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Sunday, April 27, 2003
Updated: April 28, 3:48 PM ET
Team-by-team AFC draft analysis

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

For the past few years, we have hailed Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe and assistant general manager Tom Modrak as the best personnel tandem in the NFL. And our opinion hasn't changed on that.

But given the events of the weekend, and considering the latest draft bounty assembled in Baltimore, it is time for a long-overdue tip of the cap to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and personnel director Phil Savage. For years, the two have worked seamlessly, and the Ravens have quietly enjoyed some of the league's most solid drafts.

Few teams, in fact, can even remotely approximate Newsome's record of the last five to seven years, particularly with high-round selections. The Wizard Named Oz has planned well and executed better, able assisted by Savage and a hard-working staff. All the way down the line, even to talented scouts like Terry McDonough, the Baltimore personnel staff is superb.

But with the 2003 windfall the pair engineered, a collection that earned the Ravens an "A-plus" grade on the annual ESPN.com report card, Newsome and Savage may have catapulted themselves to a new level of excellence. Right down to the final choice, safety Antwoine Sanders selected with the 258th overall pick, Baltimore just kept plucking prospects who all have a chance of being on the opening-day roster.

Not to be ignored is a guy who worked with Newsome in Cleveland back in the early- to mid-'90s, New England coach Bill Belichick. He and personnel director Scott Pioli have become adept at using the board, maneuvering to add picks for the present and the future, and their 2003 draft class certainly looks like a strong one.

With kudos to both tandems, here is a thumbnail review and grades of the '03 draft for the AFC (from the NFC, click here):

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Notable: A few weeks ago, Donahoe indicated that he might be tempted to grab rehabilitating tailback Willis McGahee with his pick in the first round. But he seemed to cool recently and, to help establish a bit of a smokescreen, neither he nor any of his scouts attended McGahee's on-campus workout last week. The Bills did, though, dispatch their doctor to twice examine McGahee's knee.
Will start as rookie: Probably none, but defensive end Chris Kelsay (No. 2), the kind of high-energy guy Donahoe and Modrak like to get, should see considerable playing time. The only downside is that Kelsay might be a little too much like Aaron Schobel, the incumbent at right defensive end.
Best value: Wide receiver Sam Aiken (No. 4) has nice size, doesn't run very well, but is very polished and should make a nice possession guy. The Bills are looking for some receivers to step up with the departure of Peerless Price to the Atlanta Falcons.
Boom or bust: Obviously, two or three years from now, the big gamble on McGahee will either be viewed as a brainstorm or a brain spasm.
Grade: C+ (because of McGahee uncertainty) | Mel Kiper's Grade

Miami Dolphins
Notable: Shackled by not having a first-rounder, compliments of the 2002 trade that netted tailback Ricky Williams, the Dolphins were hamstrung from the outset and did little to recover. Everyone assumed that when they made a Friday afternoon deal to acquire an additional third-round choice, it was to set up a trade that would net Miami an offensive left tackle. But there were no deals and, unless third-rounder Wade Smith is a lot more ready to play than most people think, there is no tackle, either.
Will start as a rookie: None on this very veteran roster.
Best value: Fifth-round wide receiver J.R. Tolver doesn't have speed to go deep, but has nice size, runs good routes and is very polished. A lot of teams had him a round or half-round ahead of where the Dolphins got him.
Boom or bust: Linebacker Eddie Moore (No. 2) was a surprise and wasn't graded quite as high as he was selected. Plus, with the Dolphins having dealt for Junior Seau, where is he going to get playing time?
Grade: D+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

New England Patriots
Notable: We don't want to take anything away from coach Bill Belichick or personnel director Scott Pioli, but they certainly learned their lessons well watching the master manipulator, Bill Parcells, play the draft board like a flute for so many years together. New England had 13 choices going into the weekend, ended up with 10, but also set itself up nicely for 2004, when the club again has a pair of first-rounders. Belichick and Pioli are masterful, not just at shuffling the board, but also at identifying and then collecting, their types of players.
Will start as a rookie: With the Pats switching to a 3-4 front, and Richard Seymour set to move to end in that alignment, first-round pick Ty Warren has the inside shot at the starting nose tackle position. Warren was a tough guy for the Pats to evaluate, because he was so often playing injured, but the club thinks it got a good read on him. His backup could well be Dan Klecko, the son of the former Jets standout, and a guy built like a fire hydrant.
Best value: Virtually every choice could be deemed a value selection, defined in our minds as landing a player at the right spot on the board, and neither reaching nor delaying to snatch him up. We particularly favor the two second-rounders, cornerback Eugene Wilson and wide receiver Bethel Johnson. The only caveat on the latter is the seven abdominal surgeries he has undergone in recent years. Keep an eye on rush end Tully Banta-Cain (No. 7), an "edge" player who can chase down quarterbacks.
Boom or bust: Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury is one of the most prolific college passers of the last 20 years. But he played in a system that inflated his numbers and his arm strength is average at best.
Grade: A | Mel Kiper's Grade

New York Jets
Notable: Give general manager Terry Bradway his due for making a bold move on the eve of the draft, surrendering a pair of first-round picks to go up to the No. 4 overall spot and a chance at a premier player. The deal came amidst much criticism for what is perceived as a terrible offseason for the Jets and their front office. Bradway won the gamble when tackle Dewayne Robertson, a real difference-maker who is often compared to Warren Sapp, was available. At least the critics took the weekend off.
Will start as a rookie: Robertson can be a dominating force and the Jets won't waste any time pampering him. He is capable of compressing the pocket, of playing either one- or two-gap, and when he gets it going full speed, he can just rag-doll blockers.
Best value: Fifth-round safety Derek Pagel of Iowa is a very strong player, a guy who lacks great range but likes to play down "in the box" and is a solid tackler. He's a little like current Jets safety Jon McGraw, but not nearly as athletic. That said, he'll contribute, and the Jets got him about a round later than some people had him rated.
Boom or bust: Linebacker Victor Hobson (No. 3) will be groomed to one day replace the aging Mo Lewis at the strongside spot. Hobson has been good playing over the tight end and he is very productive. But he doesn't run well, is just 6-feet tall, and might not be as good an athlete as you need.
Grade: B- | Mel Kiper's Grade

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Notable: GM Newsome might want to switch his brew of choice to Maxwell House coffee, because this brilliant windfall was good right down to the last drop. Even safety Antwoine Smith (pick No. 7c) is likely to make the roster. The only caveat is that Baltimore had to swap its 2004 first-round choice to secure the pick needed for quarterback Kyle Boller. Let's hope coach Brian Billick, who has yet to start the same quarterback in consecutive openers, can make something of the young passer. Because if he can't, the deal becomes a big gamble, and this draft suddenly wouldn't look quite as spectacular.
Will start as rookie: With just 33 sacks in 2002, the Ravens will find a niche at either defensive end or strongside linebacker for first-round pick Terrell Suggs. The design will be to create a pincher rush, with Suggs from one side and Peter Boulware from the other.
Best value: We love the selection of Ovie Mughelli, arguably the best fullback in the draft, in the fourth round. But getting safety Gerome Sapp in the sixth stanza might have been an even bigger steal. Sapp doesn't run well but he's a hitter and the Ravens will find a way to use his hybrid skills.
Boom or bust: If he is healthy, Musa Smith (No. 3) will be a terrific backup to starting tailback Jamal Lewis. But the former Georgia star was diagnosed with stenosis, an abnormally narrow spinal column, and that's a concern.
Grade: A+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

Cincinnati Bengals
Notable: The impressive refurbishing job being undertaken by rookie head coach Marvin Lewis, who has brought order and discipline to the franchise, continued over the weekend. Watching the ESPN studio hosts without their usual foil was like seeking Letterman and Leno try to get through an opening monologue in the post-Bill Clinton days. The choices were solid all the way to the end -- and the first four rounds were particularly impressive.
Will start as a rookie: Guard Eric Steinbach (No. 2) is a heist and, while he seems to be a guy without a position at times, his athleticism alone could win him a starting spot. Wide receiver Kelley Washington (No. 3) is going to play a lot in 2002, provided his surgically-repaired neck is rehabilitated.
Best value: If he recovers from the gunshot wounds that he sustained last weekend, cornerback Dennis Weathersby (No. 4) will be a great addition at a position where the Bengals have traditionally suffered. He would pair with free agent signee Tory James to give Lewis big, physical corners capable of getting up in receivers' faces.
Boom or bust: Linebacker Khalid Abdullah (No. 5) of tiny Mars Hill College is a great-looking athlete, runs well, is very fluid. But he hasn't lined up against big-time competition since transferring from Clemson to Bethune-Cookman, and then Mars Hill. He looks like a practice squad guy or a player who needs to be stashed and developed for a while. Grade: A- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Cleveland Browns
Notable: Nothing against Jeff Faine, arguably the best player at his position in this draft, and a guy who should have a long career. But when a team has to use a first-round choice on a center, that isn't a good sign, even if the center is an excellent prospect. Taking Eric Steinbach would have been a better selection. Centers are made, not drafted high, Butch.
Will start as a rookie: The No. 1 job seems to be Faine's by default. The club released starter Dave Wohlabaugh for cap reasons and there has been a hole in the middle of the line since his departure.
Best value: The fifth- and sixth-round choices, cornerback Michael Lehan and defensive end Antonio Garay, respectively, were very good "gets" where they were chosen. Lehan can cover and, if he is healthy, Garay has natural rush skills. Of course, being healthy is a big "if" for Garay, who has missed 24 games in three years. But if the Browns hit on him, it will be a well-invested sixth-rounder.
Boom or bust: Second-round linebacker Chaun Thompson probably would not have been available for Cleveland in the third round, so no one should knock the Browns for taking him where they did. But while he is a terrific pursuit player, Thompson is still more athlete than football player, and has played at a small-time level.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Pittsburgh Steelers
Notable: The normally staid Steelers are going out of character more lately, and they needed to do just that on Saturday to land the man they coveted, safety Troy Polamalu. The former Southern California star would never have made it to the Steelers' pick at No. 27 had Pittsburgh officials not struck a swap with Kansas City. The price tag for the move-up, a third-round pick and a sixth-rounder, was palatable. But it left Pittsburgh with only five selections.
Will start as a rookie: There seems little doubt that a Steelers secondary strafed by enemy quarterbacks in 2002 is going to get a new starter in the tough-hitting Polamalu. It is difficult sometimes to gauge his cover skills because he played so close to the line of scrimmage in some schemes. But Polamalu has mid-4.4s speed and better range than people think.
Best value: Fullback J.T. Wall (No. 7) is a late-bloomer who has really made strides athletically. He is a tough kid, a good lead-blocker and has become a much better receiver. It will be hard for him to fit into a crowded backfield, but he might be a better athlete than incumbent Dan Kreider.
Boom or bust: Cornerback Ivan Taylor (No. 4) is a superb and fluid athlete with blazing speed and prototype size. But playing at Louisiana-Lafayette isn't close to NFL level and he has a long way to go. He could contribute early in his career as a kickoff return man.
Grade: C+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

AFC South
Houston Texans
Notable: The so-called "book" on general manager Charley Casserly is that he rarely thinks outside the envelope and prefers to make the safe picks in the draft. If that is the case, he stepped outside of character this weekend, and started right at the top by choosing wide receiver Andre Johnson. The former Miami star is still developing, and drops a lot of passes, but has an incredible upside. Credit Casserly for following his board and his heart.
Will start as a rookie: The Texans will get Johnson on the field quickly and hope he and second-year quarterback David Carr form a fast chemistry. It would not be a surprise if tight end Bennie Joppru (No. 2) also starts.
Best value: Tailback Dominick Davis (No. 4) definitely has talent and, unlike the current backs on the roster, can make people miss out in space. A bit on the squat side, Davis still is very quick, has change of directions skills, and might be able to step in to a third-down role right away. Offensive tackle Seth Wand (No. 3) didn't play big-time ball but some clubs felt he was among the pool's top four pure pass protectors.
Boom or bust: Spending a third-round choice on quarterback Dave Ragone, whose erratic performances were well-documented in 2002, might have been a reach. But using a sixth-rounder to take a flier on Drew Henson, in hopes of dragging him away from the baseball diamond, was a sheer touch of genius. The investment is small, the pick was a supplemental one, and the Texans now get a year to see if they can lure Henson back to the gridiron, or trade him to a franchise that thinks it can.
Grade: B | Mel Kiper's Grade

Indianapolis Colts
Notable: The Colts went into the draft hoping to concentrate on locating some defensive playmakers, since they had just 10 interceptions in 2002, but took a first-round hiatus when tight end Dallas Clark was available. The Iowa star will be the "move" guy the Colts missed last season, when they were unable to find a complement to Marcus Pollard, and could not play as many two-tight end formations.
Will start as a rookie: If the offense returns to its preferred set, Clark should be a factor in his debut campaign. He has great redirections skills and can run after the catch and, while his blocking leaves something to be desired, he won't shirk contact. Second-round choice Michael Doss, the former Ohio State safety, might have an even better opportunity. Smallish and not a great athlete, Doss is nonetheless a ball magnet.
Best value: Safety Cato June (No. 6) is like Doss in many respects, but only bigger, and blessed with a tad more natural range. He could earn a spot in the "nickel" package and ought to play on special teams right away.
Boom or bust: Robert Mathis of Alabama A&M (No. 5) isn't big enough to play end on a regular basis, and has no experience at linebacker, but it's hard to ignore the 17 sacks he registered in 2002. The Tony Dungy scheme will find some way to put him to use, probably as a third-down rusher.
Grade: C | Mel Kiper's Grade

Jacksonville Jaguars
Notable: There may have been some internal disagreement over whether to take quarterback Byron Leftwich, but there is no deny this: Choosing the former Marshall star with the No. 7 pick overall signals the beginning of the end of the Mark Brunell Era. The veteran has two years left on his contract, just enough time for Leftwich to develop, and eventually take over.
Will start as a rookie: With the reshuffling on the offensive line, and the likelihood left guard Brad Meester will move to center, third-round guard Vincent Manuwai could earn a job atop the depth chart. He has the kind of tough-guy mentality the new staff covets and, having played in the run-and-shoot in college, is a more than adequate pass blocker.
Best value: This was a very good "value" draft for the Jags, getting safety Rashean Mathis (No. 2), tight end George Wrighster (No. 4) and tailback MacKenzie Malaefou (No. 7) at the optimum spots. We love David Young (No. 6), a safety from Georgia Southern, and a guy who has blocked seven kicks in his career.
Boom or bust: Malaefou, of Southern California, played in the rotation the Trojans used until Justin Fargas assumed the starting job in '02. He is blessed with sprinter's speed and might be a nice change of pace guy who can spell Fred Taylor for stretches.
Grade: B | Mel Kiper's Grade

Tennessee Titans
Notable: Sometimes if you remain patient, let the board come to you a little bit and get a tad lucky, you come out with a very nice draft. Witness the '03 haul by the Titans, who didn't get too cute, and just worked their board. All of their first five choices are guys with a chance.
Will start as a rookie: Cornerback Andre Woolfolk (No. 1) is the kind of big, physical outside presence coach Jeff Fisher wanted and, at worst, he likely will be the third corner on the field. One prospect with a real shot at starting, even given how raw he remains, is wideout Tyrone Calico (No. 2). The Titans considered selecting Calico in the first round, didn't move to get him, and still landed the big, fast wideout. He could well be the deep threat the offense has been missing for years.
Best value: Tailback Chris Brown (No. 3) is an upright-type runner but he reminds some observers of starter Eddie George. And, let's face it, George has slipped considerably the last couple years and won't play forever. A few months ago, if someone had said Brown would last until the third round, folks would have thought the notion preposterous.
Boom or bust: The team ended the agonizing vigil for defensive tackle and Outland Trophy winner Rien Long in the fourth round, after 125 picks had gone off the board. It was a quick and painful fall for Long, who bypassed his final year of eligibility feeling he would be a first-round prospect. Long has a huge frame, some skills, and a lot of upside, but he has to grow up and show some legitimate interest in getting better.
Grade: B | Mel Kiper's Grade

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Notable: There aren't many teams who slide up and down, and amass extra picks like the Broncos traditionally do, and there was some of that over the weekend. But in the big picture, there were no eye-opening gambits and, to the contrary, this was a draft marked by uncertainty, for a team that really needed to do better.
Will start as a rookie: Probably no one.
Best value: Defensive tackle Nick Eason (No. 4) is a try-hard defender who spills it all on the field. Given that so many tackles went off so early in the first round, it seemed Eason might be pulled up into the third round, since teams were trying to fill interior holes. In a lot of drafts, one might conclude the Broncos got Eason right where they should have. In this lottery, though, he looks like a mini-steal in the fourth round.
Boom or bust: Start right at the beginning, with first-round offensive tackle George Foster, who might need a second surgery to repair a broken right wrist with which he played the entire '02 campaign. Linebacker Terry Pierce was a player in decline in the weeks preceding the draft, and the second-rounder is slow and doesn't make many plays. And what's with taking another running back, this one undersized Quentin Griffin, with a fourth-round pick. The Broncos have enough tailback depth.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

Kansas City Chiefs
Notable: The Chiefs brain trust made a bold and risky move, sliding back 11 spots in the first round, but they still got the guy they wanted in tailback Larry Johnson. The former Penn State star is a nifty insurance policy against the possibility Priest Holmes is not able to return from hip surgery or that he boycotts training camp in a contract dispute.
Will start as a rookie: None.
Best value: A pair of offensive tackles, fourth-rounder Brett Williams and No. 5 Jordan Black, were terrific "right slot" choices. Both were actually taken at least a half-round later than their grades and the two could be really solid players for a lot of years.
Boom or bust: Middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell did not face big-time competition and, while he blossomed this year, is still a bit of a risk as a second-rounder. Conversely, defensive back Julian Battle of Tennessee (No. 3) played in a high-profile conference and there is no denying his athletic prowess and versatility. He can play either safety or corner and has great size. Unfortunately, there are some character concerns about him.
Grade: C+ | Mel Kiper's Grade

Oakland Raiders
Notable: The consensus was that the Raiders, who held the final two picks in the first round, would attempt to move back, feeling the value of the '03 draft was in the middle rounds. But the Raiders fooled everyone, not just by retaining the choices, but with the players they selected. Both were seen as at least minor reaches and, while corner Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive end Tyler Brayton have good futures, they need some grooming.
Will start as a rookie: None.
Best value: Tailback Justin Fargas (No. 3b) is an excellent bonus pick, a potentially terrific player who won't have to be rushed into the lineup, since the Raiders already have Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley. Wideout Doug Gabriel doesn't have the kind of deep speed the Raiders usually want, but he is very accomplished as a route runner and has enough quickness to occasionally surprise the corners.
Boom or bust: Sam Williams of Fresno State (No. 3a) is a linebacker of immense potential. But he is a 'tweener player, a guy who excels out on the edge, but who might not have a position. The Raiders may put his hand on the ground on third down and just let him get after quarterbacks. There are not a lot of prospects in this draft who have his kind of size-speed combo. Fourth-round pick Shurron Pierson, a college defensive end who has to play linebacker in the NFL, is a similar player.
Grade: C- | Mel Kiper's Grade

San Diego Chargers
Notable: The team went into the weekend in desperate need of a defensive tackle first, then a cornerback, and solved the second hole at least. Once club officials saw the quality tackles go off the board so quickly, they opted to drop way down in the round, from 15th to 30th, and acquired a much-needed extra second-round pick.
Will start as a rookie: Two defensive backs and onetime college teammates, cornerback Sammy Davis (No. 1) and safety Terrance Kiel (No. 2b), clearly have a shot at cracking the lineup in the secondary. Both run well, cover, and hit and will in time be part of a revamped unit. Which one plays fastest might depend on whether the Chargers move corner Ryan McNeil to safety. Davis can play "press" coverage and Kiel runs in the 4.4s and is the kind of safety with range that every team wants now.
Best value: Hanik Milligan, a free safety selected in the sixth round, has size and hitting ability and is a very nice pickup at the spot the Chargers landed him. He'll play special teams for a year or two, maybe get in on the "nickel" or "dime" packages, and eventually vie for a starting job.
Boom or bust: Second-round cornerback Drayton Florence is another of the small-time school defensive backs in this year's draft. Florence's stock went south a bit in the weeks leading up to the lottery.
Grade: B- | Mel Kiper's Grade


Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.