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2003 NFL Draft Combine

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Thursday, February 20, 2003
Updated: February 25, 5:38 PM ET
McGahee's injury made some jump to draft
By Len Pasquarelli

INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of his knee surgery, University of Miami tailback Willis McGahee might not be able to contribute on the field until the 2004 season, but he has already made an impact of sorts on this draft.

Scouts take
Some observations, very early in the combine process, from two college scouting directors, one from each conference:

  • "I won't disagree that Jordan Gross (Utah) is the best offensive tackle here and will probably be the first guy taken at that position. But as far as having an athletic guy at the position, man, I love the way that Kwame Harris kid (of Stanford) looks. He came in at 6-feet-7 and, I think, 310 (pounds) and he is as solid as the brick (outhouse). Gross looks a little bit light in the ass to me. We're not interested in a tackle where we pick in the first round but, if I had to choose between the two, it would be a tough call."

  • "Everybody is looking for the next (Clinton) Portis (Denver tailback), and that's good, since all the tailbacks here look like second-round guys. That might change when they start working out but, just on the eye-ball test, I don't see anyone jumping out at me. In fact, just by being able to walk without a limp, McGahee might be the best back I've seen, honestly."

  • "I know we say this every year but there are really some beefy defensive tackles here. There look to be more of the run-stuffer kind of tackles this year, while over the past couple years it seemed we were getting the lighter, upfield guys, right. But you take William Joseph (Miami), Jimmy Kennedy (Penn State), Jonathan Sullivan (Georgia), that's some prime meat on the hoof. They're all 315- to 330-pound tackles. We were getting away from that for a while. Good to see those fat run-stuffers back, to be honest."

  • "One guy I hope works out is (Kenny) Peterson from Ohio State. He was a big difference maker in the Fiesta Bowl. The linemen from Miami simply could not block the guy. What I want to see is, can the kid line up and play at (defensive) end? Does he have that kind of quickness? I don't know if he has the kind of bulk you need to play tackle in this league. But he gets off the ball like he did in the bowl game, maybe he can move outside, and now you've got an end with some run-stopping size. And, believe me, those guys are getting harder to find."

  • "Center never seems to be a big priority, but you've got to have one, and I'm coming off a little more now to the Notre Dame kid, (Jeff) Faine. He's up to 303 pounds and, while he still looks more like a technician on tape, I can see some 'down and dirty' in him."
  • Several of the underclass entries, including some of the tailbacks here, allowed that they decided to forego their final season of college eligibility because of the catastrophic knee injury McGahee sustained during the final minutes of the Fiesta Bowl national championship contest.

    The injury, graphically repulsive and likely to cost McGahee millions on his signing bonus alone, forced some players to consider that they might be far better served in the NFL than on campus for another season.

    "I really was kind of up in the air," said Georgia tailback Musa Smith, who surprised some scouts by weighing in at a bulked-up 232 pounds. "Then I heard about what happened to Willis, and saw the replays of it, that kind of nudged me into a decision (to leave school). I won't say it was the thing that pushed me over the edge but, yeah, it played a role."

    McGahee's injury, of course, was a gruesome reminder of how fragile a football career can be.

    For running backs, it seems, the injury made an even bigger impression. According to NFL Players Association surveys, the running back position has the shortest average career span of any in the league. Running backs, on average, play fewer than three full seasons, the numbers indicate.

    "It's a position where, you know, here today and gone tomorrow," allowed Colorado tailback Chris Brown, another of the underclass backs in the draft. "Yeah, what happened to (McGahee) made me view things differently. You have just so many carries in your body, I guess, and something like that robs you of some of them. It definitely affected by decision."

    Around the combine
  • Assuming the Cincinnati Bengals don't trade the first choice in the draft -- and, at this point, there seems to be very little market for that No. 1 pick -- there are a lot of different directions the team can go. One that most draft observers haven't considered is the possibility that the Bengals would try to address their longtime problem area at cornerback and grab Kansas State star Terence Newman. Arguably the top corner prospect this year, with Marcus Trufant of Washington State the only other viable challenger for that spot, Newman would certainly represent an upgrade. Don't forget that new Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is a defensive-oriented guy, one who knows you don't often win in the league without a so-called "shut down" cornerback. And there is this nugget: has learned that Cincinnati vice president Katie Blackburn has spoken with Newman's agent, David Ware, about what his contract expectations would be if his client were the first overall choice. Granted, it was a brief conversation, but one that might be viewed as meaningful sometime down the road. Some of the Cincinnati coaches are wary of Newman's thin frame and noted that he weighs only about 180-181 pounds. But he has been working at bulking up and could weigh as much as 192 when he checks in here.

  • Kickers are starting to get more attention in the draft, particularly early on the second day, and Seth Marler of Tulane did nothing on Thursday to hurt his chances of being the first specialist off the board this year. Marler hit all 12 of his field goal attempts in the RCA Dome and impresses coaches with his leg strength. Although he came here as the consensus No. 1 prospect at the position, Marler had something to prove. He wasn't nearly as effective his senior season as he was during his junior year, but dispelled any doubts in front of a tough audience during the kicking session. Far and away the best punter, several special teams coaches acknowledged, was Idaho State standout Eddie Johnson.

  • Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, who checked in at 6-feet-3 and 262 pounds (about 10 pounds more than his '02 playing weight), will not do any of the on-field drills. That is a disappointment to some of the teams in the league who use the 3-4 defensive front. The Houston Texans, for one, had requested that Suggs participate in the linebacker drills, has confirmed, just to see how he played in space and how he might fit into a scheme that relies more on stand-up pass rushers.

  • It takes more than good bloodlines to play in the NFL and University of Georgia offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb, the brother of Oakland Raiders tackle Matt Stinchcomb, can't count on his name alone to get him drafted. And he certainly won't have to, not after bulking up to a surprising 302 pounds and doing 32 repetitions on the standard 225-pound bench press. There were some serious concerns about Stinchcomb's weight, but he has been working hard with a personal trainer to add tonnage, and his bench press was among the best for offensive linemen.

  • The Denver Broncos have brought their own radiologist, Dr. Charles Ho, to the combine as part of their medical staff. Ho, from Atherton, Calif., is a new addition to the Denver staff. Denver has been burned in the past on a few players whose injuries were more serious than they anticipated. In a copycat league, look for other teams to follow suit, and add a radiologist to their traveling parties.

    Momentum meter
    Up Justin Fargas, RB, USC: In what appears to be a poor year for running backs, Southern California tailback Justin Fargas has been on a steady rise throughout the postseason, and has done nothing to hurt himself at the combine so far. The son of the actor who portrayed "Huggy Bear" on the old Starsky and Hutch television series, Fargas is a well-chiseled 219 pounds. And he was able to do 27 repetitions on the standard 225-pound bench press drill. If he can run under 4.5 during his on-campus workout, Fargas can solidify himself among the top running back group in this draft. Another tailback who passed the eyeball test was Dwone Hicks of Middle Tennessee State, who is a little squatter than you'd like (5-feet-10 1/8) but who did 29 "reps" on the bench press. Hicks, though, is going to have to run well, since most scouts feel he is just a 4.5-second guy in the 40-yard dash.

    Down Damian Lavergne, OT, Lousiana Tech: Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Damian Lavergne didn't help himself by demonstrating poor functional strength, lifting the standard 225-pound bench press just 17 times. And several scouts were talking about the "bad body" of Georgia offensive lineman Kareem Marshall.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for