Caveat emptor

Ernie Accorsi knows that he shouldn't have his heart set on selecting a particular player on April 24. <BR><BR>

Even when Accorsi chose first in 1983 as general manager of the then-Baltimore Colts, and thought he could have any college football player in America, he was wrong. John Elway forced a trade to the Broncos and led Denver to a Super Bowl in his fourth season, while the Colts couldn't find a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback for nearly another 10 years.

Twenty-one years later, San Diego, Oakland and Arizona all are scheduled to select before the Giants, and entirely too many scenarios could unfold for Accorsi to feel comfortable. If Mel Kiper and other draft experts are to be believed, quarterbacks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be off the board before the Giants get an opportunity to take an impact player with the fourth pick. If these projections prove to be correct, it would leave the Giants with Robert Gallery, the enormous Iowa offensive tackle everyone envisions protecting Kerry Collins' blind side.

Big, strong and agile, the 6-7, 318-pound Gallery gives every indication that he can become to the Giants' offensive front what Washington's Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick in 2000, has meant to the Redskins.

Accorsi also knows better than to make such assumptions. Because as attractive as it might seem to select so high in a NFL Draft, Accorsi has first-hand experience in being burned by a celebrated college prospect. The last time the Giants owned a top-five pick, Accorsi was assistant general manager to the late George Young.

With Illinois defensive end Simeon Rice and UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden off the board, the Giants picked Oklahoma defensive end Cedric Jones fifth overall. They're still searching for someone to take those double-teams and triple-teams off Michael Strahan.

Chad Bratzke, a fifth-rounder two years earlier out of Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky, started ahead of Jones his first three seasons in the league, opposite a blossoming Strahan. When Indianapolis signed Bratzke to a whopping six-year, $30 million deal before the 1999 season, Jones became a serviceable right defensive end, yet his production was never reflective of his potential. Jones managed merely 11 overall sacks despite 32 starts in '99 and 2000.

Jones was waived after the Giants' Super Bowl XXXV appearance, in favor of former Tennessee Titan Kenny Holmes. Jones signed with St. Louis, hurt his hip and at age 29 is out of the NFL. Late draft guru Joel Buchsbaum dubbed Jones "one of the biggest enigmas of all-time."

Although they drafted eventual star receiver Amani Toomer in the second round that year, choosing Jones was probably Young's foremost first-round failure during his 19-year tenure as the Giants' GM. There were an inordinate number of first-round busts that year, but Eddie George (14th, Houston), Marvin Harrison (19th, Indianapolis), Eric Moulds (24th, Buffalo) and Ray Lewis (26th, Baltimore) were among the players the Giants bypassed.

The Giants don't have as many holes to fill as most four-win teams, especially offensively, yet obviously cannot afford a similar mistake next month. Because as the Jones problem proved, it can take years to overcome it.

Perhaps, however, Accorsi can take solace in knowing that Young was prophetic in making his only other top-five picks with the Giants. With the second selection in 1981, Young grabbed North Carolina's Lawrence Taylor. Taylor played in 10 straight Pro Bowls and was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years ago.

Drafting third in 1984, Young picked Michigan State star Carl Banks. Together the linebackers led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories in four years.

Between 1960 and '79, the year Young began trying to turn the organization around, the Giants made three top-five selections and traded two others. They took Tucker Fredrickson first overall out of Auburn in 1965. The fullback never gained more than 486 yards in any one of his sevens seasons as a Giant.

Nine years later, Ohio State star tackle John Hicks was taken third by the Giants. Hicks started for four seasons at guard before being traded to Pittsburgh in 1978. An Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy winner his senior season with Buckeyes, Hicks was considered a disappointing professional and retired following the '79 season.

And in 1977, the Giants got Gary Jeter, a defensive tackle out of Southern Cal who was chosen fifth overall. They moved him to defensive end and he started there for three years. But Jeter led the team in sacks only once (10 in 1980) in his six seasons with the team.

Of course, none of this matters to Tom Coughlin. He is here to eliminate memories of the 4-12 debacle in 2003, and obviously couldn't care less about which players were taken when in Giants draft history. Plus, he has his own history of drafting in the top five on which he can draw. Coughlin, too, took a franchise-type pass protector with the first of two top-five picks he owned in eight years as the decision-maker in Jacksonville.

When Tony Boselli, whom Coughlin selected second overall nine years ago out of Southern Cal, was healthy, he was considered the best left tackle in the league. He allowed only 15.5 sacks in seven seasons with the Jaguars. But Boselli's career was ruined by shoulder injuries, and he retired before playing a single down for the Houston Texans, who took him in the expansion draft two years ago.

Boselli's selection by Jacksonville should still be considered a success, but like Accorsi, Coughlin understands that drafting high is a dangerous game to play. He took Kevin Hardy second in '96. Though productive, the Illinois linebacker never really justified the choice.

And for each Edgerrin James, the fourth pick of the '99 draft, there is a Peter Warrick, taken fourth a year later. For every Ricky Williams, the fifth pick in '99, there is a Curtis Enis, picked fifth the previous year. As for offensive linemen, Orlando Pace was worth the top choice in '97, but hasn't faded memories of Tony Mandarich, one of the biggest busts in draft history (second overall in '89).

If they get Gallery next month, Accorsi will hope that the penalty/protection problems that made last season tough to watch will be corrected. His history of choosing high in NFL Drafts, here and elsewhere, will remind him, however, not to assume anything.

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