back to the Black Table

You have a quarterback who had one year of success after three successive failures, a wide receiver whose drug test supposedly showed a masking agent, a 25-year-old 5-foot-10 cornerback with a bad shoulder, a speed rusher who is too slow and a rather obese quarterback with a broken leg.

So tell me again … why does the NFL get so worked up about its draft?

The league will convene this weekend in New York for its annual mid-offseason fete, giving fans of all 32 teams one more reason to think their club will win this season's Super Bowl. But to listen to the teams, none of these players they are about to pay millions of dollars are any good and, if everybody could, they'd all trade out of the high-paying first round and into the cheaper second and third rounds.

To be sure, a lot of smoke is being blown. Nobody wants to reveal their true strategy, in hopes that by saying nothing, their guy - the one guy who can make a difference and turn around years of losing - will fall to them.

In the end, it still basically is a crapshoot. The top picks all have these flaws because they have been overscouted to the point of paralysis. Whether a player turns into a Pro Bowler has almost as much as to do with how he reacts after that first paycheck, and what kind of coaching he has, as does pure talent.

But 32 teams have spent millions of dollars and several months in an effort to find the best seven or so players to fit their team and their system. The least we can do is give them a few minutes. So here's a look at what could happen in the first round of Saturday's draft, with why you should or shouldn't care.

And, remember, while we're talking only about the first round here, the later rounds often can be at least as important, if not more, in determining a draft's true success. It's just nobody's heard of any of those players, and it might be a year or two before they do anything.

Cincinnati Bengals
Carson Palmer, QB, Southern California. This pick will be all but signed, sealed and delivered by the time you read this. Palmer, at 6-5 and 232 pounds, looks exactly like the NFL wants a quarterback to look, and that is half the reason he will be the No. 1 pick and get something like a $15 million signing bonus. But Palmer seldom played like a No. 1 pick should, at least until his senior season. So he's either a one-year wonder, a late bloomer or knows exactly when the lights are shining on him. With the Bengals' history, don't take the future superstar bet.

Detroit Lions
Charles Rogers, WR, Michigan State. The Lions hired Rogers' ex-college coach several months ago, making this the most preordained pick in the draft. The Lions have been studying this guy for months, and they know better than anyone whether to be concerned about Rogers supposedly flunking a drug test because he had too much water in his system. Or something like that. (Seriously. They're worried about this guy because he had too much water in his system.) You can't deny Rogers' talent, but there are some people who wonder what will happen when he gets the big money. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that, but I remain convinced GM Matt Millen will run this team into the ground even further than he already has.

Houston Texans
Andre Johnson, WR, Miami (Fla.).
This could be the first turning point of the draft, because the Texans are eager to trade out of this spot. I think Johnson eventually will be better than Rogers … but only if he doesn't go to the Texans. GM Charley Casserly and coach Dom Capers are inherently conservative and, basically, boring. To grab a potentially explosive receiver such as Johnson goes against their inherent nature. But they'll feel pressure to take Johnson, even if a defensive player is a more logical pick for them.

Chicago Bears
Dewayne Robertson, DT, Kentucky. The Bears don't want to take one of the top quarterbacks and are intent on trading the pick. But they've been asking quite a lot and probably will not get it. That leaves them with Robertson, the consensus No. 1 defensive tackle. Most descriptions of Robertson call him a bigger and faster Warren Sapp. For a team with a GM scared silly of screwing up a quarterback pick, coming away from the weekend with Robertson is the best they can hope for.

Dallas Cowboys
Jimmy Kennedy, DT, Penn State. Coach Bill Parcells put the lid on leaks out of Dallas, making this pick a big mystery. The Cowboys could walk away with cornerback Terence Newman, but he is small and already has had injury concerns. Parcells doesn't want to mess around with those kind of players. Instead, he'd rather go for a 6-4, 320-pound behemoth who just stuffs everything up in the middle. That's a Parcells player.

Arizona Cardinals
Terrell Suggs, DE, Arizona State. After Rogers, this is the most predetermined pick of the first round. Suggs fits the Cardinals perfectly. He's a hometown hero, he fills a need and he could be a game changer with his pass-rush ability. He also is a perfect example of paralysis by overscouting. The teams ahead of Suggs are scared to take him because he has had some slow times in the 40-yard dash. They forget that he had an NCAA-record 24 sacks last year, and that defensive ends run 40 yards about once a season. This will be up to the Cardinals not to screw up Suggs, which, of course, they're likely to do.

Minnesota Vikings
Terence Newman, CB, Kansas State. Newman falls to the Vikings for three reasons. His size: There aren't too many superstar 5-10 cornerbacks these days. His shoulder: It probably won't be a huge problem, but it's a reason to worry. And, finally, his age: Newman will be 25 when he plays his first NFL game. To compare, Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey also turns 25 this summer, and he just completed his fourth pro season. (Michael Vick won't be 25 until 2005.) The Vikings, who wanted a defensive tackle, take Newman without blinking.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Jordan Gross, T, Utah. The Jaguars won't take either of the quarterbacks, Kyle Boller or Byron Leftwich, because neither will fit their West Coast-style offense. Gross is a safe, solid pick -- a good way for new coach Jack Del Rio to get his feet wet. The Jaguars might look at cornerback Marcus Trufant but have less need there now.

Carolina Panthers
Marcus Trufant, CB, Washington State. The Panthers will get plenty of calls with Leftwich and Boller still available. But their starting cornerbacks are Terry Cousins and Reggie Howard. They can't afford to pass on Trufant.

Baltimore Ravens
Byron Leftwich, QB, Marshall. Another quarterback finally goes, albeit one with a broken leg and an apparent eating problem. The Ravens love Leftwich and might even have him rated No. 1 on their board, depending whom you believe. They need him and want him, and there are plenty of reasons, including Leftwich being a better thrower than Palmer, to think he will be the best QB of the draft.

Seattle Seahawks
Kevin Williams, DT, Oklahoma State. Boller still would be available, and plenty of teams at the bottom of the draft love him, so don't be surprised by a trade. If not, the Seahawks need serious defensive help, and Williams would be their guy. There are some concerns that Williams is a bit of a workout wonder, so they could select Johnathan Sullivan instead.

St. Louis Rams
Kyle Boller, QB, California. Everybody acted like the sky was falling when Mike Martz said he'd consider a quarterback with this pick. But think about it. The Rams don't know if Kurt Warner every will regain his accuracy, and Marc Bulger already is injury prone. I don't know that this is the best pick for the Rams, because they have several holes on both sides of the ball and soon will have really serious salary-cap problems. But it is a perfect high-risk, high-reward pick for Martz. The Rams need an excellent draft.

New York Jets
Boss Bailey, LB, Georgia. This is where the draft gets exciting or, if you're a normal person, boring. Bailey might be the best athlete in the draft, and the Jets need youth at linebacker. Their other option is a defensive lineman, but they won't chance letting Bailey slip to the Patriots right behind them.

New England Patriots
William Joseph, DT, Miami. At one time, Joseph was a top-five pick, and he seems to have dropped through no fault of his own. The Patriots love to shore up their lines, so with no other obvious pick here, they'll take the best available lineman.

San Diego Chargers
Johnathan Sullivan, DT, Georgia. Sullivan could go anywhere from No. 11 to the second round. He's a big body for the middle of the line as the Chargers start to rebuild their defense.

Kansas City Chiefs
Michael Haynes, DE, Penn State. The Chiefs continue to add defensive help, even after several free-agent signings this offseason. An intriguing pick would be a wide receiver -- they don't have much depth there -- but the pickings here still are a bit thin.

New Orleans Saints
Andre Woolfolk, CB, Oklahoma. The secondary has been a huge problem for the Saints, who also are trying to build a championship defense. The Saints have back-to-back picks here and are eager to move up and get Newman, which might be possible, considering Newman's predicted mini-slide.

New Orleans Saints
Jeff Faine, C, Notre Dame. For a team with other needs, taking Faine might be a bit of a luxury, but that's exactly what the second first-round pick allows them to do. The Saints need a new center, and Faine is expected to be a great one for years. Safety Troy Polamalu is another option.

New England Patriots
Eric Steinbach, G/T, Iowa. Many people want to give Willis McGahee to the Patriots here, but it's too much of a risk for coach Bill Belichick, whose public preening for McGahee seems a bit too out of character to believe. Steinbach is a great value for this deep in the draft and can play any line position. Belichick will love that versatility.

Denver Broncos
Jerome McDougle, DE, Miami. The Broncos probably would be surprised to find McDougle here, given that he consistently has been rated much higher. If McDougle has fallen off the radar for a reason, the Broncos might not be aware of it. IT's possible they never looked into him enough because they never imagined they could get him. But Broncos coach Mike Shanahan isn't likely to make such an oversght.

Cleveland Browns
Kwame Harris, T, Stanford. The Browns continue to need help on the offensive line, and Harris is the best prospect, although he certainly isn't without questions.

New York Jets
Kelley Washington, WR, Tennessee. Feeling the heat for letting Laveranues Coles slip away, the Jets will try to fill that hole. Washington has had a neck injury, but if he's healthy, he could be a dominant player.

Buffalo Bills
Al Johnson, C, Wisconsin. Johnson might be a borderline first-round player, but the Bills have a bit of leeway after already making so many offseason moves. Johnson will let them upgrade their line, move some pieces around and make an OK line above average.

Indianapolis Colts
Troy Polamalu, S, Southern California. The Colts will be overjoyed to grab Polamalu. He projects as a top-notch playmaker in Tony Dungy's defense.

New York Giants
Kenny Peterson, DE, Ohio State. The Giants are very eager to get a defensive lineman, and they appear to have Peterson rated much higher than several other teams. But it wouldn't be the first time GM Ernie Acorsi went against convention.

San Francisco 49ers
Taylor Jacobs, WR, Florida. Several drafts have had Boller falling all the way to the 49ers, which could happen if the Rams pass on him. None of the other teams ahead of the 49ers need a quarterback. Coach Dennis Erickson would take him as a better fit for his downfield passing game. If Boller isn't there, Jacobs could take over the No. 2 receiver slot.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Jason Witten, TE, Tennessee. The Steelers aren't quite ready to give up on Jerome Bettis, which is what a Larry Johnson pick would mean. They are, however, ready to finally have a decent receiving tight end.

Tennessee Titans
Larry Johnson, RB, Penn State. Eddie George's time appears to be running out, and Johnson would give the Titans another big bruiser to take over.

Green Bay Packers
E.J. Henderson, LB, Maryland. There is talk the Packers could move up to grab one of the quarterbacks, but they'd be neglecting a slew of other needs by doing that, and they don't really have anything to use to move up. Henderson just makes too much sense.

Philadelphia Eagles
Willis McGahee, RB, Miami (Fla.). If this seems like a bit of a risk for the Eagles, that's because it is. But it makes perfect sense. McGahee is limping around on one leg, but the Eagles don't need him this season. Duce Staley, with help from guys like Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter, can get the Eagles through another season before McGahee can take over. He also is a good enough receiver to fit Andy Reid's offense.

Oakland Raiders
Mike Doss, S, Ohio State. The Raiders can use some help in the secondary, with Rod Woodson getting old and after missing out on signing Rodney Harrison earlier in the offseason.

Oakland Raiders
Ty Warren, DT, Texas A&M. Warren is another player who has been all over the chart, but he is a big body who can replace Sam Adams.


Matt Pitzer writes for USA Today Sports Weekly. At the Black Table, he correctly predicted the Buccaneers would win the Super Bowl. Be warned, he has unleashed these psychic powers on the baseball season as well.