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Sunday, April 27, 2003
Updated: April 28, 5:35 PM ET
Team-by-team NFC draft analysis
By Len Pasquarelli

Here is a thumbnail review and grades for the '03 draft for the NFC (for AFC review, click here):

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
Notable: The world still awaits the spate of frenetic wheelin' and dealin' that everyone figured would be a huge part of the first draft involving Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells in tandem. Looks like we'll all have to wait for 2004, huh? Two of the best horse-traders in the business pretty much played it straight and conservative, made solid picks, but weren't especially creative.
Will start as a rookie: Cornerback Terence Newman, even with all the fretting about his injured left shoulder, is the early-line favorite to be the defensive rookie of the year. Newman will team with second-year pro Derek Ross and Mario Edwards to give the Cowboys three very good corners. And he'll be a factor in the return game as well.
Best value: The third- and fourth-rounders, tight end Jason Witten and versatile linebacker Bradie James, respectively, were both snatched about a full round lower than we had them rated. Hey, sometimes you've got to be lucky and good, and the Cowboys definitely had a dose of the first commodity in getting these two prospects.
Boom or bust: Wide receiver Zuriel Smith of Hampton (No. 6) is a little guy with some return skills. We're not sold, either, on second-round center Al Johnson. Yeah, he fits a crying need, but are a few off-field issues that The Tuna probably had to think about before choosing him.
Grade: C+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

New York Giants
Notable: General manager Ernie Accorsi desperately wanted to move up in the first round to take Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle, but his NFC East rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, beat him to it. So he settled for another former Hurricanes star, defensive tackle William Joseph, who is hardly coming off a stellar 2002 performance.
Will start as a rookie: Probably no one, not even Joseph, at least if Keith Hamilton is recovered from an Achilles injury. But Joseph will be a big part of the tackle rotation and should certainly earn his letter. Also look for end Osi Umenyiora, an upfield rusher, to get considerable playing time.
Best value: Center Wayne Lucier (No. 7b) is a very solid player and he will help fortify a Giants line that lost some veterans in free agency. Give crack offensive line coach Jim McNally a few years with Lucier and then plug him into the starting lineup.
Boom or bust: His impressive sack totals aside, the Giants will have to hold their breath a little with Umenyiora, since he has not been playing the game all that long and has never performed under the spotlight. Cornerback Rod Babers (No. 4) can cover but, at just 5-feet-9, might be destined to just be a career "nickel" back.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Philadelphia Eagles
Notable: Guess all that talk about how Derrick Burgess and N.D. Kalu could move into the right end hole created by the departure of Hugh Douglas was a lot of rhetoric, huh? The Eagles shot way up the board, from No. 30 to No. 15, to get Miami end Jerome McDougle. Had they not made the move-up, they probably would not have landed an end candidate.
Will start as a rookie: For obvious reasons, McDougle has a chance to get into the lineup, but don't count on him opening the season with the first unit. On the other hand, tight end L.J. Smith (No. 2), a player the Eagles would have considered near the end of the first round if they had not been able to move up, could see lots of field time. Smith is arguably the best pure receiver in this year's tight end pool and incumbent Chad Lewis has started to slip noticeably the last two years.
Best value: Guard Jeremy Bridges (No. 6) could be a nice fit as a swing-type lineman, giving solid backup at guard and tackle. He is a durable guy with decent, but not great feet, and needs to add some more bulk. But to get him in that late in the draft is a big plus.
Boom or bust: You never want to put the onus on a first-round choice, but McDougle comes with some question marks. He isn't very big, is a bit on the short-armed side, and had just 14 sacks combined the last two years. He has undeniable rush skills but there are times he needs to have someone else start his motor for him.
Grade: C+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

Washington Redskins
Notable: Uh, you mean besides the fact the Redskins had just three picks, a league low this year, largely because they acquired four restricted free agents and traded for tailback Trung Canidate?
Will start as a rookie: No one, but Taylor Jacobs (No. 2) as a viable chance to be the third wide receiver. That's in part because he played for coach Steve Spurrier at Florida, but more so because he is a talented guy.
Best value: Most teams ranked Jacobs a first-round playet but he slipped when some scouts perceived he isn't quite tough enough. To land him in the second round is a real steal.
Boom or bust: Quarterback Gibran Hamdan (No. 7) is big and strong-armed but still a developmental project.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Notable: The Bears could have remained at the No. 4 spot and taken the hottest player in the draft, defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, but opted to swap back and get two picks in the opening stanza. It remains to be seen if defensive end Michael Haynes and quarterback Rex Grossman eventually justify the move.
Will start as a rookie: Perhaps no one, although Haynes is very solid and will see action at least in the third-down rush package. And don't discount the chance that second-rounder Charles Tillman, a cornerback with size and raw cover skills, will be on the field a lot as well.
Best value: Wide receiver Bobby Wade can't run out of sight in a week and doesn't fit the mold of the bigger outside pass catcher teams covet. But he has good hands, knows how to find open spots in the secondary and, for a Bears team that doesn't throw the ball downfield anyway, is a good fit and a mini-bargain in the fifth round. The other No. 5 pick, another wideout in Justin Gage, doesn't run well, either, but has superior size. Coupled with Wade, it's a very good daily double in the fifth round.
Boom or bust: In about three years, the verdict will be in on Grossman. Hey, we love the kid, his moxie and competitiveness and feel his height won't hold him back at the NFL level. But there are skeptics and Grossman is going to have to prove to them he belongs.
Grade: C | Mel Kiper's Grade

Detroit Lions
Notable: Once again the Detroit draft room was split over candidates, as was the case in 2002, when ownership broke the tie and took Joey Harrington. This time, the debate was between corner Terence Newman and wideout Charles Rogers. Of course, the Lions could have traded back, too, with any number of suitors. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make and, if Rogers is as advertised, Detroit was prudent in standing pat and in landing Harrington a prime target.
Will start as a rookie: Rogers was a starter from the second commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced him as the Lions' choice. And while the fluid and athletic Boss Bailey slipped all the way to the top of the second round because so many teams felt he was a poor tackler who didn't make plays, it's hard to imagine he won't crack the suspect Detroit lineup.
Best value: Free safety Terrence Holt, the brother of Rams wide receiver Tory Holt, was rated much higher than a fifth-rounder on most boards. He does not have great cover skills but hits hard and, as a superb special teams player, he'll contribute right away on the kicking-game units.
Boom or bust: Wide receiver David Kircus (No. 6) and cornerback Danny "Blue" Adams (No. 7a) are works in progress. They have sufficient skills to play in the league but can't be rushed.
Grade: B- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Green Bay Packers
Notable: Everyone assumed this would be the draft in which the Packers addressed the specter of an eventual life without Brett Favre, but the club never really considered a quarterback in the first round. Truth be told, this is a team starting to fade a bit, still good enough to win 10 games in 2003, but with some holes. Not having a second-round choice, which went to the Eagles in the trade for cornerback Al Harris nearly two months ago, really hurt the Packers over the weekend.
Will start as a rookie: Given that Green Bay is rebuilding is linebacker corps, it's hard to imagine first-rounder Nick Barnett not being in the lineup. He's the only prospect with a chance of getting really considerable playing time as a rookie, although third-rounder Kenny Peterson could fit into the front four rotation.
Best value: Peterson is definitely better than a third-rounder, but was hurt by his inability to finish a 40-yard drill because of hamstring problems. The guy people really love is linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (No. 5), who might never be anything more than a career backup, but who is smart, will play on special teams and find a way to make himself a decent player.
Boom or bust: You hate to say it about anyone's first round, but since Barnett is such a late-bloomer, you have to view him with a jaundiced eye until he demonstrates that he is the real deal.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Minnesota Vikings
Notable: For the second consecutive draft, the Vikings were made to look like first-round dunces, and that can't be a comfortable feeling for anyone, from owner Red McCombs on down. Club officials can blame the Ravens for failing to verify a trade before the 15-minute limit elapsed, but there was no reason for Minnesota to still be trading proposals with three franchises, and it played the leverage game too close to the clock. The Vikings still got the player they wanted but they got a lot of grief, too.
Will start as a rookie: Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, the choice in the first round, improved his late stock more than just about any other player in the talent pool. He isn't quite the perfect complement for vet Chris Hovan, since the two have similar skills, but the guy can play. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson might also find his way into the lineup.
Best value: Getting productive tailback Onterrio Smith in the fourth round, where he likely slipped because of some past off-field problems, could prove to be a major boon. Smith is a big-time runner, blessed with vision and great balance, and will be able to spell Michael Bennett. Linebacker Mike Nattiel (No. 6) was a nifty late addition. The undersized 'backer will stand out on special teams early in his career.
Boom or bust: Henderson's back woes, and the fact some teams feel he has a degenerative condition in his lumbar area, could make him risky. He is pretty much a two-down player who won't be on the field on passing downs.
Grade: C+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Notable: The team will justifiably argue that veteran wide receiver Peerless Price, acquired in a trade with Buffalo, represents its first-round pick. Fair enough. But the Falcons didn't have a third-round choice, either, because it dealt it away last year for an extra 2002 fourth-rounder to take little-used guard Martin Bibla.
Will start as rookie: None.
Best value: Fourth-rounder Justin Griffith has a thick build, and with Bob Christian having retired because of concussions, the Mississippi State star has a chance to contend for playing time at fullback and might even compete for the starting spot.
Boom or bust: Wide receiver Jon Olinger, a fifth-round pick, has prototype size for the position. But he runs in the 4.5s, on a good day, and the Falcons already have a guy in this mold, in veteran Brian Finneran. There were a few teams with Olinger on their radar screens, but the Falcons took him at least a round too high.
Grade: C | Mel Kiper's Grade

Carolina Panthers
Notable: While the Panthers flirted with the idea of moving up to take quarterback Byron Leftwich, the mindset all along has been that a good player would almost certainly fall to them at the No. 9 spot. When the Vikings "passed" on their No. 7 choice, it all but guaranteed the Panthers would get tackle Jordan Gross, a player they greatly admired.
Will start as a rookie: Gross has already been penciled in as the starter at right tackle, not his normal spot, but a position where he will do well. The one hitch is that, while most pundits see Gross as a blue-collar tough guy, he is more a finesse player and will eventually move to the left side.
Best value: The knock on Stanford fullback Casey Moore is that he is soft and not nearly physical enough as a lead blocker. But some people felt he was among the top two or three fullbacks in the talent pool and to get him in the seventh round was farily remarkable.
Boom or bust: Third-round cornerback Ricky Manning was a bit of a "reach," an undersized cover player whose best sport might be baseball. Manning is fast and athletic, but will never be anything more than a "nickel" guy, and will have matchup problems with even average-sized wideouts.
Grade: B- | Mel Kiper's Grade

New Orleans Saints
Notable: Most observers felt the Saints would move up from their first-round no-man's land, with choices No. 17 and No. 18 overall, to grab one of the two premier cornerback prospects. But the player coach Jim Haslett really wanted was defensive tackle Jonathan Sullivan, a guy he hopes will help solve the Saints' inability to stop the run. It was a lot to surrender, though, to get a player some feel takes a few snaps off himself.
Will start as a rookie: Just 24 hours after taking Sullivan, the Saints created a starting spot for him by dealing tackle Norman Hand to Seattle for a No. 6 draft choice. Sullivan is strong and active, not quite a lax as the two tackles who preceded him at Georgia, Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour, but he still needs to be occasionally prodded. It would not be surprising to see No. 2 pick Jon Stinchcomb, another former Bulldogs star, get significant time in the second half of the season.
Best value: The choice of big, physical and quick wideout Talman Gardner in the seventh round might pay off big-time. But only if Gardner gets beyond his current legal problems, stem from a handgun incident. Gardner is a terrific threat up the seams, has good reach, will make the acrobatic catch. But he has to clean up his act first.
Boom or bust: Linebacker Cie Grant (No. 3) has played a lot of positions at Ohio State. His best position, unfortunately, might be athlete. A onetime safety, who actually played cornerback in 2001, Grant will be a great special teams guy. But the Saints want him to be more than that and he needs to settle in at one spot and learn a position.
Grade: B- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable: For the second draft in a row, Tampa Bay was without a first-rounder because of the trade for head coach Jon Gruden. Getting beyond that reality was easier this year, since the team could sit and stare at the Vince Lombardi Trophy through the early proceedings. That said, even with a dearth of choices, the Bucs didn't fare too poorly.
Will start as a rookie: None, not on this loaded team.
Best value: Getting pass-rushing defensive end Dwayne White so late in the second round was a nice catch. White can be spotted, where he will be able to maximize his snaps, and he fits well into the model preferred by Bucs coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. The jury is out on quarterback Chris Simms (No. 3). Gruden will be good for him, but Simms has a lot of holes in his game.
Boom or bust: Cornerback Torrie Cox (No. 6) was one of the players who tested positive for diluted urine at the combine, so he's already carrying one demerit. Plus he isn't very big and doesn't run especially well.
Grade: D+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
Notable: In his first year presiding over the draft, vice president Rod Graves swapped the sixth overall choice in the first round for picks No. 17 and No. 18, an indication that the Cardinals still feel they need quantity, and that one premier player would not be able to turn things around.
Will start as rookie: Both first rounders, wide receiver Bryant Johnson and defensive end Calvin Pace.
Best value: Getting linebacker Gerald Hayes, a tackling machine, in the third round was a pleasant surprise. But an even better value selection was Tony Gilbert, another linebacker, in the seventh round. Gilbert isn't pretty and is a limited athlete, but he's all football player.
Boom or bust: Some will argue that the Cardinals grabbed Pace (18th overall) too high, but he was the third-rated defensive end on their board, and would not have been around for them in the second stanza. For a club that had just 65 sacks over the past three seasons, Arizona had to secure someone who could rush the passer.
Grade: C+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

San Francisco 49ers
Notable: Perhaps most notable is that general manager Terry Donahue ran the draft without "consultant" Bill Walsh looking over his shoulder. The 49ers were pretty much a stand-pat team over the weekend, making solid if unspectacular choices, but not causing any discernable buzz.
Will start as a rookie: If the Niners are serious about dumping the venerable warrior Derrick Deese, first-round pick Kwamie Harris of nearby Stanford could be groomed to take his spot at left tackle. But Harris doesn't really have the quick feet some people assume he does, nor if he especially tough. There's an upside to him but it might hurt Harris to force him too soon. One rookie who will get on the field, although not as a starter, is second-round defensive tackle Anthony Adams. The former Penn State star is earmarked for a rotational role in his debut season.
Best value: Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (No. 4) is very polished but does not have burner's speed. But he runs crisp routes, is not afraid of contact and is a confident performer. Another wideout, Arnaz Battle (No. 6) is a very intriguing prospect. The onetime Notre Dame quarterback has some quickness and is developing nicely as a wideout.
Boom or bust: Why the 49ers wasted even a seventh-round pick on former Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey is puzzling. That impressive 38-2 record as a starter can't camouflage a poor arm and lack of athleticism.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Seattle Seahawks
Notable: The coaches never expected cornerback Marcus Trufant to tumble to the No. 11 spot, figuring instead to select defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but they weren't about to stare a gift horse in the mouth. Mike Holmgren needs a big year, and needs to turn around his defense, and new coordinator Ray Rhodes had to be satisfied with the first two picks. It is also notable that the Seahawks acquired overweight and underachieving defensive tackle Norman Hand from New Orleans on Sunday.
Will start as a rookie: Trufant isn't going to sit around for long. In fact, he might provide the Seahawks an excuse to trade unhappy starter Shawn Springs, he of the eternally tweaked hamstrings. Pairing Trufant with the emerging Ken Lucas would solve the cornerback spot for the long-term.
Best value: Some teams had offensive tackle Wayne Hunter (No. 3) rated as a fringe first-round pick, so getting him two stanzas lower is a coup. Hunter is a big-framed pass-blocker who played in the run-and-shoot and knows how to protect a quarterback's blindside. He won't bump Walter Jones, a perennial Pro Bowl pick, for the starting job. But Jones is once again involved in a contract dispute and it is anyone's guess when he will show up for training camp.
Boom or bust: Seneca Wallace (No. 4a) was a standout quarterback at the college level, but some teams want to move outside the envelope a bit with him and use him as Pittsburgh deploys Antwaan Randle El. Wallace has balked at such plans but better warm to the idea. He isn't likely to make an NFL living strictly at the quarterback position.
Grade: B | Mel Kiper's Grade

St. Louis Rams
Notable: St. Louis coaches got the defensive tackle they craved, albeit it not the one they figured would fall to them, but they aren't complaining. Jimmy Kennedy, the first-rounder, should help plug a porous middle and will team with former No. 1 Ryan Pickett, an emerging player, to give the club a couple of young and powerful tackles.
Will start as a rookie: Unless third-year pro Damione Lewis can come back from the foot injuries that have stymied his development, it appears as if Kennedy will be penciled in as a starter. The former Penn State standout can occupy two blockers but don't be surprised to see line coach Bill Kollar let him hit the gap in a three-technique position. It's doubtful that linebacker Piso Tinoisamoa (No. 2) will start but, as the Rams continue to shuffle the position, anything is possible.
Best value: Three picks stand out as being of appropriate value -- wideout Kevin Curtis (No. 3), corneraback DeJuan Groce (No. 4) and defensive back Shane Walton (No. 5). Of the three, Curtis, with great speed and smarts on and off the field, probably has the best chance of playing early. Walton is a headhunter but does not run well.
Boom or bust: Wide receiver Shaun McDonald (No. 4) certainly went to a team with the right kind of offense for him. Aligned in the slot, he could be a playmaker. But he does not play as quick as his stopwatch speed and will drop some easy passes. His most immediate value might be as a return man.
Grade: B- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for