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Kiper: First-round draft projection, March 29

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Monday, April 16

Kiper's first-round draft projection

With the 2001 NFL draft less than two weeks away -- it takes place April 21-22 -- here's how draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. sees the first round playing out:

1. San Diego -- Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech: While he's a developing talent who still needs to evolve into a pure passer, the Chargers will roll the dice on his enormous upside potential. Over the next year or so, Doug Flutie will be under center, with Vick as the heir apparent.

2. Arizona -- Gerard Warren, DT, Florida: The decision here is whether to trade or bring either Warren or Missouri DE Justin Smith into the fold. With DT such a huge need, a big-time talent like Warren would make the most sense, in my opinion.

3. Cleveland -- David Terrell, WR, Michigan: RB is still a questionable area, so LaDainian Tomlinson deserves serious consideration. Of late, though, the injury question with Terrell has subsided to the point where he's now re-established himself as one of the elite players in the draft. Remember, the Browns need weapons to assist the development of young signal caller Tim Couch, with Terrell's size (6-foot-3, 213), sure hands and red-zone ability figuring to provide a major boost to the Browns' offense.

4. Cincinnati -- Leonard Davis, OT, Texas: With his ability to dominate as a run-blocker at 6-foot-5, 370 pounds, working in conjunction with his steadily improving skills in pass protection, the Bengals will expect Davis to quickly establish himself as a top-flight LT. Remember, on the right side they have a quality veteran in former first-rounder Willie Anderson.

5. Atlanta -- Justin Smith, DE, Missouri: Last year, Patrick Kerney, Brady Smith and Chuck Wiley combined for just 11 sacks at DE, making this a key area of need for the Falcons. Smith proved to be a complete DE at Missouri, setting a Tiger single-season record last year with 11 sacks while leading the defense with 97 tackles. His enthusiasm and passion for the game is also a major plus.

6. New England -- Koren Robinson, WR, N.C. State: With the Patriots, everything revolves around Drew Bledsoe and the ability of the offense to light up the scoreboard. Last year, defenses had the upper hand against Bledsoe and company, making a big-play performer like Robinson tremendously difficult to overlook. I understand that DT, RB and OT are primary need areas, but the addition of Robinson to go along with Terry Glenn and Troy Brown would give the Pats a quality array of weapons for Bledsoe to hook up with through the airwaves.

7. Seattle (from Dallas) -- Rod Gardner, WR, Clemson: Mike Holmgren brought in Matt Hasselbeck to run the offense and now he'll be looking to surround the young signal caller with the talent necessary to excel. Gardner has imposing size at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, excellent body control and the natural pass-receiving skills of Cris Carter.

8. Chicago -- LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU: Emmitt Smith proved to be the ideal complement for Troy Aikman in Dallas, while Edgerrin James has done the same for Peyton Manning with the Colts. If Cade McNown is going to have any chance to make his mark as one of the bright young QBs in the NFL, he's going to need a big-time RB to balance things out. Tomlinson figures to be the right man for the job. If a team such as Carolina deals up to acquire Tomlinson, the Bears would then have to audibilize to defensive linemen Richard Seymour or Andre Carter.

9. San Francisco -- Kenyatta Walker, OT, Florida: The versatility an athletically gifted bookend like Walker would bring to the Niners' offensive line cannot be minimized. While he excelled at RT with the Gators, he has the skill level necessary to garner Pro Bowl recognition at the critical LT spot in the NFL.

10. Green Bay (from Seattle) -- Richard Seymour, DT, Georgia: With teams becoming more and more enamored with the physical skills and pro potential of Seymour, the Packers wouldn't have had the opportunity to bring him into the fold without the move up from pick No. 17 in the trade involving Matt Hasselbeck.

11. Carolina -- Dan Morgan, LB, Miami (Fla.): Some may forget that Morgan was an outstanding OLB before he settled into the MLB spot this past season when Nate Webster moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the Panthers, he would provide the leadership and Dick Butkus-type approach that would really solidify the second line of defense. Another scenario would have the Panthers dealing up ahead of Chicago to land durable and talented RB LaDainian Tomlinson.

12. Kansas City -- Deuce McAllister, RB, Mississippi: This pick could end up with the Rams if QB Trent Green is dealt to the Chiefs, as has been discussed. However, if the Chiefs remain at this spot, the need for a multi-dimensional RB could lead them to McAllister, who has dropped some of late due to concerns about his upright style and durability question.

13. Jacksonville -- Andre Carter, DE, California: With the Jaguars needing more production opposite Tony Brackens at DE, a consistent, hard-working, all-around performer like Carter would provide a major upgrade. Carter is definitely the type of player you can go to war with, comparing favorably to Ravens standout veteran DE Rob Burnett.

14. Buffalo -- Steve Hutchinson, OL, Michigan: I've always viewed Hutchinson as one of the elite senior prospects in the draft, with his ability to operate at guard or RT the key reason why he would prove to be such a valuable trenchman for the Bills.

15. Washington -- Fred Smoot, CB, Mississippi State: With all the talk about WR being at the top of the Redskins' priority list (and rightfully so), don't forget that the CB spot opposite Champ Bailey is a question mark at this point. Smoot may be just 173 pounds and lack an elite 40 time, but all he does is make plays in coverage, showing the instincts for the position that just can't be taught.

16. Pittsburgh -- Marcus Stroud, DT, Georgia: With his physically imposing frame, Stroud could be just what the Steelers are looking for to control things along the interior. Without question, upgrading the talent level along the defensive front is the Steelers No. 1 priority.

17. Seattle (from Green Bay) -- Nate Clements, CB, Ohio State: After running a 4.37 during his individual workout, Clements has solidly established himself as a mid first-rounder. If he lands with the Seahawks, Clements would be working opposite another former Ohio State Buckeye, Shawn Springs.

18. Detroit -- Todd Heap, TE, Arizona State: In Green Bay, Marty Mornhinweg utilized the talents of Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura at the TE position. While David Sloan hauled in 32 receptions last season, he's had some injury problems along the way. The addition of a natural pass receiver like Heap would fortify the TE spot, while providing Charlie Batch with a key option down the middle of the field.

19. New York Jets -- Damione Lewis, DT, Miami (Fla.): Had it not been for an injury-plagued senior campaign with the Hurricanes, Lewis likely would have landed in the top 10 of round one. Now that teams have gone back and looked at junior film of Lewis, he's enjoyed a nice jump up the draft board over the last month. The addition of Lewis would allow Shaun Ellis to work at DE, with John Abraham on the other side.

20. St. Louis -- Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State: Needing help along the defensive line, the Rams could look to either an edge pass rusher like Reynolds or opt to improve things at DT.

21. Tampa Bay -- Jeff Backus, OT, Michigan: Over the last three months, I've consistently projected Backus to the Bucs, figuring that he would be the ideal hole-filler at the LT spot for Tony Dungy and company.

22. Indianapolis -- Casey Hampton, DT, Texas: Without a difference-maker along the inside, the Colts enter the draft in desperate need of a quality performer at the DT spot. Hampton is super-quick, incredibly strong and has the motor that Jim Mora looks for.

23. New Orleans -- Willie Middlebrooks, CB, Minnesota: With his size (6-foot-1, 202) and recovery speed (4.38), Middlebrooks appears to have solidified a slot in the later portion of round one, despite the fact that he missed the final four games of the season with an ankle injury.

24. Denver -- Freddie Mitchell, WR, UCLA: While talented but inconsistent former LSU star Eddie Kennison was brought into the fold previously, I wouldn't discount the possibility that Mike Shanahan and company may still look to add another weapon at this spot. Mitchell is a sure-handed, big-play option who really enjoys the spotlight and has the ability to take his game to a new level during crunch time.

25. Philadelphia -- Chris Chambers, WR, Wisconsin: If things shake down this way, the Eagles could be looking at some interesting and talented WR options. That list includes Chambers, Oregon State's Chad Johnson and Miami's duo of Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne. All of a sudden, the Eagles receiving corps wouldn't look bad with James Thrash, Charles Johnson, Todd Pinkston and the rookie addition.

26. Miami -- Santana Moss, WR, Miami (Fla.): The only reason an exciting and proven play-maker like Moss would still be on the board at this point is because he checks in at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. As I've said before, if he were two inches taller, you would likely be looking at a top 10 pick in the first round. For the Dolphins, his addition could pay immediate dividends, combining with free-agent acquisition James McKnight to significantly upgrade the Dolphins receiving corps. Remember, Moss is also a gifted punt returner.

27. Minnesota -- Michael Bennett, RB, Wisconsin: The Vikings need help in a number of areas, with CB at the top of the list. That's why Syracuse's Will Allen is a definite possibility. However, if a home-run hitting back like Bennett is still available, Dennis Green may have no choice but to bring in the replacement for Robert Smith. By the way, Bennett has been losing ground of late due to concerns about his pass-receiving skills.

28. Oakland -- Adam Archuleta, DB, Arizona State: With safety at the top of the Raiders' priority list along with TE and OLB, they could go a number of directions with this choice. If you remember, a missed assignment by Anthony Dorsett on Baltimore Ravens TE Shannon Sharpe contributed to the Raiders demise in the AFC championship game. Folks, Archuleta's forte is that he covers the field and is a tackling machine. He also has the old Raider approach that Jon Gruden has been able to revive to a certain extent.

29. St. Louis (from Tennessee) -- Shaun Rogers, DT, Texas: The only reason Rogers would still be on the board at this stage of round one is because of his injury-plagued senior year. As a junior, the 6-foot-4, 322-pounder dominated play in a number of games. In fact, his 27 tackles for loss were the second-highest total in Longhorn history. At some point within the first two rounds, the Rams also have to address the OLB position. Names to remember there are Quinton Caver of Arkansas, Florida State's Tommy Polley and North Carolina's Sedrick Hodge.

30. New York Giants -- Will Allen, CB, Syracuse: Needing a quality cover man to work opposite Jason Sehorn, the Giants will be keeping their fingers crossed that one of the highly rated CBs slides through the cracks. Allen is a solid 5-foot-10, 193-pounder who runs in the 4.30 to 4.35 range and has a ton of big-game experience.

31. Baltimore -- Alge Crumpler, TE, North Carolina: After Shannon Sharpe, all the Ravens have at this spot is former undrafted free agent John Jones. If they added Crumpler, Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh would have the ability to attack with a double TE set when the situation dictates. Crumpler shows above average pass-receiving skills, runs with authority in the open field, grades out as a very capable blocker and is a reliable, hard-working football player. At 6-foot-2, you just wish he were a few inches taller.

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