Monday, February 24, 2003
Updated: February 26, 11:09 AM ET
Teams bothered by extra days, lack of workouts
By John Clayton
INDIANAPOLIS -- NFL teams sent as many as 45 employees to Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine of college prospects, and their bosses wondered if they got a snow job.
Two extra days were added to the five-day event to provide a better flow of player interviews. That worked beautifully. The extra time allowed players who worked out to have time so they didn't have to run within hours of wearing down leg muscles on a Cybex machine.
But players and NFL teams left Indianapolis wondering. First, 10-14 inches of snow dumped during the weekend kept more people in their hotels. Coaches and general managers fumed about increasing numbers of skilled offensive players who didn't work out. Agents for players complained that their clients got off their nutritional programs because they were left ordering more fried food off room service for four days while in town.
Expense accounts soared while the decision making process became trickier for the draft. What was learned was that the defensive line class of 2003 is special, one of the best in years. If you are looking for tall, quick receivers in the first two rounds, you are in luck. Quarterbacks are bigger, thicker and seem to have stronger arms. The tight end class wasn't as strong as last year, but it marks the third consecutive year of upgrades at the position.
Overall, 323 players attended the combine and confirmed that this isn't a great draft, but it has its highlights.
"There are good positions and there are some positions that are weak," Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "Tight ends is a positive positions. The center and guard positions are positive. For tackles, it's thin. For receivers, there are two guys at the top (Charles Rogers of Michigan State and Andre Johnson of Miami), and there are a lot of middle-round guys, so you've got to earn you money scouting those guys. The defensive line interior positions are pretty good. Cornerback has a chance, and there are some players there. Linebacker is okay and quarterback is in the eye of the beholder."
At quarterback, Kyle Boller of California, Chris Simms of the Texans and Dave Ragone of Louisville helped their causes at Indy. Boller impressed everyone with his athletic ability by running a 4.6 40. He wanted to do a 4.5, but most teams didn't realize he had that kind of speed to go along with his strong arm. Simms showed he, too, has a strong arm and quickness, running 4.77 and 4.82 40s. Rex Grossman didn't work out because of a turf toe, but he's a solid No. 1 because of his arm strength and powerful release.
Ragone, weighing a solid 249 pounds, bounced back from a bad Senior Bowl week by throwing the ball well Sunday. Boller, Simms and Ragone are among the top 50 players in the draft, and they are trying to make their cases to move into the first round.
Heisman winner Carson Palmer didn't have to do much to show he's the top value in the draft. He threw well trying to impress the Bengals to draft him with the first pick. Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich revealed he suffered his second hairline fracture during a Nov. 2 game and he elected to play his team's bowl game with a broken leg. Leftwich didn't work out, but he passed physicals on the leg.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the combine was that the best position didn't shy away of showing it. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams of Oklahoma State made the biggest impression with his 4.88 40 and Jonathan Sullivan of Georgia helped himself by running slightly about five seconds and doing well in the draft.
Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State, Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky, Rien Long of Washington State and William Joseph of Miami didn't work out but they are among the class of this classy position. Nick Eason of Clemson moved into the first-round sleeper category with a good workout.
"It's extremely deep," Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said of the entire defensive line position. "In the years we've been doing this, this is one of the deeper drafts -- numbers-wise -- for defensive linemen that we've seen. Last week we had preliminary draft meetings and it seemed like we talked about the defensive line for a long time. It's usually a short list. But this year there are a lot of names. Now are all of these guys prospects? That's what we have to determine this week and over the next six to seven weeks. But it looks good in terms of the numbers and in terms of the depth."
University of Miami defensive ends wowed everyone Saturday. Jerome McDougle, Andrew Williams and Jamal Green ran between 4.6 and 4.8 40s. Michael Haynes of Penn State pulled a quad running a 4.8 40. Chris Kelsay of Nebraska helped himself the most by running in the 4.7s.
"I think it's a terrific group," Martz said. "This group is a lot like the '96 group I think."
"You have to evaluate the receivers in the big picture," Casserly countered. "I don't know how many people have receivers rated as first round. Rogers and Johnson are at the top. There are other good ones out there and there are debates between one team and another. I think if you graded this class and take out everybody's top three of four receivers, it's not a big year for receivers."
The good group of tight ends features Dallas Clark of Iowa, Jason Witten of Tennessee, Bennie Joppru of Michigan, but nothing was sorted out this weekend. Unfortunately, Clark, Witten and Joppru didn't work out.
"We can't agree in our own room about the tight ends," Casserly said. "There are a number of good tights ends this year. Everybody has a different list of how they rate."
The three top offensive linemen competed Friday and each helped their causes. Tackle Jordan Gross showed he has quick feet and did exceptional in the drills. Eric Steinbach of Iowa, a guard who can move to tackle because he's 6-foot-6, had a 35½ inch vertical jump. Kwane Harris of Stanford secured his spot in the top 15 as the top underclassman along the line.
Though E.J. Henderson of Maryland, Terry Pierce of Kansas State and Gerald Hayes of Pitt didn't do much. However, the group of linebackers showed promise. This is a group of 6-1, 6-0 linebackers who weigh in the 220s or 230s and can run 4.6. Most of those who ran Monday did well, running mostly in the 4.6s. Joe Odom of Purdue ran a 4.59 as did Khalid Abdullah of Mars Hill. Jeremy Loyd of Iowa State and Nick Barrett of Oregon State ran in the 4.6s and helped themselves. Kawiki Mitchell of South Florida is a big, 250-pound middle linebacker who ran an impressive 4.65.
Kenny Hamlin of Arkansas-Fayette and Cato June of Michigan helped themselves at safety by running well Monday while Mike Doss of Ohio State, the consensus top safety, elected to have himself for his school's workout. Another safety who impressed was Colin Branch of Stanford, who ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash.
For the cornerbacks, the top two prospects, Terence Newman (Kansas Sate) and Marcus Trufant (Washington State) both ran in the 4.3s.
Few hurt themselves among those who worked out, but a lot more work has to be done before April to sort out what might be considered an average draft.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.