<
>

Butler, Poole among those who slipped

When it comes to considering the character of a prospect, there is often more rhetoric than results in the NFL, but the 2004 draft seemed to indicate an increased emphasis on how players comported themselves off the field.

There is perhaps no better example of that than Purdue offensive lineman Kelly Butler, regarded by many as perhaps the second- or third-best left tackle prospect in the draft, but a player who fell all the way to the sixth round.

A monstrous player with all the attributes scouts covet in a left tackle, Butler was charged in 2002 with punching a pledge after being told that one of his fraternity brothers had been assaulted. Those charges were dropped in June 2003 when witnesses, some of whom had earlier identified Butler, declined to testify. But two weeks ago, Butler was involved in a scuffle outside a tavern and some scouts began to worry.

Butler's representatives made a case to scouts that their client was defending himself and that he had gone back to the bar because he lost his wallet. There was a body of evidence, at least circumstantial, to support some of Butler's claims. But clearly, coming so close to the draft, the incident severely affected his stock. Butler had some past injury concerns, and sat out the 2000 season because of tendinitis in his shoulder, but scouts allowed that the off-field worries were a bigger factor in his fall.

"He's a talented guy," said one personnel director, "but, to us, there were just too many flies buzzing around him."

On physical ability alone, Butler was a prospect on the rise in the wake of his combine performance, and he was the No. 57 player on the ESPN.com assessment of the top 65 guys in the draft. But instead, Butler lasted until the 172nd choice, when the Detroit Lions finally ended his long vigil.

Another player whose past obviously caused some teams to back away was cornerback Will Poole of Southern California. Once regarded as one of the top four corner prospects in the field, Poole definitely lost ground on draft boards because of subpar workouts. In a year when the NFL plans to make the illegal contact rule a so-called "point of emphasis," speed at the cornerback position is an even bigger commodity.

But teams surveyed Sunday morning by ESPN.com noted that Poole dropped on boards as much for questions of character as concerns about a lack of quickness. After the 2000 season, in which he started as a redshirt freshman, Poole was dismissed from the Boston College squad for an infraction. He then played only one season of major college ball, at Southern California in 2003, but not even the recommendations of Trojans head coach Pete Carroll to longtime friends could save Poole from his free fall in scouts' eyes.

The result: Poole lasted into the fourth round, where the Miami Dolphins finally cast him a safety net, but not before 101 other prospects had been chosen, including 13 corners.

To a lesser extent, Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert fell a bit lower than he probably should have, in part because of a somewhat troubled off-field history. Schweigert was arrested twice in college for incidents that involved driving and alcohol, had his license suspended for 30 days at one point and was ordered to undergo alcohol counseling.

Projected by many as a second-round prospect, Schweigert, who has prototype size for the safety position, lasted into the third stanza. The Oakland Raiders chose him with the fourth pick in that round, the 67th player taken overall.

Draft notes

  • The second day of the draft is a time for taking some chances, for gambling on some compelling players still left on your board, and for projecting where prospects might fit into your system. That means more classic "tweeners" go off the board in the second day and that was evident right from the outset of the fourth round Sunday morning.

    The first two choices on the second day, Reggie Torbor (N.Y. Giants) of Auburn and Shaun Phillips (San Diego) of Purdue, were college defensive ends who probably will play linebacker at the NFL level. Both players are typical of the 255-pound defensive ends who some teams feel can make the transition from playing as a "down" lineman to performing out of a two-point stance.

    Phillips, in particular, was a late riser in the draft, based on scouts' beliefs that he will be a productive 'backer, especially in a 3-4 front. Little wonder he was selected by San Diego, which is moving to the 3-4 this season under new coordinator Wade Phillips but which lacked sufficient personnel to fill all the linebacker holes. Phillips had 33½ sacks as a four-year starter at Purdue, and could be a nice fit as an edge rusher in the 3-4 scheme.

    In Torbor, the Giants are getting a similarly-sized player who also possesses outside rush skills. New York doesn't play the 3-4, but Torbor, who collected 19½ sacks at Auburn, translates into a situational rusher early in his career.

    One other fourth-round defender who might be able to make the switch from end to linebacker is Jared Allen of Idaho State, chosen by Kansas City with the 126th overall selection. Allen is bigger (265 pounds) than Torbor and Phillips, and could bulk up and play end. But his versatility makes him an intriguing prospect for new Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cuningham.

    Another plus with Allen: He is capable of handling the deep-snapping chores as well.

  • As anticipated, Ohio State broke the record for most players chosen in a seven-round draft, with 14 prospects selected over the weekend.

    Since the league adopted the seven-round draft in 1994, only seven programs had 10 or more players chosen in the same lottery. Miami, which sent 11 players to the league in the 2002 draft, held the previous record for the seven-round lottery.

    In fact, the Buckeyes nearly hit for the draft "cycle," with at least one representative in 10 of the 11 position categories recognized by the NFL and NFL Players Association in the collective bargaining agreement. The only position the Buckeyes did not fill was running back, and that is only because tailback Maurice Clarett was not eligible for the lottery.

  • The Houston Texans wanted to upgrade the safety position this weekend and may have succeeded, albeit in a relatively unorthodox manner.

    Houston chose South Carolina cornerback Dunta Robinson in the first round Saturday, and that will likely precipitate the move of longtime cornerback Marcus Coleman to free safety, the position he played in college. That is a switch that's been discussed for much of the offseason but was contingent on landing a player of Robinson's pedigree.

    The Texans also invested a sixth-round pick on former Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord, whose skills at his college spot won't allow him to continue at that position in the NFL. Some scouts projected Lord, who is 6-feet-2 and 219 pounds and is not shy about contact, to tailback. After all, in the Cornhuskers' option-style offense, he rushed for 2,360 yards in two years as the starter.

    But the Houston staff will audition Lord as a safety, hoping he can make the transition, even if it takes a year on the practice squad.

  • When the Atlanta Falcons chose Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub in the third round on Saturday night, there were some questions about how he would fit into the depth chart. The Falcons, after all, have been pursuing a veteran quarterback to fill the No. 2 slot behind Michael Vick and in front of Ty Detmer, the graybeard signed as a free agent to be the third signal-caller on the roster.

    But it appears there is actually a chance that Schaub, widely regarded as the fifth-best player among the quarterback prospects, could compete for the No. 2 as a rookie. That is not the ideal situation but, given the circumstances, it could happen.

    The Falcons opted to bring Schaub into the mix after their efforts to trade for a veteran on Saturday were unsuccessful. The quarterback Atlanta most coveted was Drew Brees of San Diego, and the Falcons made an offer to the Chargers, feeling they might decide to part with their incumbent starter now that first-rounder Philip Rivers is onboard. But the Chargers, after brief deliberation, decided to keep Brees for now.

    Atlanta also inquired about the availability of Seattle backup Trent Dilfer on Saturday. The Falcons were waiting to see what transpired with Jon Kitna, demoted to the backup role behind Carson Palmer by the Bengals last month, but Cincinnati early this week signed its former starter to a one-year contract extension through 2005.

  • There is no denying that, by including their 2005 first-round pick in the package that allowed them to move up and snatch quarterback J.P. Losman in the first round on Saturday, the Buffalo Bills paid a steep price. But the team is counting on second-year tailback Willis McGahee, the former Miami star who didn't play a single snap in '03 while recovering from catastrophic knee surgery, to help make up for the sacrifice.

    So how does McGahee, the Bills' 2003 first-rounder, figure into the equation? Here's how: If the former Hurricanes star can regain his previous form, and become a solid back for Buffalo this year, it could allow the Bills to trade current starting tailback Travis Henry after the 2004 season.

    No, the Bills almost certainly wouldn't recoup the 2005 first-rounder they traded away on Saturday in any deal for Henry, but they might get a second-round choice for him. And that would offer at least some mitigation for paying a hefty price for Losman's rights.

  • Under coach Joe Tiller, the Purdue Boilermakers have become known more for their wide-open offense, but you couldn't tell it from the events of the weekend. All three of the Purdue starting linebackers from 2003 were chosen in the draft: Gilbert Gardner (by Indianapolis) and Landon Johnson (Cincinnati) in the third round and Niko Koutouvides (Seattle) in the fourth stanza.

    "We hit the hat trick," noted Johnson. "Not many teams, or units, can say that."

    In truth, from the trio, it might be Koutouvides who has the best chance to contribute quickly. Seattle is, to be kind, unsettled at middle linebacker. Koutouvides is not a great athlete, but he has deceptively good range, and will make the tackles "in the box."

    The Purdue defense also had tackle Craig Terrill chosen by Seattle in the sixth round and cornerback Jacques Reeves selected by Dallas in the seventh round. As noted in items above, safety Stuart Schweigert and defensive end/linebacker Shaun Phillips also were chosen from the unit.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.