Drafts by Cowboys, Vikings could make Eagles feel heat

League analysis: Along with Cardinals, Dallas and Minnesota are NFC's big winners.

NFL Draft

April 25, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The rumble that emanated from the NFL draft this weekend was the sound of the NFC getting better.

The Minnesota Vikings struck a defiant pose in the NFC North. The Dallas Cowboys moved swiftly to a 3-4 defense that could shake up the NFC East. And the Arizona Cardinals, longtime doormats of the league, are primed for a hostile takeover in the NFC West.

These three teams joined the Ravens in the AFC as the big early winners in the 30-hour ordeal the college draft has become. They made the boldest moves, got the best players and achieved the quickest makeovers.

The Philadelphia Eagles remain the team to beat in the NFC. Coach Andy Reid had a nice draft if he wanted to add a lot of rookies to the roster, but he's got his share of problems, contractual and otherwise, to wade through before he goes back to the Super Bowl.

Not the least of them is the new defense the Cowboys are going to present next season. The 3-4 defense gave the Eagles fits last season when they were throttled by the Pittsburgh Steelers and barely survived the Ravens.

The Eagles also made a game of the Super Bowl when the New England Patriots graciously played more four-man fronts than three on defense.

Now, Dallas coach Bill Parcells has opted for the 3-4 look. After what he did in the draft, it will make Reid want to go back to those Pittsburgh and Ravens tapes to study up.

On Saturday, the Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears in the first round. Ware, a defensive end at Troy, will be a pass-rushing outside linebacker in Dallas. He is viewed by some as the best pass rusher in the draft and was the first one taken. Meanwhile, LSU's Spears, at 6 feet 4, 307 pounds, weighs in as a prototypical 3-4 end.

But Dallas didn't stop there. In the second round, the Cowboys got another outside linebacker in Tennessee's Kevin Burnett. A leader on the field, Burnett has excellent speed and is very good in the open field.

Still more: In the fourth round, Parcells claimed 6-7, 286-pound defensive end Chris Canty of Virginia. Canty dropped to the second day because of durability issues, but has agility and power in addition to size.

The new Cowboys defense is bigger and more physical than the old one, which allowed 405 points, and will have at least six new starters.

So that will be Philadelphia's first challenge to the NFC throne.

The second should come from Minnesota, where the Vikings matched a splendid free-agent period with a strong draft.

Minnesota also will have at least six new starters on a defense that ranked 28th in total yards and broke more than it bent. Coach Mike Tice added linebackers Napoleon Harris and Sam Cowart in trades, and signed tackle Pat Williams, cornerback Fred Smoot and safety Darren Sharper in free agency.

To that, the Vikings added the draft's best deep threat on offense and its best defensive end. The deep threat, South Carolina's Troy Williamson, is raw but very quick. He'll be even quicker on the Metrodome turf.

He's not Randy Moss - the big-play receiver the Vikings traded in March - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Minus Moss, the Vikings may in fact have better team unity.

The defensive end is Wisconsin's Erasmus James, who slid all the way to Minnesota's 18th pick after four outside linebackers and defensive end David Pollack were taken.

If James is the player the Vikings believe he is, their defensive transformation may be complete, too.

As for the Cardinals, second-year coach Dennis Green has pulled the franchise out of its decade-long lethargy and pumped it up for a playoff run in the run-down NFC West.

It's not hard to imagine Arizona overtaking the Seattle Seahawks or St. Louis Rams in the division after Green's weekend performance in the war room. The San Francisco 49ers are still in the early stages of restoration under former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Green filled holes left and right in the draft. After trading former Raven Duane Starks in the offseason, he got a starting left cornerback in Antrel Rolle of Miami in the first round. He got another athletic corner, Eric Green of Virginia Tech, in the third. He got a big-play outside linebacker, Virginia's Darryl Blackstock, in the third, and a falling inside linebacker, Oklahoma's Lance Mitchell, with an injury history, in the fifth.

On offense, Green reached somewhat to take 5-8 running back J.J. Arrington of California in the second round. But Green believes Arrington can run for 1,200 yards in the NFL.

In the fourth, he got a bargain when he took another plummeting player, Virginia guard Elton Brown. They go with a new quarterback, Kurt Warner, and a new tackle, Oliver Ross, on offense to give Arizona new hope.

The Cardinals shouldn't be able to challenge the Eagles this season, but it may not take long before they do.


Defensive back 50

Wide receiver 30

Linebacker 36

Offensive tackle 26

Running back 26

Defensive end 20

Defensive tackle 15

Guard 15

Quarterback 14

Tight end 9

Center 8

Kicker 3

Punter 2

Kick returner 1

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