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Not worth the big bucks

Teams concerned about lack of talent in first round

Posted: Sunday April 15, 2007 11:59PM; Updated: Monday April 16, 2007 1:38PM
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Some scouts question Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch's drive; he may be falling down draft boards around the league.
Some scouts question Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch's drive; he may be falling down draft boards around the league.
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I've spent the last few days asking several NFL personnel people and scouts what kind of draft this is, and this is the conclusion I've drawn: This league is scared witless about the money it's about to pay this class of rookies, because there aren't enough first-round-caliber players who deserve it.

One executive I spoke with -- a smart football man whom I trust very much -- said his team gave only 18 players first-round grades in its recently concluded draft meetings. That means, as he said, a bunch of second-round-quality players (at least, in this team's view) will be drafted between the middle and end of the first round, and they will make more money than players with holes deserve to make. "I bet you'll see plenty of teams in the mid- to low-first-round trying to trade down, and I bet they'll have a lot of trouble finding trading partners,'' this personnel guy said.

And I don't recall hearing this many questions about top picks in a while. Does Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas (SI VideoVIDEO) look so good mostly because the crop of offensive linemen is so weak this year? Will LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell (SI VideoVIDEO) stay unspoiled and focused with $25 million in the bank? Is Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (SI VideoVIDEO) -- the player who scares the teams at the top of this draft the most -- a product of the Charlie Weis system or a bona fide blue chip prospect? The only player question-free is Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson (SI VideoVIDEO) , who runs like a cornerback (4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and who has tight end size (6-foot-5, 239 pounds).

"The top of this draft board is so weak,'' one top scout said. "Guys will be handed money who haven't done nearly enough to deserve it.''

Ten quick observations I've gleaned over the past few days:

1. The upset special of the first round? I say it's the ascension of Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson (SI VideoVIDEO) into the top 10. After a mediocre pro-day workout (4.75-second 40, 22 reps of the 225-pound bench press) the knocking of Anderson began. But there are many teams that view Anderson as the surest thing among defensive ends and outside linebackers; I've talked to three that like Anderson over top-five lock Gaines Adams (SI VideoVIDEO), the Clemson defensive end. Anderson weighs 284 pounds, and he should be able to adapt to an end spot in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.

2. Running back Adrian Peterson (SI VideoVIDEO) wants to be a Brown. So does Quinn. I met both of them the other day in New York, where they were promoting the Sprint draft phone. (How bizarre. You can get a cellular telephone and watch the draft on it.) Anyway, I asked Peterson: Got a gut feeling where you're going to get picked? Now, when you ask most guys this question, they've been well-schooled in not favoring one team over another. Said Peterson: "My gut feeling? Cleveland at three. Sitting down with them [coach Romeo Crennel, GM Phil Savage], I get the feeling they're very, very interested. I would love it there. The fans in Cleveland are the closest to college fans in the NFL. I love the Dawg Pound. I think I can be a franchise back and really help the Browns turn it around.''

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