2003 NFL Draft 2003 NFL Draft

Poker face

Patriots could afford to gamble on McGahee in first round

Posted: Wednesday April 16, 2003 7:51 PM

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Willis McGahee's major knee surgery hasn't scared off the New England Patriots. After all, they were willing to wait a year for another drafted running back to get healthy.

"I wouldn't rule anything out," head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "If we felt that the player would be healthy and play productively, we'd do it."

Antwoine Womack of Virginia didn't play at all for the Patriots last year after missing most of his senior season with ankle problems, then having postseason reconstructive knee surgery.

But the Patriots knew he'd been the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rusher as a junior and drafted him in the seventh round. Now he's participating in the team's regular offseason workouts.

McGahee had surgery Jan. 5 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Miami's loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl national championship game.

The Hurricanes' single-season rushing leader was walking without crutches seven weeks after the operation and his recovery appears to be ahead of schedule.

Using a high pick on a player recovering from major surgery could be risky, even though McGahee likely would have been a first-round choice if he weren't injured.

But the Patriots have plenty of picks.

They have 13 of them in the NFL draft April 26 and 27, including the 14th and 19th overall. Belichick didn't specify what round he'd consider taking McGahee and said "it wouldn't surprise me at all" to trade at least one pick.

The experience with Womack, who could compete for playing time this year with starter Antowain Smith, could be instructive.

"I'm not going to make any specific comment on [McGahee's] situation," Belichick said. But Womack "is now a full participant in the offseason program.

"Whether [McGahee's recovery] is better, worse, faster, slower, the same, different, I really don't know. But there's what one player did last year."

Belichick said he visited McGahee in Miami this month, but the player didn't run or work out for him.

"I don't know how quick his recovery's going to be," Belichick said. "It's three months after the surgery. He's not going to go out and play tomorrow. We know that. But the season doesn't start tomorrow."

It's difficult to predict how players will come back from surgery. Some have missed two straight years and played again, while others who were injury-free throughout high school and college get hurt immediately in the pros, Belichick said.

"You have to play the percentages, go with what your medical people think," he said.

The rehabilitation of Womack also could influence the Patriots to stay away from McGahee. That would give them four healthy running backs -- Smith, Womack, Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond -- and they might decide to draft players at positions where they need more help.

One of those is defensive tackle, which would enable them to move Richard Seymour to end in a 3-4 alignment.

The top defensive tackles available in the draft include Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky, Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State, Jonathan Sullivan of Georgia and Kevin Williams of Oklahoma State.

Robertson and Sullivan would fit in better with the Patriots system since they play more directly opposite the center than the other two.

"We evaluate the player based on our team. We can't worry about what the rest of the league thinks about him," Belichick said. "If he doesn't fit our system and he's not going to do that for us then we just have to accept that and move on."

Related information
Complete 2003 NFL Draft Order's 2003 Mock Draft -- Version 6.0
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