Teams make habit of nitpicking when it comes to top choices

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

April 20, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

Defensive end Terrell Suggs isn't as fast as his 24 sacks last year for Arizona State suggest. Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman has a lingering shoulder injury. Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers had too much water in his urine.

If this is countdown to the draft, the NFL is suffering from paralysis by over-analysis. It happens every April.

With signing bonuses that escalate from $10 million, the NFL wants to be careful about its top five draft picks Saturday. But close scrutiny notwithstanding, Suggs, Newman and Rogers all should maintain their lofty positions in the first round.

That Rogers had a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine - which the NFL considered a masking technique - is not likely to dissuade the Detroit Lions from making him the second pick. The Lions need a big-play receiver, and Rogers will help expedite the development of second-year quarterback Joey Harrington.

Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer still appears destined for the Cincinnati Bengals with the first pick. Cincinnati's preliminary contract talks with Newman and Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich are, in all likelihood, an attempt to gain some leverage in Palmer negotiations, and a fallback position if those discussions fall apart.

Assuming the Houston Texans don't trade up to No. 1 for Rogers, they will probably take Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson with the third pick. The Chicago Bears need a quarterback, but they are believed to prefer Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson at No. 4.

That brings us to Newman, the top cornerback in the draft, and Suggs, the top pass rusher. Newman's shoulder injury figures to have the same effect on the Dallas Cowboys, who pick fifth, as it did on Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of player personnel.

"From what we understand, Terence Newman's arm fell off last week," Savage said, tongue-in-cheek, at last week's draft luncheon. "But if he's available, we're still going to take him."

Suggs, a smallish defensive end, has run a series of 4.8-second 40-yard dashes and the NFL expected better. But he's exactly what Arizona's defense needs, and Suggs won't slip past the Cardinals' sixth pick.

Around the league

Penn State running backs Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis - all top five picks - were busts in the NFL. But the latest in the Nittany Lions' stable of strong runners, Larry Johnson, says he has an advantage because he started only one season.

"The Big Ten is a conference where you just get more wear and tear," he said. "It's a three-running-back-downs game; it's not passing, it's not trick plays. More guys go into the situation getting nicked, bumped and banged around and then not being able to withstand the punishment on the next level. With me, it's totally different. I haven't been nicked or bumped around that much." ...

Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay thinks there are fewer running backs with first-round grades in this draft because college teams are throwing more and running less. "Rex Kern may have thrown 100 passes in his career," McKay said. "Now, you have guys throwing 100 passes in two games. It's a completely different game, and one of the results is there's going to be a de-emphasis of running backs." ...

Texas A&M defensive tackle Ty Warren, a potential first-round pick, is a nephew of former Colts running back Curtis Dickey. ...

It took only a few practices before new Arizona running back Emmitt Smith called new Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake "the best long-ball thrower in the league. I can't think of too many other quarterbacks who can throw the ball as deep, on the money, on a rope like he does." ...

The Kansas City Chiefs are looking for a backup running back because of the uncertainty over Priest Holmes' hip injury. They're considering Olandis Gary, late of the Denver Broncos, and might make a run at Thomas Jones, who is expected to be a June 1 casualty in Arizona. ...

The Bears cut wide receiver Marcus Robinson last week, saving $2.6 million in salary cap space, after trying to trade him. It's possible they'll re-sign him.

Compiled form interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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