Musical chairs could jazz up Round 1 order

Pro football: Plentiful trades and wild cards galore should make tomorrow's first round one of the most unpredictable in recent NFL history.

Nfl Draft

April 25, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Medical reports, police blotters and 40-yard-dash times may resolve the secrets of the NFL draft's first round tomorrow.

The best running back coming out, Miami's Willis McGahee, still can't run full speed after major knee reconstruction. One of the better receivers, Tennessee's Kelley Washington, probably won't be cleared for contact until training camp because of spinal fusion surgery.

And one of the better cornerbacks, Oregon State's Dennis Weathersby, has a bullet hole in his back after a drive-by shooting near Los Angeles on Sunday.

Then there's the twice-broken leg of Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, the nerve damage in Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman's left shoulder and the diluted urine sample of Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers.

Collectively, it foretells one of the most unpredictable first rounds in recent history. Trades should be plentiful and wild cards galore. In a draft in which the first choice, Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer, already is signed by the Cincinnati Bengals, all the top picks have some flaw that is hard to miss.

The result is uncertainty and intrigue.

"It's intriguing because there is no consensus," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' player personnel director. "Some people might have Jonathan Sullivan [of Georgia] as the top defensive tackle; who knows? [New York Giants coach] Jim Fassel has [Chris] Simms rated as the second-best quarterback."

It's a draft distinguished by defensive tackles and quarterbacks, too. Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson has been the hottest player on every team's board in the last few weeks, ostensibly climbing all the way to the Chicago Bears' fourth pick.

Penn State's Jimmy Kennedy shouldn't be far behind, perhaps setting off a run on mauling linemen. Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis says as many as 12 defensive linemen could be taken in the first round.

"You're talking about one-third of the entire first round being defensive linemen," he said. "To have 10 or 12 in the first round, and to know that there's probably even more out there later on in the draft ... is intriguing and fascinating."

Leftwich will be the next quarterback taken behind Palmer. Despite breaking his leg in each of the past two seasons, Leftwich is expected to go no later than the eighth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Whether the Jaguars take him - or leave him for the Ravens at No. 10 - is another matter. Jacksonville is attempting to renegotiate the contract of veteran quarterback Mark Brunell. James Harris, the Ravens' former pro personnel director who joined the Jaguars' front office this offseason and will run their draft, used diplomacy talking this week about the potential of a quarterback pick.

"We'd like to have Mark Brunell as our quarterback," Harris said. "If we select a quarterback with the first pick, it's because we just think he's too good to pass. Having a young quarterback [who] can come in and develop, that would be our reason for taking him."

Kyle Boller of Cal, Rex Grossman of Florida, Simms of Texas, and Dave Ragone of Louisville are other prominent quarterbacks who should go in the first two rounds.

Cornerback is another position filled with intrigue. Weathersby could be cleared for football-related activities in six to eight weeks. While his draft stock figures to drop because of the shooting, Newman's doesn't despite a shoulder injury he suffered late in the season for Kansas State. Newman should be among the first five picks.

"What it all comes down to is, turn on the game tape," he said. "If you don't like what you see, pick somebody else. I've done what I've done, so if you think I'm hurt, so be it."

Rogers seems a lock to be the second pick by the Detroit Lions despite the NFL's discovery of too much water in his urine during a scouting combine test. According to the NFL, that constitutes a "masking" agent and counts as a positive drug test.

Washington, another big-play receiver, has top-10 talent, but because a neck injury prematurely ended his season and required surgery, he might not be drafted until the second round.

Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs is still another top 10 talent whose draft status came in question after two unimpressive private workouts and one brawl in the last month. In an incident outside Phoenix Municipal Stadium after a three-on-three basketball tournament on March 29, Suggs was hit in the back of the head with a steel rod and another man was treated for a broken nose.

The Arizona Cardinals desperately need a pass rusher; they have a league-low 40 sacks the past two seasons. Suggs had an NCAA-record 24 sacks last season. But after increasing his weight some 10 pounds in the offseason, his 40-yard dash times slipped to the 4.8-second range. Suggs immediately started to fall in projections.

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