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Monday, April 7, 2003
Updated: April 10, 3:21 PM ET
Leftwich, McGahee are big question marks
By John Clayton
The biggest mystery in this year's draft is offense. While defensive coordinators drool over the abundance of 300-plus pound defensive linemen, a lengthy list of 230-pound linebackers who can run 4.6 30s and an adequate group of cornerbacks, the offense options aren't as defined.
When do the running backs go? Is it better to draft Miami halfback Willis McGahee with one good leg or take a chance on a below average group of running backs? Carson Palmer might be the best player in the draft, but how much better is he than Byron Leftwich or Kyle Boller at quarterback? And who is the third best wide receiver after Charles Rogers of Michigan State and Andre Johnson of Miami?
To kick off the three-week march to the April 26-27 NFL draft, let's study the mystery men of the selection process.
Byron Leftwich, quarterback, Marshall: He may be the best player and best quarterback in this draft, but scouts and general manager have seen very little of him since the college season. What a wonderful story about how Leftwich, knowing that he had a broken leg, cared more about playing a bowl game for his teammates than how it would affect his draft status. Monday was a big day for Leftwich to show NFL teams how he looks in his first workout since the season. No one knew what to expect. They know his arm is remarkably strong. They know his leadership is legendary. But what about his foot speed. At 6-foot-6, 240, Leftwich isn't exactly a rabbit, but he did run a couple of 4.85 40s, which was better than the 5.1 that some teams expected. The Monday workout, in which he displayed the ability to roll out, helped his cause in being compared to Carson Palmer. But two cracks in the same leg in two years have them wondering. Is the rod inserted to his leg right? Top orthopedic surgeons say not to worry, but Leftwich's scouting rating has been incomplete until Monday. The Bengals needed a great Leftwich workout to put his rating near enough to Palmer's to pose a negotiating threat. The Bengals want to have the first pick signed by draft day. A bad workout would have given Palmer all the leverage.
2. Willis McGahee, halfback Miami: He's the draft's ultimate mystery man. Were he healthy, he's the fourth pick in the draft and maybe the second. The Bears eyed him all season as the back to upgrade Anthony Thomas's lack of explosiveness. The Lions were thinking about casting aside Charles Rogers' receiving skills for McGahee's big-play running ability. Not anymore. McGahee is making an incredible comeback from tearing three knee ligaments, but where do you draft a top halfback coming off knee reconstruction? In the past two weeks, he's started to convince teams that he may play this season, but how effective can he be in his first year back from surgery? Clearly, some team will take him in the third round, but does someone gamble a second-round pick or higher? It's a mystery.
3. Terrell Suggs, defensive end, Arizona State: His stats are messed up. He lapped every defensive end who played college football by having 24 sacks last season. Yet he can't do better than two 4.8s and one 4.9 40 after three months of training. Then, to make matters worse, he attends a three-on-three basketball game for a relative and doesn't have the speed to avoid being hit in the back by a big piece of road debris. The off-the-field incident doesn't affect his ratings, but the lack of foot speed will. How does anyone have the football speed to get 24 sacks and can't show better times in the 40? The poor 40 time may have cost him a chance to go in the top five, but will it make teams question taking a 257-pound end with average speed in the top 10? Maybe.
4. E.J. Henderson, linebacker, Maryland: Henderson is the ideal, aggressive, big linebacker teams are seeking, but worries about past back problems make it tough to tell where he will go in the first round. Clearly, he's the best linebacker. But most teams addressed their linebacker needs in free agency. Some teams signed two linebackers for starting duty as opposed to waiting for the draft. Henderson trimmed down to 238 pounds for his March 19 workout. On a windy day, he blistered a 4.68 with the wind and a 4.82 against the wind, meaning he's a 4.7 linebacker. Figuring out whether he goes in the top 15 is a mystery.
Larry Johnson, halfback, Penn State: Any back who can rush for 2,000 yards in a college season should generate more draft excitement, but you can't get a scout to guarantee that he will go in the first round. Maybe Johnson is suffering the same mystery that suddenly has Anthony Thomas under scrutiny in Chicago. Thomas won Rookie of the Year honors on a Bears playoff team, but the Bears wanted McGahee to upgrade the position. The mystery about Johnson is whether he has the breakaway speed to merit a first-round choice. You'd think so. Johnson clearly has 1,200-yard ability on a good team but three-quarters of the league have backs who can gain 1,000 yards. Johnson has the yards, but he hasn't gotten the love that 2,000 yards normally receive.
6. Kelley Washington, receiver, Tennessee, and Taylor Jacobs, receiver, Florida: They are battling to be the third best receiver in the draft, but will the depth at wide receiver be held against them. Washington is a 6-2, 215-pounder with 4.4 speed. Jacobs has good size and great pass-catching ability, but there are so many big, fast receivers that teams can concentrate on other positions in the first round and still get good prospects in the second and third. That leaves Washington and Jacobs puzzled. Their mystery is that they are top 15 prospects without guarantees about going in the top 15.
7. Teyo Johnson, receiver, Stanford: He's a second-round mystery. Do you draft him as a quick tight end or a big receiver. The former Stanford basketball player who has amazing upside on the football field, Johnson doesn't have the blocking skills you expect from a tight end, but then how many current NFL tight ends make their money blocking. It's a passing league and teams are looking for mismatches for their third and fourth receivers. Johnson could be that fit, but he's raw.
Ken Dorsey, quarterback, Miami: Dorsey has changed his diet to add weight and improve his throwing power. At 6-4, Dorsey has the frame to be a 230-pounder and that's his goal. But does he has enough weight to be a powerful thrower? That's the mystery. Dorsey, weighing in the 180s, had one of the great college records for victories, but he's not a big-time thrower. There is some thoughts he might not even get drafted, which may go down as one of the draft's great mysteries. How can a college winner with a big frame not get drafted? We'll find out.
9. Kyle Boller, quarterback, California: The mystery here is why it took this long to recognize how good he is. Coming out of high school, he and Chris Simms were considered the two best prospects. Finally, he gets the great coaching this season, and Boller explodes on the scene as a major quarterback talent. He can throw the ball 80 yards. He has good knowledge of passing offenses. His workouts have been so good that he could go in the top 10. Two months ago, he was considered a second-rounder. Some people believe his upside in the NFL could top Carson Palmer's and Byron Leftwich's.
10. Rien Long, defensive tackle, Washington State: No team knows where to rate him. They didn't study him much because he kept telling people that he was staying at Washington State for another year. Then, he turns pro and wasn't able to do any workouts until late March. His workout was so-so. He looked good in the short shuttled and quick timing drills, but he didn't wow anybody. Long is a 300-pounder who has great potential but in a great defensive tackle draft, it's hard fitting him in. Is he a first-rounder or a second-rounder? Teams are still trying to figure that out.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.