As we get deeper into the evaluation period and it becomes apparent which players have the talent to be drafted in the first round, I begin to match those players with the positional needs of NFL clubs. The result is my first projection of how the first round of the 2001 NFL draft might look. As the combine and individual workouts change the esteem in which certain players are held, check back to see how my first-round projection changes as well.
1. San Diego | Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech: Mike Riley has been retained as the Chargers' head coach for at least one more season, with Norv Turner signing a four-year contract to become their new offensive coordinator. With this in mind, the Chargers will need to show the necessary improvement under Riley in order to convince ownership that in the long term he is the right man for the job. With Michael Vick, you are looking at a tremendously talented but very raw young signal caller. Can he be expected to win games as a starting QB during his first or second year in the NFL, considering that he needs a great deal of development as a drop-back passer? More than likely not. If they opt not to trade the first pick and bring Vick into the fold, you would expect new GM John Butler to land a proven veteran QB while Vick is learning the ropes.
2. Arizona | David Terrell, WR, Michigan: The Cardinals need defensive improvement, but it would be hard to overlook a difference-maker like Terrell. He's blessed with great physical ability along with a real passion for the game. Jake Plummer needs weapons at his disposal, and Terrell would certainly be a welcome addition to combine with up-and-coming standout David Boston and veteran Rob Moore, who is coming off the injury list.
|David Terrell figures to be the first of many talented wide receivers chosen in the 2001 draft.|
3. Cleveland | Deuce McAllister, RB, Mississippi: Anytime you have a bright, young signal caller like Tim Couch, you need to surround him with the type of talent that will allow him to succeed. Kevin Johnson and JaJuan Dawson could provide a solid WR tandem, with Dennis Northcutt in the mix in the long term. However, even with a potentially solid all-around back in Travis Prentice, the Browns will have a difficult time overlooking a big-time feature back like McAllister. There is no question that he is the top senior prospect available in the draft. McAllister had some injury problems this past season, but there is no denying his competitiveness and awesome skill level. Wasn't durability also a concern with Jamal Lewis? All he did was enjoy an outstanding rookie campaign in Baltimore.
4. Cincinnati | Justin Smith, DE, Missouri: The Bengals added a great deal of young talent at WR last year, yet still need to work on satisfying the contract demands of Corey Dillon. Defensively, the Bengals need to upgrade the talent base, with Smith figuring to really wow the NFL brass during either combine or individual testing. In addition to his 11½ sacks and 97 total tackles which led the Missouri Tiger defense this past season, Smith also possesses top-drawer computer numbers and overall physical ability.
5. Atlanta | Koren Robinson, WR, N.C. State: QB should be at the top of the Falcons priority list, but unless they deal up for Vick, they'll have to go another direction with this choice. If a highly skilled talent like Robinson is still on the board at this point,and that definitely isn't a certainty, you have to believe the Falcons would be thrilled to bring him into the fold. At this stage of the evaluation process, Terrell and Robinson are in a dead heat in the race for the top spot at the WR position.
6. New England | Todd Heap, TE, Arizona State: Since Drew Bledsoe came to the Pats as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft, he has incorporated the TE heavily into his pass offense. But that was during the Ben Coates era. This past season Bledsoe didn't have a reliable TE he could look to in key situations. Heap is a multi-talented 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with Kellen Winslow-type skills as a receiver. What an addition he would be to a Pats' offense that had all kinds of problems scoring points during the 2000 season. In 10 games they were held to 17 or fewer points.
7. Seattle (from Dallas) | Gerard Warren, DT, Florida: Opposing running backs did a great deal of damage against a Seahawks' leaky front seven that really missed Sam Adams, who was lost to free agency last year. Warren has the ability to upgrade the Seahawks' rush defense. He is a collapse-the-pocket type who figures to threaten opposing signal callers whenever they drop back to throw the football.
8. Chicago | Michael Bennett, RB, Wisconsin: The Bears do have a solid, hard-working back in James Allen. However, I see similarities here to the situation the Ravens dealt with going into the draft last year. Sure, Priest Holmes was productive and reliable as the starting RB, but Jamal Lewis was a top-flight feature performer. Bennett has that type of ability. He can hit the home run with his track speed, yet proved to be a tough inside runner. Now all Bennett has to do in order to secure an early-to-mid first round grade is prove during individual testing that he has the natural pass-receiving hands to develop into a multi-dimensional performer. He hauled in just four receptions for the Badgers this past season.
9. San Francisco | Kenyatta Walker, OT, Florida: The 49ers appear to have hit the jackpot with gritty signal caller Jeff Garcia. Now, after addressing the defense so heavily last season, the Niners will look to upgrade the talent base along the offensive line. While he was a RT during his college career with the Gators, Walker has the athleticism, quick feet and sound technique that is necessary to get the job done at the critical LT spot as well. It is this type of versatility that makes Walker so intriguing this early in the first round.
10. Seattle | Andre Carter, DE, California: While Mike Holmgren is an offensive wizard, stopping the opposition in their tracks will be on his mind come draft day. Not long ago, the Seahawks made yet another huge mistake in free agency, allowing DE Michael McCrary to move on. They struck gold with McCrary in the seventh round of the 1993 draft, then failed to benefit long term from his enthusiasm for the game and natural pass-rush skills off the edge. Folks, that's not the way to build a football team. That's why now they have to think seriously about using multiple selections to upgrade the defensive line. Carter receives high grades as both a pass rusher and against the enemy's overland attack.
11. Carolina | Leonard Davis, OT, Texas: At this point in the draft, it is rare to find a mammoth LT prospect like Davis who proved that he can effectively handle pass-protection duties consistently. Keep in mind, it's still up in the air whether Davis or the aforementioned Kenyatta Walker will end up being the most highly rated OT prospect in the draft.
12. Kansas City | Richard Seymour, DT, Georgia: Based on his physical talent, you would expect Seymour to be off the board a little earlier in the draft. What the Chiefs have to hope for is that some of the top-flight skill position talent on the offensive side gets pushed up into the early portion of the draft. I'm referring to McAllister, Bennett, Heap and the super blue-chip WRs who are available this year.
13. Jacksonville | Chad Johnson, WR, Oregon State: With the Jaguars' cap problems and the struggles of rookie R. Jay Soward, wide receiver has to be at or near the top of their wish list. Following his spectacular performance during Senior Bowl week in Mobile where he was the best player on the field, in my opinion, Johnson would have to be considered a real bargain at this point in the first round. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder took the Pac-10 by storm in his one campaign at the major-college level, then showcased exceptional natural pass-receiving skills in Mobile at the practice sessions.
14. Buffalo | Steve Hutchinson, OG, Michigan: Ranked right up there with Chad Johnson as one of the most impressive players at the Senior Bowl. Hutchinson operated at LG with the Wolverines but has the necessary skills to open up possibilities at RT in the NFL. It is that versatility which would be so intriguing for the Bills.
15. Washington | Santana Moss, WR, Miami (Fla.): Whether you consider Michael Westbrook to be a featured wide-out or a No. 2 option, there is no question that the Redskins desperately need to bring a skilled WR into the fold. While Moss checks in at just 5-foot-10 and 177 pounds, he's a proven playmaker with the ability to change the complexion of a game at any time. Keep in mind, he's also a dynamic punt returner.
16. Pittsburgh | Drew Brees, QB, Purdue: Last year, with the eighth pick in round one, the Steelers surprised me, going with wide-out Plaxico Burress over a potential franchise signal caller in Chad Pennington. Now, the Steelers again find themselves with a QB situation that is far from a team strength. Kordell Stewart had his moments down the stretch, but whether he will ever gain the necessary game-to-game consistency is up for debate. Brees enjoyed an incredibly productive career at West Lafayette with the Boilermakers, posting huge numbers in Joe Tiller's sophisticated attack. In the end, though, Brees will have to prove in an individual workout that he has the arm strength to prosper in any pro system.
17. Green Bay | Reggie Wayne, WR, Miami (Fla.): The perception of Wayne right now is that he's a possible go-to wide-out and sure-fire No. 2 option. I also remember back in 1995 when nobody though Antonio Freeman was feature wide-out material. That's why he lasted into the latter portion of round three. In Wayne's case, he carries a higher grade going in but will also be looking to prove that he's capable of developing into the focal point of a pass offense at the pro level. Following his outstanding career with the Hurricanes, Wayne turned quite a few heads at the Senior Bowl practices where he proved to be the most skilled route-runner in attendance. His polish and experience should make it possible for Wayne to contribute heavily as a rookie in the NFL.
18. Detroit | Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State: A natural pass rusher like Reynolds would make sense at this point in the first round, although OG and a true speed receiver would definitely be in the Lions' thought process, depending on how the draft unfolds.
19. New York Jets | Willie Howard, DT, Stanford: A quick, athletic 6-foot-3, 293-pounder with the talent and hustling approach of Howard would be an ideal fit for the Jets' defensive scheme.
20. St. Louis | Fred Smoot, CB, Mississippi State: Defense, defense and more defense is what the Rams will be looking for on draft day. Whether an opportunistic, supremely confident, big-play cover man like Smoot will still be on the board at this stage of the first round is very questionable, but if he is the Rams' brass would have to be doing cartwheels.
21. Tampa Bay | Jeff Backus, OT, Michigan: After starting 49 straight games to wind up his brilliant career in Ann Arbor, Backus then showed everyone in attendance at the Senior Bowl practices that he's capable of performing at a high level as a natural LT in the NFL. In fact, he was one of the five most impressive players in Mobile. Backus would look great in a Buccaneers uniform.
22. Indianapolis | Ken Lucas, CB, Mississippi: With his size (6-foot, 196), athletic ability (former WR) and ball skills, Lucas would be a nice fit for a Colts team that needs to upgrade the personnel base on defense.
23. New Orleans | Rod Gardner, WR, Clemson: A big wide-out with the exceptional body control of Gardner certainly would provide an additional key weapon for the Saints and their Coach of the Year, Jim Haslett.
24. Denver | Damione Lewis, DT, Miami (Fla.): The Broncos defense allowed 23 or more points in 11 regular-season games, even allowing the San Diego Chargers to score 37. A complete DT like Lewis would be a welcome addition while figuring to be quite a value if he's still available this late in round one.
25. Philadelphia | LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU: There is no mystery about what the Eagles' major priority is heading into the draft. Andy Reid and company will be looking to upgrade the skill-position talent that surrounds Donovan McNabb. At this stage of round one, it will be interesting to see if any of the super blue-chip wide-outs are still on the board. However, a nice change of pace to Duce Staley also would provide another dimension to the Eagles' offense. Tomlinson shows outstanding vision and quite a burst to daylight -- and he proved at the Senior Bowl practices that he could be factored into the equation as a pass-receiving option.
|Mel thinks rangy LB Quinton Caver will be a Raider.|
26. Miami | Freddie Mitchell, WR, UCLA: Versatile big-play weapon who talks a great deal and has supreme confidence in his ability while consistently backing it up with electrifying performances. If Mitchell's 40 times are impressive enough, he could end up even a little higher up the draft board.
27. Minnesota | Dan Morgan, LB, Miami (Fla.): As is the case with Seattle, Denver and St. Louis, the Vikings will also be looking to significantly upgrade a subpar defense that crumbled miserably in the NFC Championship game. Morgan, who worked at OLB before shifting to the mike-man spot this past season, brings top instincts and a hard-nosed approach to the second line of defense.
28. Oakland | Quinton Caver, OLB, Arkansas: Late in round one, a talented performer from the SEC like Caver would make an awful lot of sense. He's a rangy 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who took over several games this season. His 22-tackle effort against Alabama was a real attention-getter.
29. Tennessee | Marcus Stroud, DT, Georgia: With a talent-laden squad like the Titans, they can just sit back and try to garner the best value on the board near the end of round one. Stroud possesses imposing physical ability with his 6-foot-5, 318-pound frame and has impressive quickness. But a lack of game-to-game dominance is the reason he could slide down a little further than his collegiate press clippings tend to indicate.
30. New York Giants | Andre Dyson, CB, Utah: With all the wide-outs being taken off the board within the first two rounds of the draft, defensive coordinators will be looking for cover men who are capable of matching up. In the Giants' case, they could be in the market for another CB opposite Jason Sehorn. During his outstanding career with the Utes, Dyson set a Utah school record by returning three interceptions for TDs. Over the last two years, he came away with 10 picks while breaking up 30 passes during that same period. And during the practices at the Senior Bowl, he intercepted four passes.
31. Baltimore | Chris Chambers, WR, Wisconsin: The Ravens will be looking to upgrade the right side of the offensive line at both guard and tackle. Depending on what transpires in free agency, OLB could also turn out to be a key need area. However, due to the depth and talent level at WR in this year's draft, there is a good chance the Ravens will see a blue-chip wide-out still be available at the end of round one. Had it not been for the fact that Chambers missed the first four games of the 2000 season due to a stress fracture in his right foot, you could have been looking at an early-to-mid first-rounder.
Others who could have easily ended up as part of this first-round projection:
Anthony Thomas, RB, Michigan
Quincy Morgan, WR, Kansas St.
Maurice Williams, OT, Michigan
Brandon Winey, OT, LSU
Dominic Raiola, C, Nebraska
Casey Hampton, DT, Texas
Jamie Winborn, LB, Vanderbilt