Kiper: Rating draft's underclassmen (final list)

Kiper: McGahee a top-five pick before injury

Mel Kiper Archive

Tuesday, March 8

USC's Palmer among bowl standouts

Editor's Note: Mel Kiper Jr. identifies and evaluates NFL prospects who posted impressive bowl-game performances.

OFFENSE
carson palmer
Palmer
Carson Palmer, QB, USC -- Palmer was on fire in the second half of the Trojans' convincing victory over Iowa in the Orange Bowl, building on a complete turnaround season from the standpoint of his TD-to-interception ratio. This season, Palmer threw 33 TDs and 10 picks (in his first three years, his numbers were 39-39). In addition to the improved decision-making, Palmer continued to showcase Drew Bledsoe-like pure passing skills, along with surprisingly good mobility for a 6-foot-5, 232-pounder.
Draft Outlook: Right now, Palmer is clearly the top player on my draft board. It would be a surprise if he doesn't end up being the first player chosen, either by the Cincinnati Bengals or perhaps the Chicago Bears in a trade-up.

Justin Fargas, RB, USC -- Once he worked his way back to full strength after a hamstring injury, the former Michigan transfer surfaced late this season as a capable runner worth keeping a close eye on. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, Fargas caught fire in the Trojans' last six games, rushing for 100-plus yards four times (139 yards vs. Oregon, 125 vs. Arizona State, 123 vs. Notre Dame and 122 vs. Iowa in the Orange Bowl).
Draft Outlook: An intriguing second-day choice (when rounds 4-7 take place).

Quentin Griffin, RB, Oklahoma -- All this young man does is continue to produce big-time results against elite opposition. No matter the opponent, Griffin was rarely slowed down or contained, with his quickness, vision and determined running style translating into a number of eye-catching performances. In the Rose Bowl, he not only proved to be too much to handle for Washington State but also fell just a few yards short of breaking Billy Sims' all-time career rushing mark with the Sooners. While he isn't NFL feature-back material, Griffin (5-7, 195) will bring back memories of former Auburn and San Diego Charger standout Lionel "Little Train" James.
Draft Outlook: Early on day two, Griffin would be a nice complementary performer to bring into the fold.

DEFENSE
Kenny Peterson, DT, Ohio State -- He wreaked havoc in the Buckeyes' exciting national-championship victory over the Miami Hurricanes. Peterson plays with real passion, showing impressive quickness and athleticism for a 6-3, 294-pounder. When the 2002 season began, I viewed Peterson as a third- or fourth-round possibility. Now, though, after an impressive campaign, highlighted by his stellar effort in the Fiesta Bowl, he qualifies as a player on the rise.
Draft Outlook: Could easily become a late-first-round pick.

Terrell Suggs, DE, Arizona State -- Suggs surpassed the single-season sack totals of Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney, establishing an NCAA record (22). His game-to-game performances showed he doesn't take any downs off; he displays a sustained intensity level that is critical in terms of maximizing NFL potential. In 2002, no defensive player performed to Suggs' level.
Draft Outlook: I expect Suggs to go early in the first round, possibly as high as the fifth pick overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

E.J. Henderson, LB, Maryland -- He took some time to return to 100 percent after April back surgery, but by midseason Henderson was performing at an All-American level and re-establishing himself as an early-round NFL draft choice. Then, in the Peach Bowl against Tennessee, he ranged from sideline to sideline to make plays, standing out as the top player on the field. After a tremendous junior campaign along with the strong finish this season, the key now for Henderson will be to show the NFL brass that he has the necessary 40-yard speed to warrant first-round consideration.
Draft Outlook: Could go in round one, but at worst he doesn't figure to slip past round two. He compares favorably to former Ohio State and New York Giants standout Pepper Johnson, who went in the late second round (51st pick) of the 1986 NFL draft.

Jason Goss, CB, TCU -- A three-year starter for the Horned Frogs, Goss also has punt-return experience to go along with his skills as a pure cover man. In 2002, he made 50 tackles (including five stops behind the line of scrimmage), tied a school record with eight interceptions and broke up 24 passes. Goss had 14 career picks. Against Colorado State in the Liberty Bowl, he posted yet another superior performance, intercepting a pass and breaking up four others. For his efforts, Goss was named the Horned Frogs' defensive player of the game. The 5-10, 188-pounder lacks ideal size, but he's an instinctive performer with excellent ball skills and a real feel for the position.
Draft Outlook: Right now, I view him as a late first-day (rounds 1-3) or early second-day (rounds 4-7) possibility.

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