Saturday, April 26, 2003
Winners and losers from the first day
By John Clayton
NEW YORK -- Here are the winners and losers from Saturday:
New England Patriots: Good teams normally don't have room for 10 or 12 rookies, but the Patriots are manipulating the draft like the 49ers used to do. During the past two offseasons, the Patriots brought in between 12 and 18 low-priced veteran role players and pulled a Super Bowl championship out of it. They've changed philosophies and you have to love how they've become a major player in the draft. They spent good money on veteran free agents (strong safety) Rodney Harrison and (linebacker) Rosevelt Colvin. The beauty of Saturday's draft is they are now loading the roster with quality young players. Sure, you might argue that they would have been better served to trade up and get a better nose tackle than Ty Warren, but what the heck, Warren was one of top three or four two-gap defensive tackles in the draft. Warren, if he can stay healthy, will have to do the dirty work to make Richard Seymour's job easier. The beauty of what the Patriots did is in the second round and in future years. Their second-round is pure quality -- cornerback Eugene Wilson and wide receiver Bethel Johnson. Plus, they've now accumulated two No. 1s, two No. 2s and three No. 4s for next year. That's clout. This new strategy will bring a lot more players who will be with the team for a lot longer.
Cincinnati Bengals: It's hard to believe after not having a playoff season since 1990 that the Bengals can be associated with too many winning things. This draft and this offseason has been nothing but a winning change in the organization. They spent $19 million for four defensive starters and they got good value in the draft. Carson Palmer is not only the draft's marquee player but he is signed. Eric Steinbach is a mid-first-round talent who was taken in the top of the second round. And as long as Kelley Washington's neck is okay, the Bengals could have a potential impact starter in a year or two at wide receiver.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Being quick helps. The Ravens failed to get the trade card in to move to the No. 7 pick in a belated deal with the Vikings. Learning from last year, the Jaguars had a card ready and put it in so that they get quarterback Byron Leftwich. Leftwich at No. 8 is a steal. He can sit behind Mark Brunell for a year or two and emerge as perhaps the best player in this draft. He's a leader. He's a smart quarterback. He may lack mobility, but the Jaguars will have time to work on getting offensive linemen to help him in the future. Getting guard Vince Manuwai in the third round was the start of that process. They added a little speed to the secondary with cornerback-safety Rashean Mathis in the second round.
Indianapolis Colts: For drafting No. 24 in the first round, the Colts did exceptionally well. They didn't get Troy Polamalu, who went to Pittsburgh after a trade-up, but they got the next best thing in the second round. By getting Mike Doss at safety in the second round, they got a potential leader in the secondary. The first round selection of tight end Dallas Clark may be curious, but he's the second tight end that this team has needed since the departure of Ken Dilger to Tampa Bay. Peyton Manning works best in a three-receiver set that can switch to a two-tight offense. Clark and Marcus Pollard are two exceptional pass-catchers, and Clark could do to the Colts tight end position what Marvin Harrison did to the receiving corps. He will get better and better each year.
Dallas Cowboys: As much as they like to move around up and down the draft board, the Cowboys followed a recent trend by staying put and making good solid picks. Taking cornerback Terence Newman this year and safety Roy Williams last year has turned a weakness into a strength. If his back is okay, center Al Johnson could be a starter immediately and for the next five years. A lot of teams thought Jason Witten might have been the best tight end in this draft. The Cowboys took him in the third round. The only knock on the whole first day is that they didn't get any size for their defensive line and that is a problem.
Buffalo Bills: All right, sometimes you've got to be lucky. To be lucky sometimes is to be good. While you might criticize the selection of halfback Willis McGahee, you have to love the luck that sharp general manager Tom Donahue struck in the second round. He got the guy he considered a first-round pick -- Chris Kelsay in the second round. Everyone knew that the Bills needed a defensive end to help the pass rush. Kelsay was one of the better defensive ends on their board. They had him as a first-round consideration, but they ended up getting him in the second round. The nice part about flopping the two is that the Bills get Kelsay for second-round money, and they will get a chance to negotiate a deal for McGahee that might be able to build some financial protection. That's not saying that McGahee is getting second-round money, but the Bills are giving him a chance and he might be more appreciative in giving them a fairer contract.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals gave away the chance to get Terrell Suggs at No. 6 and instead got two second-rounders in the first round -- defensive end Calvin Pace and wide receiver Bryant Johnson. Pace comes from Wake Forest, which might have had bigger crowds than recent Cardinals games. Johnson has the chance to be a big-time receiver but it might take a year or two. The problem with the Cardinals is that they need more sure things. Maybe drafting Suggs as a drawing card for fans was overrated, but he has the chance to be a sack-machine in the NFL. Pace is more of a gamble. With a top six pick, a team needs to get sure things.
Chicago Bears: Instead of getting the third best quarterback in the draft, they had to settle for the fourth best in the team's eyes in Rex Grossman. Why can't the Bears ever get first choice at quarterback. The simple move would have been taking Byron Leftwich with the fourth pick, but they were afraid he might fail and they obviously didn't want to pay the big bucks. Michael Haynes is a solid defensive end who showed some pretty good pass rush at the Senior Bowl. Watching how this draft went for quarterbacks, though, the Bears could have taken Suggs at No. 4 and maybe gotten Grossman in the second round. Good teams need stars. Two years ago, this was a good team, a 13-win team. Though they fell off last year, they had a chance to get a great player. They didn't. They kept moving back in the first round and settled for good but not great players. Sometimes retreat is good. This time, it's a move backward.
Cleveland Browns: The salary cap held this team captive this offseason. They wiped out their top four linebackers and sacrificed a cornerback and leader, Corey Fuller. They cut a center, Dave Wohlabaugh. The draft was all this team had to get better. No knock on Notre Dame center Jeff Faine, but centers are rarely the difference on a team until their third or fourth years. And the reaction in New York to the selection of second-round linebacker Chaun Thompson -- a Browns fan shouted a loud curse word as soon as it was announced that the Browns took a linebacker from West Texas A&M. He's athletic but he has to prove he can fit into a playoff-caliber 4-3 defense. Third-round choice Chris Crocker could be a good first-year special teams player who can learn the cornerback position. Considering that this is the Browns offseason, it's not enough.
Miami Dolphins: It's hard to criticize a team that has only two first-day picks, but the Dolphins didn't make the solid moves of a year ago. Last year, they did a lot with a little. They got a good young offensive linemen in Seth McKinney. They got a great young tight end in Randy McMichael. This year, taking linebacker Eddie Moore in the second round was puzzling. Didn't the Dolphins just trade for Junior Seau? Aren't they eventually trading linebacker Derrick Rodgers. The Dolphins didn't need linebackers. Even Moore said in his press conference that he thought he would go in the third round. The problem is not the player, it's the position, though. They tried to bulk up their trade ability by giving away a No. 2 next year for a No. 3 that they used on tackle Wade Smith. Smith wasn't a bad pick. He's considered the sleeper in this group of tackles, but a No. 2 next year is gone. The Dolphins don't count on the draft as much because they do such a good job in the veteran market, but it would have been nice to get a speed receiver or something other than a linebacker in the second round. Of course, maybe that's being picky for a team that lacked picks.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.