide receiver at Tennessee, might jump.

Harrington is the X-factor in tomorrow's proceedings because no one seems to know where he might land. Stallworth is the wild card. After being told by the league's advisory committee to expect a long wait in the first round before hearing his name, Stallworth's stock has risen dramatically.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, of course. Especially not Randy Mueller, the general manager of the New Orleans Saints.

"He is fast, and he is explosive," Mueller said of Stallworth at the team's pre-draft news conference. "He has all the skills to be a great player in our league. I am not sure what the advisory committee looked at when they saw him. Maybe the three or four games that he missed due to injury was part of it.

"I think he will be picked way before that."

If Stallworth is not chosen before the Saints' 13th pick in the first round, he almost certainly will not make it past that pick. That much was assured when he was clocked by some scouts in a sub-4.3-second 40-yard sprint.

To be sure, the weeks leading up to the NFL draft are all about subterfuge.

Listen to Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid: "I think there are quite a few smokescreens put out there. That does happen. It ends up being quite a chess match, and you don't quite know who to believe and who not to believe."

This year's draft holds potential for perhaps more mystery picks in the first round than in recent years. Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting, is perfectly comfortable with the 24th pick in the first round, despite his team's many needs.

"I'm not sure I'd want to be in the top 10 this year," Savage said.

Because of the risk factor for potential failure?

"Yeah, and you can poke a hole in all those guys," he said. "And at least [picking] in the 20's, you know you're getting a player that's got a hole. I think it's easier to pick down where we are than being in the top 10 because in my opinion, I don't know there is that much difference between David Carr and Joey Harrington - if Carr goes [No.] 1 and Harrington goes 18. That's 17 players difference; I doubt [that's right]."

The general consensus is that after Carr, defensive end Julius Peppers will go to the Carolina Panthers, cornerback Quentin Jammer to the Detroit Lions, and offensive tackles Mike Williams and Bryant McKinnie to the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers to complete the top five.

The Panthers, Lions and Bills all could use quarterbacks but won't take Harrington for varying reasons (Buffalo is concerned about arm strength).

The next team with a quarterback need is the Kansas City Chiefs, who pick eighth. But coach Dick Vermeil would rather take a player who could help the Chiefs win now, not down the road. For that reason, the Chiefs could take a defensive player or possibly Stallworth at No. 8.

"I think everybody in the NFL is in a win-now mode," Vermeil told The Kansas City Star. "That is why the league has done what it's done the last few years. You look at the Super Bowl champions and the Super Bowl teams and they've come out of nowhere.

"You have to think about filling immediate needs. I don't think people look at it and say, `Three or four years down the road we're going to be pretty good.' I don't think people look at it that way anymore."

Harrington threw for 27 touchdowns and only six interceptions, completing 58.8 percent of his passes, for the Ducks last season. He is considered to be a close second to Carr in this year's quarterback class. Some scouts have even rated him ahead of Carr.

But if the Chiefs pass on Harrington, the Cincinnati Bengals are the only team keeping him from a fall into the bottom half of the first round. He could conceivably drop all the way to the Washington Redskins - and new coach Steve Spurrier - at No. 18.

Another player whose draft placement could cover a wide range is wide receiver Antonio Bryant of Pittsburgh. He could be among the top three receivers taken, or could possibly drop into the second round.

"I think some teams have him rated way up on their boards, and other teams have put him way down so they won't have to face the possibility of maybe picking him," Savage said. "He has some on-the-edge behavior. Watch some tape on him and he'll hand the ball to the referee and pull it back.

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