NFL draft to provide entertainment

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

And you thought "L.A. Confidential" had a lot of twists and turns.

Indianapolis' trade of running back Marshall Faulk to St. Louis Thursday was just the first act in what will be a thrilling drama this weekend in New York, when the National Football League's 31 teams meet at the Theater in Madison Square Garden to draft the top prospects from the college ranks.

The Faulk trade has set off a chain of events that has teams scrambling to re-evaluate who to take and when.

Pittsburgh, which once seemed guaranteed to find a star wide receiver at the 13th spot in the draft, now must sweat it out in the hopes that either Torry Holt or David Boston slips past the Rams, the Ravens and the Saints, who are all in need of help at receiver.

Indianapolis' fans will have their heart in their throats hoping the New Orleans Saints will be unable to trade up into one of the top three spots and steal away Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.

And kicking off the whole weekend will be the long awaited first selection by the Cleveland Browns.

This year's draft should have all the intrigue of "L.A. Confidential," "Scream," "the Manchurian Candidate," and "Chinatown" combined.

Here's a look at what could take place:

1. CLEVELAND _ Tim Couch (QB, Kentucky).

After months of speculation as to which quarterback the Browns will select with the No. 1 pick _ Tim Couch or Akili Smith _ the cat finally was let out of the bag Wednesday. The winner is Couch. All questions of arm strength were answered this past weekend when Couch worked out for coach Chris Palmer. The only question now is the money. Talk is Couch will agree before the draft to a contract that could include a signing bonus near $12 million.

2. PHILADELPHIA _ Akili Smith (QB, Oregon).

The Eagles' interest in Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb has cooled in recent weeks. Owner Jeffrey Loorie loves McNabb, but the Eagles' brass was impressed by Smith in a recent workout in San Diego. The strong-armed Smith, despite only one full year as a starting quarterback in college, is already a more polished product than McNabb. The Eagles could also deal the Colts a crushing blow by selecting Texas running back Ricky Williams. Philadelphia's fans have lobbied long and hard for Williams.

3. CINCINNATI _ Donovan McNabb (QB, Syracuse).

The difficult decision is between McNabb and Georgia defensive back/wide receiver Champ Bailey. The Bengals will go with McNabb, which could be a mistake. Bailey is a guy who can take over a game. McNabb is a physically gifted athlete, but he is a project.

4. INDIANAPOLIS _ Ricky Williams (RB, Texas)

Did the Colts make a mistake trading Marshall Faulk to St. Louis? Word out of Indianapolis is Faulk was asking for too much money after his career season last year. By trading Faulk, the Colts have put all their eggs in Ricky Williams' basket. If Philadelphia or Cincinnati break away from their expected choices and take the Heisman Trophy winner, the Colts will be left out in the cold. Chances are, however, they will find Williams available at No. 4.

5. WASHINGTON _ Champ Bailey (DB, Georgia).

The Skins won't be able to pass up on Bailey, who will be the heir to the aging Darrell Green in the team's defensive backfield. He'll make an immediate impact in the Redskins' secondary, and could play some wide receiver, giving in-coming starting quarterback Brad Johnson another downfield threat.

6. ST. LOUIS _ Torry Holt (WR, North Carolina State)

The Rams filled their hole at running back by trading for Faulk. Now they will address their weak receiving corps. Two years ago, wide receiver was the Rams strongest position, with Isaac Bruce and Eddie Kennison. Bruce has been hampered by injuries, however, and Kennison is now a New Orleans Saint. Holt, a big-play receiver with a tremendous work ethic, appears to be fully recovered from a knee injury late in his senior season.

7. CHICAGO _ Daunte Culpepper (QB, Central Florida)

No more Erik Kramer and Moses Moreno calling the signals. It's finally time for the Bears to get a franchise quarterback. Culpepper is a tremendous athlete with great size at 6-foot-4, 248 pounds.

8. ARIZONA _ John Tait (OT, Brigham Young)

The Cards made a big investment in quarterback Jake Plummer. Now it's time to protect him. The 6-6, 310-pound Tait should be able to step right in at left tackle to replace Lomas Brown, who bolted to Cleveland in the offseason.

9. DETROIT _ Chris Claiborne (LB, USC).

The Lions need defense, and could select Jevon Kearse in this position. They are more likely to select Claiborne because he has the size, the speed and the instincts to play inside or out.

10. BALTIMORE _ Edgerrin James (RB, Miami)

The Ravens already have Priest Holmes in place at running back, but they will be unable to pass up on a talent like James, who was once considered a lock to go to the Rams at No. 6. St. Louis' trade for Faulk will allow James to drop into the Ravens lap. He could end up out-shining Ricky Williams in the NFL.

11. MINNESOTA _ Jevon Kearse (LB-DE, Florida)

The Vikings don't have a lot of holes to fill. Kearse could become one of the premier pass-rushing outside linebackers in the game, and he has the speed to cover backs out of the backfield. He would be an up-grade over Dixon Edwards at outside linebacker.

12. NEW ORLEANS _ Cade McNown (QB, UCLA).

The Saints desperately want to move up in the draft to steal Ricky Williams from the Colts, but probably will be unsuccessful because of their lack of a second round pick to add to any deal. If they stay put, they have to find a quarterback or suffer through a season with either Billy Joe Hobert or Billy Joe Tolliver at the helm. McNown is a winner. He's also a lefty, and the last lefty (Jim McMahon) to lead a Mike Ditka team into battle won a Super Bowl.

13. PITTSBURGH _ David Boston (WR, Ohio State).

Pittsburgh is hoping to find a game-breaking wide receiver at No. 13. With Holt now a lock to go the Rams at No. 6, the Steelers will be praying for Boston to slip past wide receiver-needy teams like Baltimore and New Orleans. If he is available, Boston will be the big-play guy the Steelers need to replace Charles Johnson, who signed as a free agent with Philadelphia.

14. KANSAS CITY _ L.J. Shelton (OT, Eastern Michigan)

Jeff Criswell is the weak link of the Chiefs' offensive line. Look for the Chiefs to address that weakness with the 6-5, 320-pound Shelton, who is the son of former Cleveland Cavaliers' forward Lonnie Shelton.

15. TAMPA BAY _ Aaron Gibson (OT-OG, Wisconsin)

Gibson has dropped a bit in the eyes of some scouts. The key for the 6-6, 386-pounder is keeping his weight under control.

16. TENNESSEE _ Anthony McFarland (DT, Louisiana State).

McFarland can be a great run-stuffer, something the Titans desperately need with Gary Walker lost to free agency. The Titans also may consider North Carolina defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban to provide a pass-rushing presence this franchise has needed for so many years.

17. SEATTLE _ Troy Edwards (WR, Louisiana Tech.)

The Seahawks signed former Saints wide receiver Sean Dawkins Thursday to start opposite Joey Galloway. They could go for depth at receiver with the 5-9 1/2 Edwards. The Seahawks could also draft a tackle like Michigan's Jon Jansen, Georgia's Matt Stinchcomb, or West Virginia's Solomon Page.

18. OAKLAND _ Andy Katzenmoyer (MLB, Ohio Sate).

The Raiders real need is a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Katzenmoyer, who had a disappointing junior year, improved his draft status with excellent workouts that included sub-4.6 times in the 40.

19. NEW YORK GIANTS _ Damien Woody (C, Boston College)

If former starting center Brian Williams is unable to return from injury, look for the Giants to select Woody.

20. NEW ENGLAND _ Cecil Collins (RB, McNeese State)

Somebody is going to take a chance on the troubled Collins, who was kicked off LSU for sexual battery and McNeese State for failing a drug test. The Patriots may be willing to gamble after losing Robert Edwards to a potentially career-ending knee injury in the offseason.

21. ARIZONA _ Chris McAllister (CB, Arizona)

Every year a surprise player falls in the draft. This year, that player could be Arizona's Chris McAllister. The "blue-chip" corner would be a perfect compliment to Aneas Williams, and would allow the Cardinals to keep Corey Chavous at safety.

22. DALLAS _ Peerless Price (WR, Tennessee).

Price is a good fit to team with the aging Michael Irvin and Ernie Mills in Chan Gailey's multi-receiver sets.

23. BUFFALO _ Patrick Kerney (DE, Virginia)

Kerney has been compared to Buffalo defensive end Phil Hansen, so who better to groom as the aging Hansen's replacement.

24. MIAMI _ Matt Stinchcomb (OT, Georgia)

Left tackle Richmond Webb is nearing the end of his career. Stinchcomb is an over achiever with the type of work ethic Jimmy Johnston would love.

25. GREEN BAY _ Fernando Bryant (CB, Alabama)

With Craig Newsome still trying to come back from a knee injury, look for the Packers to take Bryant, the nephew of former Browns and 49ers defensive back Don Griffin.

26. JACKSONVILLE _ Ebenezer Ekuban (DE, North Carolina)

Ekuban, a native of Ghana, would be a perfect pass-rushing counterpart to right end Tony Brackens.

27. SAN FRANCISCO _ Jon Jansen (OT, Michigan)

Jansen's stock has been on the rise. Would compete with Derrick Deese for the starting right tackle spot.

28. NEW ENGLAND _ Solomon Page (OT, West Virginia)

The early entry into the draft would have time to mature behind starting tackles Zefross Moss and Bruce Armstrong.

29. MINNESOTA _ Antoine Winfield (CB, Ohio State)

Winfield would replace Corey Fuller, who signed as a free agent with the Browns.

30. ATLANTA _ Shaun King (QB, Tulane)

Falcons starter Chris Chandler would be a perfect tutor for a young quarterback like King.

31. DENVER _ Gary Stills (OLB, West Virginia)

Stills is an outstanding pass rusher who could one day replace Bill Romanowski.

SECOND ROUND

1. CLEVELAND _ Rob Konrad (FB, Syracuse).

Konrad is a Mike Alstott clone who would be perfect for a one-back set. He is also a very good receiver out of the backfield.

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