Just as in the past, the results from this week have a major effect on the
ultimate strategy each team takes for the seven rounds of the draft. Last year,
quarterback Joey Harrington's splendid workouts at the combine translated into
millions of dollars, as did receiver Javon Walker's performance which improved
his draft ranking almost ten slots. Conversely, offensive lineman Eric Heitmann
saw his stock slip after he was red-flagged with injury.
So, how does the landscape look for this weekend?
Much like 2002, the top spot at quarterback is set as Carson Palmer firmly holds
the number one position, but after that it's anyone's guess. Hampered by a leg
injury late in the year, Marshall's Byron Leftwich will be sidelined for another
major scouting event, which will deal a blow to his final draft grade. This
leaves the door open for several other passers to move into the spotlight.
Florida thrower Rex Grossman has yet to perform in front of a collective group
of league scouts since declaring for the draft, and he could venture into the
top ten with a good passing performance this weekend. Cal's Kyle Boller hopes to
keep the momentum going after a terrific senior campaign, and a good performance
in the RCA Dome could push him into the early part of the first round. For Dave
Ragone, of Louisville, this may be the final opportunity to state his case to be
a top 32 choice after falling far short of expectations last season. Chris Simms
of Texas, Miami signal-caller Ken Dorsey, and fellow Big East passer Brian St.
Pierre of Boston College all have a lot riding on this weekend.
Like quarterback, the receiver board is set at the top but offers mixed opinions
after the initial pair of prospects. Taylor Jacobs of Florida and North
Carolina's Sam Aiken caught the ball with precision during Senior Bowl practices
but did not display the game-breaking speed that teams desire. Fast forty times
will elevate both, especially Jacobs, who could land in the middle of round one
to a receiver-starved franchise such as the Washington Redskins.
As the quarterbacks and receivers take to the turf in Indianapolis on Sunday,
eyes will also be on the defensive linemen, as many forecast a record number of
front four players will be selected in the initial frame this April. Arizona
State's Terrell Suggs terrorized offenses last year, setting a single-season
NCAA record for quarterback sacks. Many wonder if the lanky pass rusher can hold
up as an every-down defensive end in the NFL. Besides good workouts, scouts will
also be hoping that Suggs will be "overweight" when he tips the scales
prior to taking the field. Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State,
teammate Michael Haynes, and Dwayne Robertson of Kentucky all stand to benefit
from solid workouts which will move them into the early reaches of round one.
This, of course, assumes that the top prospects actually participate in the
workouts. As is the case every February, many of the invitees will not
participate during the combine's workout portion and will wait for the
"Pro-Days" offered by their respective universities. No matter how
much the collective group of prospects is prodded to take part in all of the
events at the RCA Dome, agents will bend the ears of their clients to opt for
workouts in more favorable conditions.
Medical examinations also play a crucial role throughout the next week. Teams
will want to check the oft-injured knee of Georgia's Boss Bailey, the surgically
repaired back of Maryland's EJ Henderson, the fused vertebrae in the neck of
Tennessee wide out Kelley Washington, and most importantly, the reconstructed
knee of former Miami running back Willis McGahee. A red flag for injury could
spell doom for a potential draft pick and result in a drastic downgrade of his
ratings as teams try to avoid investing millions of dollars in damaged goods.
Then there are the surprise performances from under-publicized players,
prospects who will watch their draft stock soar after exceeding expectations.
Several lesser-known invitees fall into that category this weekend.
Memphis State product Wade Smith is a relatively unknown player who is highly
spoken of in scouting circles. A superior athlete, Smith has the ability to play
three different positions on the offensive front and has even lined up at tight
end in college. Impressive performances starting Friday could move Smith into
the top 50 selections this April.
Mars Hill linebacker Kahlid Abdullah, receiver Ryan Hoag of Gustavus Adolphus,
and Cliff Washburn, the athletic defensive end representing the Citadel, can all
state their case this weekend.
They say, "first impressions last a lifetime"; but when it comes to
the NFL Draft, last impressions are what the decision makers working the
franchise war rooms will remember as they phone in their final selections,
starting April 26th. What happens this week in Indianapolis will be a big factor
in those final choices.
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