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Saturday, April 26, 2003
 
Prospects slip for a number of reasons
By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- On the draft boards of most teams, the evaluations at the offensive guard position typically featured Eric Steinbach of Iowa, Vince Manuwai of Hawaii and Florida State's Montrae Holland as the top three.

A lot of good that pecking order did, right, for the trio of interior blockers?

Regarded by most personnel directors as a top 10-12 prospect, at least from a purely athletic standpoint, Steinbach was shunned in the first round and the Cincinnati Bengals got one of the top steals of the first day by snatching him with the initial selection in the second stanza.

The thing about every draft, is that there are guys that the public and all of the so-called 'draftniks' talk up. But the teams still have more inside information. For all the outside scrutiny, teams still spend a million dollars doing this, and there are some things that never (become public). But when you see guys whose stock is going down dramatically, yeah, you know something is up.
Vinny Cerrato, Redskins personnel director

Holland and Manuwai, meanwhile, didn't even fare that well. Manuwai was on the board until the third round, and didn't go off the board until the No. 8 pick in that stanza, after 71 other players had been chosen overall. That was still a whole lot better than Holland, who was not chosen at all.

That those three players slipped, in part, is because of the position they play. Guard is not a priority position for most franchises, who put big money into offensive tackles, and simply try to develop grunt players around them. For the blue-collared Holland, a pair of balky knees helped scare away scouts as well, and partially overshadowed his in-line power.

Some clubs felt Steinbach might be able to move outside to tackle, but upon closer inspection, concluded he didn't have good enough feet for that spot. Compounding the situation was the fact Steinbach lacks the kind of size that teams want at guard now.

"For better or worse," said one NFC college scouting director, "he kind of became a player without a position."

But at least, as Sunday dawns, Steinbach has a team and a paycheck.

The same can't be said for a number of high-profile prospects who tumbled all the way through the first three rounds, a total of 97 selections, without hearing their names called at all. Leading the remnant group of prospects might be Washington State defensive tackle Rien Long, the Outland Trophy winner in 2002, but the outcast booby prize guy in the 2003 draft.

The long and slippery slide for Long arguably began at the combine session at Indianapolis in February, when the defensive lineman appeared lethargic and disinterested, and struggled through a miserable workout. His stock was not enhanced by a decent, but hardly spectacular, on-campus audition.

So even though Long has intriguing size (6-feet-6 1/8, 303 pounds) and a lot of potential, given that he is still relatively new to the game and learning the nuances of his position, no one was tempted enough to risk a choice in any of the first three rounds on a player who will need coaching and patience.

Even on Sunday, when the draft resumes, no one can predict precisely when the spiral will end for Long, who had 13 sacks in 2002.

"Guys slip for a lot of reasons," said Carolina Panthers personnel director Jack Bushofsky. "You don't want to get into specifics, but every case is sort of different, and we saw that (on Saturday)."

Indeed, the downward chute was greased for some prospects for a variety of reasons: character, health risks, individual team needs, lack of heart, simply an absence of skills.

Just take, for instance, the wide receiver position. Two prospects regarded by some pundits as first-round possibilities, Taylor Jacobs of the University of Florida and Tennessee's Kelley Washington, saw their respective stocks fall precipitously on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Washington, who was not chosen until the initial pick of the third round by Cincinnati, was downgraded because of health and attitude concerns. He had vertebrae fusion surgery last fall and teams felt he bordered on cocky in their interviews of him. Jacobs was one of the best pure route-runners in the draft class, but was seen by many teams as being too soft, which explains in part why he lasted until Washington's pick, No. 44, in the second round.

A third well-regarded wide receiver, Anquan Boldin of Florida State, never exhibited in workouts the speed he appeared to have in college.

Two linebackers rated as the top players at the position, E.J. Henderson of Maryland in the middle and weakside 'backer Boss Bailey of Georgia, did not go off the board until the second round. Henderson had back problems in college and ESPN.com confirmed several teams doctors felt that he has a degenerative condition in the lumbar area. He lasted until the 40th overall choice, where Minnesota ended his agony.

Bailey is a superb athlete, a pursuit linebacker who can run in the 4.3s on some stopwatches and who has posted a 48-inch vertical jump, but teams in the days leading up to the draft felt he wasn't yet a polished defender. In the estimation of some general managers, he missed too many tackles, and did not have a productive 2002 campaign. The consensus: If the exercise is to run the decathlon, Bailey might be a candidate, but he still needs time to become a more solid defender.

In some cases, the decline of several prospects -- Tennessee tight end Jason Witten, quarterback Chris Simms of Texas, Ohio State safety Mike Doss and Ohio State defensive tackle Kenny Peterson, Tennessee defensive back Julian Battle -- became more obvious in recent days and for myriad reasons.

Witten does not play as quick as his times and isn't as solid a receiver as the Vols coaches suggested he might be. For all his toughness, Doss is small and slow. Peterson was unable to complete a 40-yard drill because of two hamstring injuries. Simms has a big name, some potential, but stares down his receivers and has floundered in the marquee games. Battle was taken off some boards because of character concerns.

"The thing about every draft," said Washington Redskins personnel director Vinny Cerrato, "is that there are guys that the public and all of the so-called 'draftniks' talk up. But the teams still have more inside information. For all the outside scrutiny, teams still spend a million dollars doing this, and there are some things that never (become public).

"But when you see guys whose stock is going down dramatically, yeah, you know something is up."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.