The teams with top picks aren't tipping their hands, which makes the run-up to this year's draft all the more intriguing
IT'S ONE MONTH to the April 28 draft, and good luck to anyone trying to figure out the first five picks. The men holding the top selections—Raiders boss Al Davis and Lions general manager Matt Millen—don't send out many smoke signals. "This is the kind of year where you pick third and you really don't know what's going to be there because you're not going to get any clues," Browns G.M. Phil Savage, sitting at No. 3, said on Sunday at the league meetings in Phoenix. Here's a look at what's going on in the minds of the decision makers with the prime choices.
In his 44 years with the Raiders, Davis has never before had the first pick. He's got a tough call. Oakland needs a quarterback desperately, and strong-armed JaMarcus Russell from LSU is tantalizing. But wideout Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech might be the most flawless prospect in years. At a workout in Atlanta on March 15, scouts marveled at how effortlessly the 6'5", 239-pound Johnson—who runs the 40 in 4.35—cut, sprinted and caught. One scout for a team with a top 10 pick calls Johnson "the first guy I've ever scouted who I've thought can't fail." Oakland will also have chances to trade down and settle for Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, but Russell's potential is probably too good for them to pass up.
Millen has wasted two recent first-round picks on receivers ( Charles Rogers in 2003, Mike Williams in '05). He may be tempted to take another one, but Detroit has bigger needs elsewhere. "Matt has dreamed of this moment," one G.M. friendly with Millen said on Sunday. "He can finally make a trade to set up his team for years." Expect him to entertain offers from the Bucs (fourth) and the Redskins (sixth).
The hot rumor will have Cleveland trading up to get Russell, whom Savage has known since he was a 14-year-old in Savage's football camp. More likely the Browns will stay put and make their second big off-season move to strengthen the offensive line, taking Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas to pair with Eric Steinbach, the former Bengals guard whom they signed to a seven-year free-agent deal with a $17 million guarantee.
Tampa's frenzied off-season moves signal desperation; this could well be coach Jon Gruden's last chance to get these Bucs to another Super Bowl. If they don't move up to take Johnson, they'll look for a player who can make an impact as a rookie—either Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams, the ACC defensive player of the year in '06, or Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, the top running back.
Think meat and potatoes—Big Ten meat and potatoes. While run stopping--pass rushing defensive tackle Alan Branch of Michigan would be tempting, new coach Ken Whisenhunt knows he must shore up the offensive line, so the early-line favorite is left tackle Levi Brown of Penn State.
The Redskins (six), Dolphins (nine) and Broncos (21) could all try to improve their position. Denver has already tried and failed to swing a deal with Detroit, and Miami has been in the market for a quarterback. On Sunday, Washington brass scoffed at the notion that the team would move up to get Johnson. But in truth the Skins are the only club outside the top five that can put together a package of picks and players attractive enough to snag Johnson.
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