2003 NFL Draft Notes

Chargers Update has gone around the league getting insight into the 2003 NFL Draft and seeing how the early signs are stacking for and against the Chargers who pick #15 in round one. Every team except the Chargers has leaked some information as to their status concerning the Draft in April, some are meant to throw other teams off, and others are meant to spark potential trade talk between teams. Either way the early signs point to the Chargers selecting…

With the preliminary stages of the NFL Scouting Combines set to begin in earnest today and going into full swing Thursday, the rumblings will come in faster than we can print. Here is the current state of the league:

1.The Cincinnati Bengals are open to trading down from the top spot in the April NFL draft, which should interest teams with quarterback concerns. A trade down by the Bengals may turn their attention to WR, namely Charles Rogers of Michigan State and Andre Johnson of Miami. The best thing the Bengals have done is not tip their hand. Check out what else has come out of Cincy.

In addition to QBs Carson Palmer of USC and Byron Leftwich of Marshall, Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis has dropped some hints that the Bengals might also eye Michigan State WR Charles Rogers with the #1 pick overall at the 2003 draft. While WR is actually one of the Bengals' deeper positions, Lewis had suggested following the team's initial evaluation process that he'd like to add another WR with speed to complement Chad Johnson, an emerging star at the position. Meanwhile, Lewis has reconfirmed that even if the Bengals take one of the two QBs with the #1 pick, veteran Jon Kitna will be the starter next fall. If Cincinnati ultimately drafts a QB with the #1 pick overall at the 2003 draft there is no guarantee that it will indeed be Southern Cal's Carson Palmer. New Bengals' head coach Marvin Lewis said that Marshall QB Byron Leftwich is still very much in the mix as a potential candidate for the top pick. Lewis, though, wants to have Leftwich checked out thoroughly after a series of injuries hampered his senior season with the Thundering Herd. Indeed, it appears that the Bengals' plans for the #1 pick are still wide open. Lewis, for example, indicates that the Bengals will certainly listen to offers for the top pick this year and would consider moving down a few spots. And if the Bengals don't select a QB with their #1 pick names that are being tossed around include Penn State DT Jimmy Kennedy and Kansas State CB Terence Newman.

2.It may be no coincidence that Detroit has shifted former Michigan State head coach Bobby Williams from RB to WR's coach with the arrival of Tom Rathman as RB coach. Charles Rogers played for Williams at Michigan State. The Detroit Lions appear likely to select Michigan State WR Rogers with the No. 2 pick in the April draft. Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci isn't sure if Michigan State WR Rogers plans on working out at the NFL scouting combine this week. "We're going to take a good look at Charles," Mariucci said. "I can just say it's going to be a consideration that we would draft a receiver like that, that early. And I know it's a little bit unusual. It is a need for the team (and) he is a good player," said Mariucci. We think this is no secret and the Lions are set at the #2 spot.

3.Dave Richard, in a Q&A session on NFL.com, reports Houston Texans QB David Carr would like some offensive help via the upcoming NFL draft. "We could use a wide receiver, a running back, an offensive lineman, even just a playmaker," he said. "I'd like to have a running back to complement me with a strong running game." The team has the No. 3 pick in the draft.

4.Bears' GM Jerry Angelo says he's "committed to wanting to get a QB" he is also saying "Is it with the 4th pick in the draft? I'm not going to commit to that." In fact, while they have several options at the position, the Bears' preferred course of action appears to be still to sign a veteran in free agency, and then trade down themselves from the 4th pick. If they stay put it may be Jimmy Kennedy they are after or if the board falls their way and Cincinnati does not choose a QB #1 overall they will take their pick of who is left or trade down with Carolina who is also in the market for a QB.

5.Although information is tough to come by now that Bill Parcells is running the Dallas Cowboys it is believed that they are enamored with Terrell Suggs. Cowboys' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has seen two areas of concern on his side of the ball headed into the 2003 NFL Draft. One, he knows that he needs a true shutdown cornerback, and two, he also knows that he needs a pass-rushing defensive end to help create more havoc in the backfield. That leaves Terrance Newman as another possibility and the Cowboys could throw a wrench in the Draft at the #5 spot.

6.Its simple, if Terrell Suggs is on the board they take the Arizona State product no questions asked. Arizona has had the fewest sacks in the league over the past three years (71). Without a defense, there is no offense. ."You simply can't replace a guy like Terrell Suggs," says Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter. "He has evolved into a tremendous leader. He has a very unique style, he speaks from the heart and he means what he says and that part will probably be very difficult to replace."

7.Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice said upgrading the secondary is the team's first priority this offseason. The team has plenty of room under the cap (approximately $25 million), but could be looking the way of the Draft with an underwhelming market of cornerbacks in free agency. Kansas State CB/KR Terence Newman is a strong possibility should he still be available when the Vikings pick as is Marcus Trufant who has vaulted up the Draft boards. Tice also said the team's needs after secondary help, in order of importance are: an offensive lineman, most likely a guard; a defensive lineman, primarily a rush end, but also a nose tackle; and a kick returner. The defensive tackle believed to be at the top of the Vikings' wish list when they pick No. 7 in April's NFL draft is Rien Long of Washington State. The 6-foot-5, 291-pound Outland Trophy winner had 13 sacks last season.

8. Jacksonville needs a complimentary receiver to take the pressure off Jimmy Smith who had a down year with 80 receptions. Plus at 33 he is not getting any younger and his lowest totals at receiver since 1998 come in a year where the Jaguars had to let go of Keenan McCardell. Andre Johnson could land in Jacksonville as the Jags look to take advantage of the remaining years of Mark Brunell and Smith. The Jags are also looking for help at corner and could look the way of the rising Trufant.

9.Carolina is high on QB's Leftwich and Palmer and may be willing to trade up to get either. Yet free agency remains and the Panthers have also been looking at the free agency market to fill the void. With John Fox leading his team to seven victories in 2002 they may go the veteran route and upgrade other spots in the Draft yet a young quarterback who can ease into the role is still high on the wish list with their first round pick.

10.Baltimore Ravens CB Chris McAlister is likely to get the franchise tag put on him, making him unavailable. If he does leave look for the Ravens to consider a cornerback at this spot. Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has stated upgrading the problematic receiver position either with a blue-chip free agent such as David Boston or Peerless Price if they hit the open market, or biding their time until the NFL Draft in April and improving the pass rush and run-stopping capabilities of the defensive line with a stouter nose guard and a more explosive upfield pass rusher as the priorities this offseason.

11.Seattle is seeking a defensive lineman who can do some damage up front as well as a middle linebacker with Anthony Simmons uncertain to return. Unless EJ Henderson ahs mind blowing numbers this week at the combines, Seattle will continue to focus on the defensive line. Ray Rhodes, the new defensive coordinator with the Seahawks said, "With the group that we have here - and we're going to add some people, of course - I think we can put this thing together and be a factor this year and improve a great deal from where they were last year." Rhodes' defenses have ranked in the NFL's top 10 in five of his six seasons as a coordinator. With that comes a defensive pick at the #11 slot. Seattle has interest in Dewayne Robertson and will be interested to see what kind of 40 time he runs this week in Indy. Robertson is reportedly close to challenging Penn State DT Jimmy Kennedy for the highest grade at the position among 2003 draft prospects.

12.The St. Louis Rams are seriously contemplating whether or not the upcoming $6 million option on quarterback Kurt Warner's contract should be exercised. If Warner is released before February 28, the Rams will take a $7.5 million cap hit in 2003. If they keep him, his cap number will be $8.7 million. Under his current contract, a trade will bump the cap hit to $13.5 million. Of course, Warner's cap hit in connection with a trade could be reduced, if Warner agrees to redo his contract. The Rams' decision to slap the franchise tag on Orlando Pace could factor into the Warner issue, since they'll be carrying $5.73 million in cap space for Pace. With 15 other unrestricted free agents, the Rams might not be able to tag Pace, keep Warner, and sign enough other free agents in order to be competitive in 2003. That decision may not factor at all in the Draft where they need another Offensive lineman to keep whichever QB they have in healthy. The Rams would love to get Jordan Gross or Eric Steinbach to man the tackle position opposite Orlando Pace. They allowed 46 sacks against in 2002 and are looking to keep their quarterback healthy.

13.Washington which has the 13th pick overall and reportedly has some interest in Palmer. They also are looking at Taylor Jacobs who had a great week of practice at the Senior Bowl. Jacobs already knows the offense and would be an immediate starter. With lots of cap room they will also be players in the market if Boston or Price hit free agency. If they snare one of those big fish the Draft philosophy will change and they will look to snare one of the top flight defensive tackles. Because defensive tackle remains an unsettled position, the team is exploring the possibility of retaining Dan Wilkinson.

14.The New England Patriots plan to address a need for a high-quality DT this offseason. The team has two picks in the first round of the draft (14th and 19th), and it is a possibility they could use both picks on the position. If the Patriots are able to land two quality starters either in the draft or through free agency, they are expected to move DT Richard Seymour to DE to take advantage of his quickness which is a farce. Taking a Pro Bowler and moving him out of position would be silly. "He's got great quickness for a tackle but that doesn't necessarily project to end," said one AFC pro personnel director. "I mean, why screw with a guy who is going to be in the Pro Bowl for 10 years at tackle, right?" They will take one defensive tackle. It remains to be seen when. Holding the pick before the Chargers they hold some valuable cards. The Pats also have their eyes on Indianapolis linebacker Mike Peterson who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. With the Pats also interested in potentially drafting EJ Henderson or Boss Bailey, what the Pats do before the Draft could directly impact the Chargers.

15. The San Diego Chargers will be letting the board play itself out. In the last two years they have played the role just right in the first two rounds of the Draft and been rewarded each time. They have interest in a cornerback, as GM John Butler states, "You can never have enough cornerbacks." They are also looking at the defensive tackle spot to shore up a depleted pass rush that haunted them when Jamal Williams and Marcellus Wiley missed time due to injury.

Other rumblings

Kansas City is high on Marcus Trufant, pulling him aside during Senior Bowl week to have an interview with him. They could look to trade up past San Diego if he is still available in the 10-14 range.

After trading up in the NFL Draft the last two years, New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi could look to do it again in the 2003 Draft. If Accorsi sees a defensive tackle or end he likes, he will try, at the right price, to move into the middle of the first round.

John McClain reports for the Houston Chronicle, Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury is currently working with former NFL assistant coach Jerry Rhome. Kingsbury's agents, Vann McElroy and Jeff Nalley, asked Rhome to help prepare the quarterback for the April NFL Combine. "The first time I watched Kliff, my jaw dropped," Rhome said. "I knew about the kid's records at Tech. I saw his statistics. I watched film with him and saw that he was like a field general. He called audibles. He knows reads, keys and protection schemes."

Denis Savage can be reached at: Denis Savage

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