At the top of their draft board remains Tennessee TE Jason Whitten. The Eagles know that there is little chance he'll slide to them at #30 so they've set their sites on Rutgers TE L.J. Smith. The belief is that starting TE Chad Lewis, who turns 32 this season, only has a few years left. The Eagles feel that Smith, who is seen more of a project at this point, should be ready to take over the #1 role once Lewis is finished playing in 2-3 years. They can move Smith along slowly until he's ready for supplant Lewis-at least that's the plan now. Because they know Smith won't likely be around when they pick in the second round, they're considering trading out of the first round in to the early stages of the second where Smith should be able to be selected.
When we look at their plans for the rest of the draft, they'll look to select a defensive end, which is their second biggest priority, and they'll be bringing in Colorado DE Tyler Brayton and a few other ends in for visits. They're also looking at a receiver on the first day-one with size is on their radar. Middle Tennessee St. WR Tyrone Calico is one that fits what they're looking for. Calico times well and has good size but on tape he certainly does not play up to his speed. He'd need good coaching from receivers coach David Culley should they wind up drafting him because Calico needs a lot of work-especially with his hands and technique. We saw Calico's weaknesses up close during Senior Bowl week practices.
One position that is a priority privately is offensive line mostly due to the loss of versatile backup OL Doug Brzezinski who signed with Carolina. The Eagles have no experience or quality talent behind their starting five linemen. High on the Eagles' list is Memphis OL Wade Smith. We're told offensive line coach Juan Castillo actually flew to Memphis last month to take Smith out to dinner and work him out. Smith meets the club's criteria of having a good background and no blemishes off the field. Smith has also had private workouts for Washington, Green Bay, Kansas City, and Minnesota. He has visits scheduled with San Francisco and Dallas still left and a private workout for Baltimore.
As we reported earlier this year for the TFY Draft Preview, the Eagles will continue to look to move backup QB A.J. Feeley who is on the last year of his contract. However, because most of the moves in free agency for quarterbacks have already taken place, the Eagles are having a problem receiving any interest. The time to move him would have been at the start of free agency. If they can't move him before the draft, look for them to put a fifth-round tender on Feeley next year before he becomes a restricted free agent.
We'll take a deeper look at the Eagles draft board next Friday in our next update.
Make no mistake about it, new head coach Bill Parcells wants, more like craves a big defensive tackle. Because he won't be able to get one in free agency, he has his sites on Kentucky DT Dewayne Robertson. Parcells' belief is that it starts up front on defense and he's always liked big tackles. Though the Cowboys are also targeting a cornerback such as Kansas St. CB Terence Newman, a big tackle is their priority. However, since Dallas knows it's not going to challenge seriously for a playoff spot in Parcells' first season, trading down is a possibility to acquire multiple picks.
Though Minnesota still needs help in their secondary, we're told they've pushed defensive tackle to their top of their list. Former Bronco CB Denard Walker should help solidify their dreadful situation while they groom their other young corners. However, at defensive tackle, they want someone who can take up space next to standout DT Chris Hovan. At the top of their list and seemingly so many teams is Kentucky DT Dewayne Robertson. If they go defensive tackle in round one, we expect them to go cornerback on the first day for sure. They also are looking for a few good young receivers as well as depth at linebacker and on the defensive line.
If you asked Atlanta back in February what position they would look at the most in the draft, it would be receiver. However, that was then and this is now. With the addition of free agent receivers Peerless Price and MarTay Jenkins and being able to re-sign their restricted free agents, the Falcons no longer have to look at even selecting a receiver in the draft. They're turned their attention to depth at linebacker and defensive back. If veteran CB Ray Buchanan is moved to safety, drafting a cornerback high on the first day is a strong possibility.
Regarding those rumors of the club trading veteran DT Warren Sapp, we heard the same talk last year at this time and nothing came to pass. Though we don't expect anything to happen before the draft, make no mistake about it, the Bucs have a dilemma on their hands. Both of the starting defensive tackles, Sapp and Anthony McFarland, are set to become free agents at the end of 2003 season. This is a major problem for them because teams just don't tie up big money in both of their tackles, usually only one. We expect to hear lots of trade talk next year at this time regarding Sapp-stay tuned.
Clearly, New Orleans still has two major needs-cornerback and defensive tackle. Though they were able to sign free agent CB Ashley Ambrose, on the other side remains major questions. Veteran CB Dale Carter cannot be counted on because of his off the field issues and their other backups are not starting caliber. However, though cornerback remains a need position, defensive tackle may be their biggest need. Their starters Grady Jackson and Norman Hand are inconsistent at best and those close to the Saints continue to say Hand is no lock to be on the opening day roster. Backups Martin Chase and Kenny Smith are solid backups but are not seen as starting quality so they would like to upgrade over Hand. The Saints have been talking about trading up to a few teams in the top-ten but nothing has transpired so far. The other position of need is at safety and the club continues to talk to the Patriots in acquiring S Tebucky Jones who would likely start over veteran S Jay Bellamy. We expect a deal to be done no later than next week.
The Bengals all along would have liked to trade down because they know they could select USC QB Carson Palmer a few spots lower. However, since the club has not received any solid offers, they'll likely stay put. Teams below them are receiving much better offers because the compensation to acquire those picks is much less.
Safety is a major concern for the club with their decision to let veteran S Lee Flowers play elsewhere. Their other veteran starter, Brent Alexander, is no lock to remain in that role because of his inconsistent play. Hence you can see why they have interest in free agent S Sammy Knight. If they're unable to sign Knight before the draft, they'll select a safety on the first day for sure. Cornerback is also a point of concern for the club though they deny this publicly.
Even before Marshall QB Byron Leftwich's workout this past Monday, some in the Raven organization had California QB Kyle Boller ahead of him and nothing since the workout has changed their minds. However, those close to the situation have told us that because GM Ozzie Newsome makes the final calls on personnel, Leftwich could still be the selection at #10 though Newsome may hold the one of the only votes for Leftwich in the organization. It will be interesting to see what transpires here in the next two weeks.
The club continues to get calls for their first-round pick (#3 overall) but nothing is close to happening. They're looking at three players at that slot. Terence Newman who they believe would be a big upgrade over veteran CB Marcus Coleman (we agree totally), Arizona St. DE Terrell Suggs, and Miami (Fla.) WR Andre Johnson. We'll have more on their draft plans next week.
Despite signing free agent DE Vonnie Holliday, the club plans to draft almost exclusively for defense. The one offensive position they'll look at will be quarterback where they would like to draft a player who could develop for down the road. Head coach Dick Vermeil has told those close to him if they make marked improvement defensively this offseason, they could make a Super Bowl run……in 2003. Who could say this can't happen after what we saw the Patriots do two years ago.
Terrence Newman - Some of you may recall that we reported Newman told us that he had an MRI on his left shoulder during week of the combine because of a previous injury. Newman told us then there was nothing to worry about and it was no big deal. However, subsequent tests taken recently showed that the situation is more than "no big deal". NFL sources have indicated he has nerve issues with his left shoulder and NFL clubs are currently gathering as much information as possible and are consulting with their medical staffs. There is no information currently available to indicate if his draft status will be affected either way but we will continue to monitor this situation up until the draft.
Byron Leftwich - Publicly, NFL clubs are saying all the right things about his workout this past Monday. However, not only was his workout disappointing to some, we've heard from various league sources who were either there or saw the tape of it that he was "terrible". Why? Though Leftwich proved he could take snaps from under center and he showed to have good mobility, his mechanics, delivery, and throws were poor. Some contend Leftwich may make it out of the top-ten. We'll see. We're told some clubs have moved QB Kyle Boller in front of Leftwich on their draft board. We'll continue to monitor this situation closely.
-- The latest draft notes installment is courtesy of Adam Caplan who is the editor of footballinjuries.com. Caplan appears on ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio 920 in Philadelphia as an NFL analyst. He also is a regular contributor as an NFL analyst for the TFY Draft Preview.