Chargers face challenges that come with picking No. 1 overall
Posted: Friday April 16, 2004 12:32PM; Updated: Friday April 16, 2004 7:20PM
Most draft boards rank Philip Rivers as the third-best QB available.
David Maxwell/Getty Images
The first thing you have to understand about the draft is that no one wants the very first pick these days. A few years ago Bill Parcells called the turn on these extremely high choices, namely why he couldn't stand them.
"You can never sign them," he said, "and then when you do, it costs you too much money and disrupts your whole camp."
The No. 1 pick in the whole draft makes San Diego nervous. Eli Manning is chalk, but what do you do if you're A.J. Smith, the GM who will have to make the selection, and your coaches like another guy better? Now I don't know for sure that they're in love with Philip Rivers, the quarterback from North Carolina State, but that's what I hear,. As an aside, what you're gonna be getting from now until draft day will be a lot of "that's what I hear" quotes and rumors and unnamed sources. You can't name them because then they wouldn't be sources anymore.
So would A.J. have the guts to stand firm and make Rivers, whom many boards project as the No. 3 QB, behind Manning and Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger, the very first pick on the board? Very tough to do this. Writers would write funny stories about how he blew it. People would point to him on the street. Nope, much easier to trade down and get Rivers at a lower spot and then explain that the team needs help in many positions, and the extra selections certainly would help the team, and so forth.
So who gets Manning? I'm guessing the Giants, who are torn right now between Iowa tackle Robert Gallery, the most exciting offensive line prospect since Tony Mandarich 15 years ago, and Manning. Gallery would be a terrific fit for them, as I wrote a few weeks ago. Plug him in at LT, move Luke Petitgout to RT, where he excelled a few seasons ago, and the O-line has its pillars. Fill in the middle, and the great weakness of 2003 becomes a strength.
There's only one thing wrong with that scenario -- Eli Manning. If he becomes a 10-year Pro Bowler, then the Giants will become a footnote to history. The team that could have traded up to get him and didn't. And don't forget that Giants GM Ernie Accorsi began his NFL career with the John Unitas Colts.
"Every time we played the Steelers," he said, "you'd always read 15 stories in the Pittsburgh papers about the quarterback who got away from them."
Usually the first two or three picks of the draft are a lock, but this year there's action at the second position as well. That's the Gallery spot, and there are teams eager to trade up with the Raiders to get the big tackle. And Oakland is torn between Gallery and Texas wideout Roy Williams, a 212-pounder who runs in the 4.4 range. Or maybe there's someone else in the mix whom we're not hearing about, such as Roethlisberger. Al Davis doesn't usually send out a press release announcing his intended picks.
"Al's a big-arm guy," Baltimore player personnel director Ozzie Newsome says. "No way he lets a gunner like Roethlisberger get by him."
Makes sense, unless he's in love with Rich Gannon's backup, Marques Tuiasosopo, who led the team on a stirring comeback attempt against Kansas City last year and then was lost for the season a week later to a knee injury. Williams makes sense, too, considering the Raiders have only one receiver who can get downfield, Jerry Porter, who had hernia surgery last season.
"Al wants to get back to that deep passing offense," an unnamed Raider said.
Then why'd he put up with two years of dink and dunk?
"Because it got him to the Super Bowl. But he got sick of it last year. He's got to take Williams."
"I can't imagine Al letting Gallery go by," says Ron Wolf, who spent 25 years in the Raiders' personnel department. Wolf will go down in history as one of the league's great personnel men, but the move that still haunts him involved a Raiders left tackle, Jim Lachey, a future Pro Bowler.
"We traded him to the Redskins for Jay Schroeder ... talk about really dumb moves," Wolf says. "And I was the guy who led the charge on that one. I don't think Al will let another left tackle like him get away."
There have been offers to trade up to the Gallery spot. One of the usual suspects in my roster of unnamed sources says that the Redskins, eager to move up from the fifth spot, offered LT Chris Samuels, quarterback Patrick Ramsey or wideout Rod Gardner -- pick one -- to the Raiders to trade positions, with a low-round choice thrown in.
That would make sense for Oakland, since the Raiders would probably get Williams at No. 5, even Roethlisberger, if that's the way they're going. Samuels is a two-time Pro Bowler with an $8.7 million cap number, and he's struggled for the last two years. But Raiders coach Norv Turner is the one who drafted him back in Washington four years ago. And Miami tight end Kellen Winslow says that Joe Gibbs assured him that if he's available at No. 5, he'll be the Skins' choice. Sure gets complicated, doesn't it?
Guys catch fire on the charts at this point in the pre-draft, others cool off. Rivers is the hottest guy on the board right now. Some charts have him ahead of Manning. Southern Cal cornerback Will Poole has cooled off considerably, thanks to a sluggish workout he blames on a cold. At one time he was considered the No.3 cornerback in the draft, behind Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall and South Carolina's Dunta Robinson. Now he's projected to the second round.
There are some real head-scratchers. Teams either love them or hate them. Tops on the list is USC's oversized wideout, Mike Williams, who has tight end size (6-foot-5, 230) and speed (4.7) but an unwillingness to venture into those stormy waters so close to the line of scrimmage.
In his most publicized recent workout, he clocked 4.59, but ...
"It was on a track ... that's very important ... it was on a faster surface," one scout says, "and he had a wind at his back and he was wearing nubs. Keep that in mind. Nubs."
OK, I'll keep it in mind but I don't know what I'm keeping in mind. Nubs sound like candies you used to buy for a nickel, but I guess they make you faster. At any rate, the scouts projected Williams' 4.59 to a 4.7, and some personnel people say that even so, he's an ideal possession receiver, and others say that he'll never be able to get off a jam by a cornerback playing him tight.
"NFL defenses will eat him up," one scout told me.
Another puzzler is 250-pound Florida State fullback Greg Jones. He might have been the top runner in the country last season, but he was coming back from a severe knee injury and didn't show much. Then in the Senior Bowl he was a tackle-breaking madman. So is he fully recovered, or was it just a one-day rage? No one knows, and no one can guess how high he'll be picked.
Sorry, but I'm nowhere close to announcing my mock draft yet. Still working the phones, a maddening job, trying to call all 31 teams (Baltimore has no pick) in the days leading up to the weekend, when I have to file my piece for next week's issue of Sports Illustrated. A frantic round of calls, then some gaps, as people settle into their 12-hour personnel meetings. Phone duty lasts all day, every day.
"What do you do between calls?" a reader wanted to know.
I memorize things, which they say keeps your brain from eroding. Last year it was the wine-growing regions of Italy, then the counties in California. This year we lead off with the list of Napoleon's Marshals, 26 of them, a wonderful cast of characters.
Bessieres, the great cavalry commander who took a cannonball full in the chest the day before the battle of Lutzen. "A beautiful death," Napoleon wrote to his widow. Poor Brune, murdered by Royalists on the streets of Avignon, his body dumped into the Rhone. The fearless Ney, executed by the Bourbons for treason, refusing to wear a blindfold as he faced the firing squad. "My soldiers! Straight to the heart!" he cried.
"Ney is the bravest of men," Napoleon had said of his favorite marshal, "and therein lies the limit of his faculties."
Yes, we seek minor pleasures as we help plot the destiny of the National Football League, through its draft.
I asked one personnel man if he had any interest in the young Ohio Stater, Maurice Clarett.
"We had backs last year who could give us the six-yard run," he said, "but in the NFL you've got to have the occasional 50-yarder. Clarett will give you the six but not the 50."
If you want to experience a trip through the dark side, try calling the Redskins. Even if you happen to know your party's extension, which I do, you enter a voice-mail forest that includes a directory, which orders you to punch in a first and last name -- that maddening thing in which you have to match numbers to letters -- and then you're either dumped out to the mailbox of a completely unrelated person, or you can be "transferred to an attendant," another automated horror which feeds you the first message all over again.
Dr. Z will answer select user questions each week in his NFL mailbag.
"A new system. Fully automated. Everybody complains," says a Redskins employee who will, of course, be unnamed because Danny Boy would instantly fire anyone who expressed a negative thought.
The best story I heard all week involved a harrowing escape during the night -- in Philadelphia. Now this is deep deep undercover stuff. It comes from a New Orleans source. It concerns Fred Thomas, the tough little cornerback who made our All-Pro team two years ago. This season he would have been an unrestricted free agent.
"The Eagles brought him down there," our man said. "They wouldn't let him leave. He called us and said, 'They want to give me $6 million. What do I do?' We told him we'd pay him that. Come back. He said he was having trouble getting out of there.
"One of our guys said, 'Tell 'em you've got to go back to the hotel and see your wife -- and then leave. And that's what he did ... snuck out the back way and caught a cab to the airport. And we re-signed him."
Hot names in the draft right now, guys on the rise -- Rivers, the quarterback. Wideout Michael Clayton of LSU. "Tough as nails," says Lions' GM Matt Millen. "He'll knock you out." And here's a strange one -- Igor Olshansky, the Oregon DT who broke the bank in the bench press at the combine workouts with 41 reps. Born in the Ukraine, in Dnepropetrovsk.
Which surprised me. I could have sworn he came from Kremenchugskoye.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.