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Win some, lose some

A few teams, players came up big in draft, while others dropped the ball

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Sean Taylor
The Skins believe Sean Taylor is a player who can help turn the field around in their favor.
AP

CLEVELAND -- Covering the NFL Draft is all about knee-jerk journalism. Instant analysis. Assigning grades off the top of your head, after assessing months worth of work based on two or three minutes of contemplation. Projecting the future on little more than a gut feeling and guesswork.

Ain't it great? What other line of work let's you pontificate so publicly and get paid for it? Without further fanfare, because Lord knows the draft has enough of that to begin with, here are this weekend's winners and losers. At least from this vantage point:

Winners

• A.J. Smith -- Looks like the joke was on us, A.J. The Chargers' supposedly in-over-his-head general manager picked the Giants' pocket, and still managed to find a franchise quarterback to put in his. What does A.J. stand for, after all? Always judicious? What could have been another draft-day quarterback debacle in San Diego could wind up being the springboard to respectability for the Chargers. For now, Philip Rivers-for-Eli Manning is a big win for San Diego.

Matt Millen -- Speaking of G.M.s whose level of experience has been questioned, the Lions top decision-maker had himself quite a Saturday. First, he extracts a high second-round pick out of Cleveland for moving down just one spot, from sixth to seventh, winding up with one of the draft's special players in Texas receiver Roy Williams at No. 7. Then he uses that extra No. 2 to trade back into the bottom of the first round, filling the team's crying need for a lead running back with Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones at No. 30. Topping things off, the Lions picked up the quality linebacker they were in the market for, selecting Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman early in the second round. With three of the first 37 players taken, the Lions mopped up.

The University of Miami -- The NFL's 33rd franchise can now officially be classified under the heading of "embarrassment of riches." Not only did the Hurricanes have a record six first-round picks Saturday, one more than last year's haul, they had six of the draft's first 21 players selected. At that point, that was more than any other conference could boast. Maybe it's time to consider a salary cap in Coral Gables.

New England Patriots -- The Pats coming away with Miami defensive tackle Vince Wilfork at No. 21 is the NFL equivalent of the Bush tax breaks for the richest Americans. It just doesn't seem fair. Wilfork is a potential dominating inside force who was projected to go as high as No. 8 to Atlanta. The Pats were actually attempting to trade up a few notches for falling Ohio State defensive end Will Smith, but they failed for a change, and wound up having Wilfork fall into their laps. Good luck can be a byproduct of good preparation. Whatever the case, the Patriots just found Ted Washington's replacement, about a month after the behemoth run-stuffer fled for Oakland in free agency.

Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- The former Buffalo head coach didn't just pound the table for Miami's standout safety Sean Taylor, he got up and danced on it. His forceful presentation convinced Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs to pass on Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. at No. 5 in favor of his Hurricanes teammate. Redskins sources say Williams hammered home the point that Taylor could make a bigger impact than even Winslow, in that his strong, play-making skills will wind up helping force offenses off the field and give the Redskins offense better field position.

Minnesota Vikings -- Hey, after the past two drafts, the simple fact the Vikings' first-round selection went off in timely fashion passes as huge improvement in the Twin Cities. That Minnesota landed a potential top-10 pick in USC defensive end Kenechi Udeze -- who has been hounded by reports of a shoulder injury -- at No. 20 makes things look all the better. The Vikings even garnered an extra fourth-round pick from No. 19 Miami for sliding down just one spot to take Udeze. Nice going, Tice-men.

Atlanta Falcons -- At various points last week, it looked like the Falcons at No. 8 might be just out of the money in terms of this draft's elite players. But not to worry, because the Falcons are all smiles today after coming away with Virginia Tech cornerback DeAngelo Hall and Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins in the first round. Trading back up into the opening stanza to get Jenkins should really benefit both quarterback Michael Vick and No. 1 receiver Peerless Price. In the third round, the Falcons got a young quarterback in Virginia's Matt Schaub, giving them more options in the unfortunate event of another season-deadening Vick injury.

Elite receivers -- With a record seven selected in the first round, including five in the top 15 picks, the talent pool that was billed as the deepest receiver draft in recent NFL history didn't disappoint in the least. And that's without USC star Mike Williams being allowed to enter his name into the lottery. Without Williams on the board, talents like Washington's Reggie Williams (No. 9, to Jacksonville), Wisconsin's Lee Evans (No. 13, to Buffalo) and LSU's Michael Clayton (No. 15, to Tampa Bay) went higher than originally expected, giving the top of the first round a distinctly good-hands feel.

Pittsburgh Steelers -- Thanks to the Chargers-Giants, Manning-Rivers blockbuster, and the Raiders' willingness to go for Iowa offensive tackle Robert Gallery at No. 2, the Steelers were lucky enough to sit tight at No. 11 and still get the quarterback of the future that they so desperately craved. True, the Steelers would have rather had Rivers than Roethlisberger, believing the N.C. State star is more ready to play right away, but the stars still aligned in a nice way for Pittsburgh. Once upon a time, a team would draft a franchise quarterback prospect even if it had a quality starter on the roster. But not in the cap era, it's too costly. So with the teams in the No. 5 through 10 slots all set at quarterback, the Steelers benefited from Roethlisberger's tumble.

Buffalo Bills -- Some folks have panned the top of the Bills' draft for taking Wisconsin receiver Lee Evans too high at No. 13, and for giving up next year's No. 1 to Dallas in order to get back into the opening round and select Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman at No. 22. But not me. I like both players that Buffalo targeted, and their high draft slots don't negate their positives in my view. Yes, Evans' collegiate knee surgery in 2002 makes him a bit of an NFL question mark. But people said the same thing about Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis in the 2000 draft, and that one worked out pretty well. As for Losman, he's got a big arm, a healthy dose of moxie and the ability to make plays on the move. He's not ready this year, but he should be ready to take over for Drew Bledsoe in 2005. In using their 2005 first-rounder to draft him, the Bills in essence bought their future quarterback a redshirt season.

Losers

Steven Jackson -- Once upon a time, running backs were commonly selected first overall in the draft. Between 1960-81, 10 different rushers went No. 1. But from 1982-present, only twice have running backs led off the draft, the latest being Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter in 1995, by Cincinnati. We point that out to underline just how little consideration teams seem to give first-round runners these days. Maybe it's the durability factor, but running backs don't get the draft love they once did. Oregon State's Jackson was the first rusher taken this year, at No. 24 by St. Louis. Teams that were rumored to be interested in him but wound up passing on him include No. 15 Tampa Bay, No. 16 Philadelphia (who traded up with the 49ers), No. 17 Denver, and Dallas, who traded away the No. 22 spot rather than select Jackson. Michigan's Chris Perry (No. 26 to Cincy) and Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones (No. 30 to Detroit) were the only other first-round backs.

Tim Couch -- As draft weekend ended, Couch must have felt more than ever like an old piece of unused furniture in Cleveland. He's still there, unwanted and all but invisible. And now the Browns even have another arm on the premises, having selected Louisiana Tech's Luke McCown in the fourth round. With Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb, Couch and McCown on the depth chart, guess who's the odd man out? And don't look now, Tim, but with Kerry Collins now expendable in New York, the veteran quarterback market just got a little more crowded.

Giants guard Chris Snee -- Undoubtedly the most bizarre story of draft weekend was the news that new Giants head coach Tom Coughlin drafted Snee in the second round out of Boston College. Snee happens to be the father of Coughlin's grandchild. Snee and Coughlin's daughter, Katie, had a child together last fall. Coughlin says Snee was drafted strictly based on his football potential and that makes sense. But the situation could be unavoidably uncomfortable for both Snee, Coughlin and Katie Coughlin in the years ahead. What happens some day if Coughlin has to cut or trade his daughter's significant other? Or take a hard-line stance -- the only kind he knows how to take -- regarding Snee's performance? Some how you just would have thought that Coughlin wanted to side step those potentially thorny issues if at all possible. For his part, Snee might have been better off landing anywhere else in the NFL but with the G-Men. Whatever he accomplishes in New York, his relationship with the head coach will be part of the backdrop.

Dallas Cowboys -- The way Bill Parcells has approached this offseason, you'd think his Cowboys didn't have a need in the world. Drew Henson was a look-ahead acquisition, and on Saturday Dallas traded its way out of the first round rather than address its need at lead running back. The 2005 first-round pick that the Cowboys picked up from Buffalo will help next year, but Dallas has only Notre Dame running back Julius Jones (No. 43 overall) to show for the top two rounds of this year's draft. And some question whether Jones fits Parcells' preference for a tough, power-type back.

Kenechi Udeze -- When's the last time the draft's top-rated pass rusher fell all the way to 20th? The questions surrounding Udeze's shoulder problem -- a reported torn labrum might require offseason surgery -- really cost the University of Southern California defensive end a ton of money. Without the shoulder issue, Udeze probably goes eighth or ninth, to Atlanta or Jacksonville. If the shoulder turns into a minor speed bump, Udeze could be a real steal for Minnesota. He's a strong edge rusher who can also do a more than passable job at run defense. Those type of guys are still few and far between in the NFL.

Eli Manning -- Sure, he played the system like a violin and won, whining his way to the Giants rather than being sentenced to San Diego. But his halo took a severe hit in recent days, and his reputation as the latest straight-shooting, just-play-the-game Manning progeny was more than a bit tarnished. Can his rep recover from this weekend? Undoubtedly. If he performs, Giants fans will embrace him and deify him. But after a standout collegiate career and so much going for him with his family name and fame, it's a shame that he has anything to overcome at all.

New York Giants -- You can't call the Giants a loser in the harshest sense of the word, because if Manning turns out to be a Peyton Manning clone, his celebrated and controversial acquisition will represent a win for New York no matter what it gave up in trade. But judging strictly from a here-and-now perspective, the Giants didn't get the best of the Chargers in the deal that shook the top of Saturday's first round. New York surrendered its 2005 first-round pick, and that could well be a top-12 selection unless the Giants rebound in a big way next season. If Manning and Rivers both turn out to be great quarterbacks, the difference in the deal might wind up being how much New York gave up. Stay tuned.

Kansas City Chiefs -- We thought the Chiefs hungered for a wide receiver, and with great pass-catchers growing on trees, this seemed to be the perfect year for that need. But a funny thing happened on the way to the second round. No. 30 K.C. traded out of the first round, passed on the likes of Oklahoma State receiver Rashuan Woods, and wound up selecting Oregon defensive tackle Junior Siavii and Pitt tight end Kris Wilson in the second round. True, the Chiefs needed help on defense, too. But the pass-catchers were special this year.

Don Banks covers pro football for SI.com.

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