Grading the draft
Quarterbacks, cornerbacks should jump off board early
From The War Room
Posted: Thu April 16, 1998 at 10:43 PM ET
PHOENIX (CNN/SI) -- The War Room experts take a postion-by-position look at Sunday's NFL draft.
After Manning and Leaf are taken in the first round, quarterbacks like Scott Frost may not start to move until the third or fourth round
Quarterback: Grade A, C-
There is a huge gap at QB in this draft between the big two -- Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf -- and the rest of the pack. That is why there are split grades at this position. It is conceivable after Manning and Leaf go No. 1 and No. 2 Saturday that another QB will not be selected until Sunday.
There are some interesting developmental candidates slated to go in the second day of this draft, with probably five or six being drafted in rounds four through seven. There is no QB after Manning and Leaf that looks like a sure NFL starter, although some of these guys could develop.
Fullback: Grade D
Unlikely that one will be drafted on Day 1. There are no outstanding players in this group. Some interesting guys, but not a lot of production at this position.
Running back: Grade B
Not a franchise player in this group, although Curtis Enis may be close. But the value here is the depth of the position. There are quality players available in rounds one and two and many NFL teams are looking at the second round for a bargain quality running back. After that, there are a lot of bodies. But the talent level drops off and there are some interesting prospects, but not a lot of exciting players in rounds three through seven. Most NFL teams will fill their immediate running back needs in the first 50 picks.
Wide receiver: Grade B
Much like the running back position, the strength here is in the overall depth, rather than franchise type players. With Randy Moss having a strong chance to drop in this draft, even though he has top 5 ability, it could shake up the rest of the group.
As in most years, there may not be a lot of wide receivers that go in the first round because there are quality players in round two. Look for a big run in the second round with as many as five or six wide receivers going in the top 60 picks.
There will still be some interesting players available in round three, but once we get to the second day of the draft, the only receivers that are left will be guys with one redeeming quality, such as speed, size, etc... Most teams will fill their immediate receiver needs in the first 60-70 picks and then Üake a chance on a developmental guy in the late rounds.
Tight end: Grade C-
There are four quality players at this position, but the order has changed dramatically in recent days. Alonzo Mayes has been the front-runner for a long time, but off-the-field problems have probably dropped his status into the second or third round.
Replacing him is Oklahoma's Stephen Alexander, who because of team needs, could sneak into the bottom of the first round or, at the very least, the top of the second round. Cam Cleeland is another guy that is hovering early in round two and will probably be gone by the middle of the round. Rounding out this group is Roderick Rutledge, who looks like a late second or early third-round pick.
If Mayes doesn't fall a lot on draft boards, there could easily be three tight ends picked in the top 50. After this group, the talent level falls off dramatically, although there are some interesting candidates. It is not likely that any other tight ends will be drafted in Day 1, but there may be four or five guys picked in rounds four through seven, with a lot of this group being free agents.
Offensive tackle: Grade B
This is a group that is led by the "Big 3" of Kyle Turley, Tra Thomas and Flozell Adams, followed by a pack of interesting, but not great, players. Although the "Big 3" are the only tackles that have true first-round grades, as in most drafts, NFL teams in the bottom of the first round will pull two or three offensive tackles into the round that have second-round grades.
Players such as Mo Collins, Victor Riley and Alan Faneca are probably more of a comfort level for NFL teams early in the second round. Bbut because of the difficulty of trading out of the bottom of the frist round, these players may be pulled up into the top 30 picks.
Draft history shows that whether they deserve it or not, there are always five or six offensive tackles that go in the first round. There is an excellent group of second-round tackles that many teams may be looking at, and, as in most drafts, there are some interesting late-round developmental guys that have at least one redeeming quality.
LSU's Alan Faneca is considered a solid and early option for teams looking to bolster their offensive line
Offensive guard: Grade D
This is a very interesting group that benefited greatly with the addition of underclassmen opting for the draft. This is unusual because offensive linemen usually finish their college eligibility. Although offensive guards are not rated as highly as offensive tackles, there are potential first-round picks here in Alan Faneca and Victor Riley (Riley may also be graded as an OT).
There is also an excellent group of second- and third-round players, led by Benji Olson, Melvin Thomas, Mike Goff and a fast-rising Steve McKinney. After you get past this group, there are a lot of bodies, but not very many exciting players. Most of the remaining guards won't go until Day 2 and they will be fill-in type players that have a chance to make NFL teams as backups.
Center: Grade B+
As unusual as it is, the underclassmen give this position much more strength. Olin Kreutz and Jeremy Newberry will likely be the first two players that go off the board, although both will likely go in the middle of round two or three. The fast-rising guy in this group is Kent State's Bob Hallen, followed by Aaron Taylor and Trey Teague, who appear to be solid and steady third- and fourth-round guys.
It is likely that three centers will go in the first day of the draft, which is somewhat unusual. And there will still be three or four quality guys available at the beginning of Day 2
Defensive end: Grade D+
If you count the undersized players in this group, it is not bad at the top of the draft. As usual, we have some "tweener" type players that are projected on the NFL level as edge pass rushers. Guys such as Grant Wistrom and Leonard Little both look like solid first-round picks, but size is somewhat a consideration. The complete player in this group is Andre Wadsworth, who may be the top-rated player on most NFL boards and will surely be gone by the No. 3 pick.
Greg Ellis also is a guy that figures to go in round one. And although most drafts usually pull one or two defensive ends into the first round, it appears unlikely this year as there is a significant gap between the above mentioned players and the rest of the group
Defensive tackle: Grade C+
Early in the draft process, this looked like a fairly strong group with good depth. But it has leveled out somewhat. There appear to be two sure first-round picks in Jason Peter and Vonnie Holliday, with Jeremy Staat hovering between rounds one and two. After that, the talent level seems to drop off considerably.
Auburn's Takeo Spikes joins Simmons and Brooking as potentially high picks at middle linebacker
Middle linebacker: Grade B+
It is very rare that middle linebackers are rated at the top of draft boards as they are considered more of luxury picks that go later in the draft because most players at this position contribute only on first and second down. This is, however, a very strong group at the top with the emergence of underclassmen Takeo Spikes and Anthony Simmons and is led by Keith Brooking. All three of these players could go in the top 15 picks, which would be highly unusual for middle linebackers in the first round.
They are all outstanding athletes that have enough versatility to be every-down players. And that is probably what moved them up in this draft. There are some excellent second-day picks that could fill team needs and it is likely that this is a group that will produce some "semi-unknown gems" that become productive NFL players. It is a little deeper group than in most years with some greatness at the top.
Outside linebacker: Grade C-
Much like the DT group, this position appeared to be a little stronger early in the draft process, but seems to have cooled off somewhat. There are no franchise players in this group, although Brian Simmons is an outstanding player and Sam Cowart is close. Simmons is the only real lock to go in the first round with Cowart hovering between rounds one and two.
Cornerback: Grade A-
This may be the deepest position in the draft and it is likely that as many as four or five corners will go in round one, partly based on the talent available and also based on team needs. Charles Woodson is obviously a franchise player, but Duane Starks, Corey Chavous and Brian Kelly all appear to be solid
first-round picks, with R.W. McQuarters and Terry Fair hovering close to the top.
There is also quality available in rounds two and three, with some real sleeper types in this group. There could be as many as 10 cornerbacks drafted in Day 1 followed by a solid run in Day 2 as some quality speed guys will be available in the later rounds. The teams that have done the best job working out these players in the spring may be rewarded with some outstanding "gems" in the late rounds.
Safety: Grade B-
This unit is certainly not as deep as the cornerback position, but it does have some interesting players. At the top of the list is Shaun Williams, who is the only sure first-round pick. But that is not unusual as safeties usually drop in the draft. The second safety (and maybe the hottest guy at the position) is Tebucky Jones, who could actually sneak into the bottom of the first round.
There is a small but quality group available in the second round, which could be Jones and his teammate Donovan Darius and possibly Eric Brown and Tony Parrish. The talent level seems to drop off after that.
Specialists: Grade B
This is an average group of punters and place-kickers with maybe one or two being drafted late. But most of them will be selected as free agents. The premier guy in this group may be kicker Phil Dawson, who could be a decent second-round pick. There is an outstanding group of return specialists that also play other positions. There may be as many as 10 players in this draft that can contribute as rookies as kick returners.