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NFC West Draft Preview

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Posted: Friday April 14, 2000 03:21 PM

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated


Atlanta Falcons

Total picks: 6

Priority positions: WR, DE, RB, S

The state of things: When the 1999 Falcons collapsed back to their normal state of mediocrity, head coach Dan Reeves left himself wide open to criticism of his trading the team's 2000 first-round pick to Baltimore last year for the 42nd pick in the '99 draft. Atlanta used that dearly-paid-for selection to take tight end Reggie Kelly, who made next-to-no impact, and lost out on the No. 5 pick in this year's draft. The Falcons added Shawn Jefferson in free agency, but sorely missed Tony Martin last year and could use a big-play receiver to complement Terance Mathis. Defensive end is another problem zone, since both Chuck Smith and Lester Archambeau got better offers elsewhere. With Jamal Anderson coming off season-ending ACL surgery, depth at running back seems a must. There was talk early of the Falcons trying to package their way back into the first round, but none lately. At No. 37, Atlanta at least figures to have a decent choice at running back or receiver, two of the draft's deepest positions. Miami of Ohio running back Travis Prentice has a nose for the end zone and could still be around when the Falcons' turn comes.

The hunch: Just a year removed from the Super Bowl, the Falcons have too many needs to fill in one six-pick draft. Their season went down the drain when Anderson was lost early, so logic says they can't afford to be caught short at running back again. Prentice or Arizona State's J.R. Redmond would do nicely.


Carolina Panthers

Total picks: 6

Priority positions: LB, OL, DT, S

The state of things: The Panthers don't have their own first-round pick, because like last year's, that went to Washington to pay off the Sean Gilbert deal. But Carolina won't be shut out of the first round, because they have Miami's No. 23 selection. The biggest hole the Panthers hope to fill is on the offensive line, where guard Cosey Coleman of Tennessee or swingman Travis Claridge of USC figures to be available in the early 20s. Offensive tackle Todd Wade of Mississippi is another option, and would give the Panthers a player opposite last year's top pick, Chris Terry. The Panthers released their leading tackler, Michael Barrow, and don't have much on hand to replace him. Ohio State's Na'il Diggs may be a second-round option. Don't be surprised if the Panthers take a late-round flyer on a quarterback. Steve Beuerlein is aging by the minute and Jeff Lewis hasn't done much to prove that he's the future.

The hunch: The Panthers would be wise to concentrate on upgrading their offensive line, which has had serious protection problems lately. Coleman would be a fine start toward the rebuilding project.


New Orleans Saints

Total picks: 8

Priority positions: CB, DE, LB, WR

The state of things: How come nothing is ever easy in the Big Easy? Last year's Ricky Williams trade robbed the Saints of this year's first and third-round picks, leaving New Orleans with just one selection on the first day of the draft. Free agency went well for the Saints, who signed players with abandon and plenty of cap room. But New Orleans didn't come close to plugging all the holes. Starting cornerback Ashley Ambrose was lost to Atlanta in free agency, and a replacement is necessary. Receiver Jake Reed may be a nice fit with new quarterback Jeff Blake, but he's not the deep threat he once was. The Saints still need a true No. 1 receiver. If Williams stays healthy and produces, and Blake clicks, the Saints are not that far away. On defense, the Saints need a reliable pass rush at the end opposite of the returning Joe Johnson. If the Saints have any luck, Kansas State defensive end Darren Howard might tumble down the first-round board and into their laps at No. 33.

The hunch: The Saints won't dig out of the hole they dug for themselves with the Williams trade this year, but they showed some smarts by treating free agency like their draft. With their second-round pick, they may try to trade down and amass an extra selection or two. It's called the reverse Ricky approach.


San Francisco 49ers

Total picks: 11

Priority positions: CB, QB, DE, LB

The state of things: Not that anyone's predicting doom and gloom for the 49ers or anything, but they're not on Monday Night Football next season for the first time since Jerry Rice was, oh, 12 or so. San Francisco, sensing it was anything but one player away, shrewdly turned its No. 3 selection into Washington's No. 12 and 24 picks. The 49ers then on Thursday traded out of the 12 spot, turning it into even more re-building blocks by moving down to 16 and acquiring an extra second-round pick from the Jets. What that spells is that San Francisco doesn't want Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington nearly as much as everyone first thought. And with or without Steve Young, the quarterback position remains a puzzle. San Francisco desperately needs help at cornerback and defensive end, two positions that had only questions and no answers in 1999. Ahmed Plummer of Ohio State could walk in and start at one cornerback slot, and Kansas State's Darren Howard could be an option at defensive end.

The hunch: The 49ers are on the move downward in this draft and may wind up with 13 or so selections before the two days draw to a close. Don't get your hopes up for a Pennington sighting. The holes on defense demand even more immediate attention than the quandary at quarterback.


St. Louis Rams

Total picks: 10

Priority positions: OT, K, G, CB

The state of things: Even if you include their end zone dance routines, you really have to nit-pick to really find weaknesses on the Rams' roster. When was the last time a team legitimately went into a draft identifying kicker as a very early round need? About the only unit that needs to be addressed with more than one move is offensive line, where starting right tackle Fred Miller signed with Tennessee and starting center Mike Gruttadauria left for Arizona. The Rams can make moves to cover these defections, but it leaves depth as an issue. Mississippi offensive tackle Todd Wade has been mentioned as a likely candidate for the No. 31 pick, but the popular choice is Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski, the cannon-legged one who has never met a party he didn't care to join.

The hunch: The Rams probably need offensive line depth more than they need a kicker. But dome teams with a reliable leg can shorten the field considerably for an offense. Give the Rams Janikowski in the first round, and help at tackle or guard in the second.

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