Rams Park is "Value" City on Draft Day

The best way to describe the ebb and flow of the first day of the 2003 NFL Draft would be to call it a symphony in three movements. The changing rhythms and startling crescendos that made the audience pay attention for the next surprise movement were right out of old Joe Haydn's Modus Operandi. <br>

Rams Park is “Value” City on Draft Day
By Rams Nation's Barry Waller

Like the famous “Surprise” symphony that crowns the accomplishments of that underrated 18th Century master composer, the draft began slowly, almost predictably. As in most great classical works of music, the first movement was soothing and reassuring. The first five picks came and went, with a million way tie in any first round accuracy contest, as each player went off the board precisely where those obsessed with the draft predicted the night before.

Since USC QB and Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer was signed, sealed and delivered the day before, Cincinnati’s top pick was a fate accompli. Despite rumors of a possible trade down to avoid dealing with Charles Rogers agent, Carl Poston, the Lions then stuck with the home state product out of Michigan State, arguably the best player in the draft.

I guess the Houston Texans couldn’t get Poston and the Rams on the phone; to sign Orlando Pace, and trade their pick within their fifteen allotted minutes, by some accounts their first option. That left the Texans forced to settle for a second option; to pick University of Miami junior wide-out Andre Johnson. Actually, from the very start of the Pace rumors, everyone in Texas was saying Johnson would be their guy. So was everyone in St. Louis, out at Rams Park. The only guy talking trade was Carl Poston, and those who bought his line became his shills. That’s OK, next time they will know better.

The Jets didn’t trade up a day early, with the Bears dropping to 13th and adding an extra first round pick at #22 in the process, to draft a quarterback, so everyone already had Kentucky junior defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson penciled in for the J. E. T. S. That made for a less intense group of Jets fans packing the balcony at Madison Square Garden, who could relax, and cheer in unison for the guy the green clad horde wanted.

There were tons of rumors swirling about the Cowboys fifth overall pick, fueled by the rumors of a nerve injury possibly hindering Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman’s ability to play at his top level. It’s almost laughable to think about Bill Parcells or Jerry Jones tipping their hand about any possible draft strategy, so all those rumors had as much worth as ex-military studio imbeds thinking they knew the mind of General Tommy Franks as the Iraq War unfolded.

The Cowboys took their time, possibly exploring deals, possibly just calling their guy, Newman, then handed the card to Paul Tagliabue that added the super corner and return specialist that Dallas sorely needs.

In classical symphonies, the second movement is where the listener finds out just how talented and inspired the composer was when he wrote the piece. The middle of the performance is the heart of what it’s about, where the composer can take it in any direction, in as unpredictable a fashion as possible. This is designed to get the listener on the edge of his seat, in anticipation of what could happen next, in the story the composer is trying to convey musically.

The most famous piece of classical music, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, is known first and foremost by it’s second movement, and like most of them it hits you over the head right from the very first note. In the case of that piece, it’s four notes, the resounding
DA-DA-DA DAAAAA, that may be the most famous bar ever written. Everything after that grows from the roots of those four notes that Ludwig couldn’t get out of his mind two hundred years ago.

The symphony “Draft 2003” began its second phase with just such a shattering, draft altering crescendo, that also made it clear that this draft could go in any direction, and that those first five comforting picks were an aberration, just to lull everyone to a false sense of calm.

Who better but the Arizona Cardinals, the big brass symbol or giant gong of NFL franchises, when it comes to shaking things up, to throw the rest of round one for a loop. If any first rounder seemed like the safest of slam dunks, other than the Bengals’, it had to be the surety that the Cardinals would jump all over hometown guy Terrell Suggs, the Arizona State junior sackmaster. As usual, with the Big Red, there is no such animal as a sure thing, and as usual they made a bad deal.

The Saints had been trying to deal down for awhile, owning back to back picks at #17 and #18 that they could use as trade bait. The market looked to be pretty set by the Jets-Bears trade, giving Arizona a guide to follow, but they still folded a pat hand. The Bears received two picks at #13 and #22, which adds up to 35. They also received the Jets fourth round pick to move the nine spots down from #4.

On the surface, looking at round one, the Cardinals got a similar deal, as the 17th and 18th picks also add up to 35. However, the Cardinals moved down eleven spots from #6, and though the second New Orleans pick was higher than the Jets former second #1, it’s that first one that really means the most, if it lies within the top group of players.

Now comes the part that shows the Cardinals panicked in making this deal. Not ONLY did they not get that fourth rounder the Bears received in their better bargain on Friday, they also swapped second rounders with the Saints, a drop of 17 picks from the fifth pick in round two to the 22nd. Anyone who follows the NFL draft regularly over a few years, knows that the top of round two features players who have been predicted to be first rounders, who fell a few picks out of circumstance, or because team needs took precedence over value for some teams.

The picks at the end of round two however, are far more likely to be reaches, or talents that will still be available halfway through round three. Once the Cardinals threw that provision into the trade, it became advantage Saints. When you add the fact that the Bears traded one spot down, so the Patriots could take about the last of the top group of defensive tackles, and picked up another pick in the process, it makes the Cardinals really look like New Orleans hoodwinked them.

Though the Saints appeared to rip off those gullible Cardinals, one of their partners in the NFL franchise futility Hall-of-Fame, they returned to form themselves by taking two player far ahead of where their value was set by most scouts. When the Saints passed up cornerback Marcus Trufant, who everyone guessed was the target of their move, to take Georgia junior defensive tackle Jonathan Sullivan, it sent the first round into a tizzy, as war rooms throughout the nation began assessing the implication of a non top tier talent thrust into the top six.

The chain reaction caused by this event was not unlike that of an extra electron hurled with immense force into a plutonium atom already overloaded with too many negatively charged satellites. By the time the reaction had died down, three trades were made to swap round one picks, one was made to move into round one, and the Minnesota Vikings began floating in some freaky dimension that lies in the twilight zone between picks.

It turns out that the wacky fifteen or so minutes that saw six picks fall off the board in unheard of fashion, was the result of some gamesmanship in the pursuit of Marshall QB Byron Leftwich by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Baltimore Ravens wanted Leftwich badly to say the least, and got a deal done with Minnesota to move one pick ahead of Jacksonville, who also coveted the talented passer as their quarterback of the future.

However, the Jaguars also got on the phone to the Vikings Mike Tice, and stalled the deal as long as they possibly could by pretending to possibly offer more for the pick. Tice admittedly “got greedy”, and when Jacksonville bailed at the last instant, the Ravens did not get their card in to the commissioner in time, and the Vikings pick expired, an almost unheard of occurrence that was Cardinal-like in its ineptitude.

The rules say that the team after the one that had it’s time run out is then on the clock, but after that, the by-passed team can hand in its card any time, as long as they beat the team then on the clock to the podium. Once the Vikings “passed”, Jacksonville’s representative probably did his best Jesse Owens imitation dashing furiously down the aisle with that card that said “Byron Leftwich-QB-Marshall” on it.

Right on his heels came the Carolina Panthers runner….literally…who took the card picking Utah tackle Jordan Gross on it to the official scorekeeper before the Vikings could possibly snatch him. Finally, the Vikings messenger leaped in front of the Ravens guy, no doubt to absolutely make sure the Vikings at least stayed ahead of the team that screwed up their chance to get an extra first day pick.

The Vikings took the player, Oklahoma State Defensive lineman Kevin Williams, which Tice swears they were after all along. Tice also made sure to blame the Ravens for their embarrassing snafu, which makes one wonder if the relationship between Tice and Ravens head coach Brian Billick, both assistants under Denny Green in Minnesota, may be a bit strained right now. Even if Tice got his man, he blew it, and the rest of the NFL knows it, even if the Vikings fans don’t.

The Vikings should have known that the Jaguars, whose owner, Jerry Richardson, broke every rule the NFL supposedly set in the effort to get an expansion team in 1994, would double cross them in the end. You can bet Tice won’t forget the Jaguars sneaky tactics, just as Billick won’t forget Tice’s finger pointing that will have Ravens fans pissed at Ozzie Newsome and Billick for losing Leftwich, especially if he stars in Jacksonville down the line. Had Tice just kept his trap shut instead of copping a plea, Baltimore’s attempt to trade up would be nothing more than a rumor.

Though the Ravens did not get the QB they wanted, they did recover well in the end, though it was costly. However, much of the cost isn’t due until 2004, so Billick and Newsome got a one-year reprieve to make their fans forget Rat Fink Tice “dropping a dime” on them.

The Ravens were able to take advantage of a bit of luck and the Cardinals stupidity when Suggs fell to them, and their representative in New York turned in their card right on the heels of the Vikings guy, selecting the record setting Sun Devil.

The Rams had been trying to get a deal done to move up, probably for Trufant, once the seventh pick was on the clock. However, the Viking fiasco, with Tice choking like a traffic controller on his first busy day, threw a monkey wrench in any trade plans to get ahead of Seattle, who also would covet home state product Trufant.

When asked after they eventually made their pick, whether there was an effort to trade up, Mike Martz answered honestly, “Yes there was, but how do you do that? Because when Minnesota passed everybody’s trying to get to the stand first, and you don’t know where Minnesota’s going. You might have a trade with Minnesota, but somebody else beats them up there. So if you make the trade and get it in there, your player may have already been picked.”

According to Martz, the seventh, eighth and ninth picks that usually takes 45 minutes, were actually made in “about 45 seconds”. When asked about that insane flurry of picks, Martz corrected the reporter who called it a crazy five minutes, explaining, “ It went faster than that. That whole thing with Minnesota, it actually went faster than what it came out on the TV because we can hear it happening over there. In about 45 seconds there were there picks going on. It was getting exciting.” You notice that the ONLY team Martz mentions in the incredible draft faux pas is the Minnesota Vikings.

Another part of the reason the Rams did not do a deal could be the result of the Sullivan pick by the Saints. When that surprise reach occurred, it became clear that a top tier player would absolutely be available at pick 12. Charley Armey had said the very top tier of talent was “around twelve”, which is about average for most drafts.

In truth, you have to think Armey knew this was an 11 player crop of blue-chip talent, and from all the deals that happened after the top 12, that fact became as clear as glass.

That’s why the Rams truly wanted to move up, because if everything fell as it appeared it would in the scenarios the Rams war room had envisioned going in, they could be on the outside looking in at the elite of the draft. When Sullivan came off the board instead of Trufant, the Rams knew they had somehow slipped into the back door to the VIP section of round one.

That’s when the Rams brain trust decided that staying put was just fine, especially with all the nonsense the frantic Saints had caused going on in the aisles. When their turn came, after Trufant did indeed get to stay home in Seattle, the Rams moved quickly, because only one name was left on their draft board tier, a name that was closer to their top ranked player than the eleventh; Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy.

Kennedy is an example of how a top talent can fall in four months from a high perch that took four to years to attain, without playing even one down of football in the process. Smaller, faster, junior defensive tackles Robertson and Sullivan moved ahead of Kennedy, who in January was touted as a top alternative to a quarterback for the Bengals with the first overall choice. Those first two of a record 11 defensive linemen taken in round one, were ineligable for the All-Star games, where only seniors get to play, so the substance that caused two teams to trade extra picks to land them came just from workouts.

As Kennedy put it, “You know what, I realize that I’m not an Olympic sprinter. I’m not anything like that. When it comes down to it, I put my hand in the dirt and I’m a football player, and the Rams know that, and they came out and got the best guy, me. I probably slipped because of my workout, believe it or not.”

Martz said he was “Shocked and awed” that the guy they had as a top five pick was available when their turn came. The Rams had the incredibly gifted Nittany Lion as the best defensive lineman, and one of the top three defensive players on their board, where it had been since January.

Martz explained his opinion of his newest player’s abilities by saying, “ I had this book, and I opened it up and the first thing I wrote was “freak”. When you watch him, his athleticism for a man that big, the quickness off the ball, the change of direction, the plays that he’s capable of making, are truly unusual. Very intelligent young man who’s very productive. Again, I just keep going back to two years ago, when we drafted the two tackles, they’re just so hard to come by, and that’s why so many of them go off the board so quickly.”

Many times teams talk of not diverging from their board and putting value above need in the top rounds, especially at the top of round one. The Rams “put their money where their mouth is” with the Kennedy pick, and even Martz admitted, “It’s not a need, we have 14 defensive linemen out there working out, but he’s got such great value. We just feel like we got a tremendous player at this pick.

While it’s true that the Rams have some real talent already at the position, young high paid first round talent in Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis, they really lacked the big pocket crushing presence in the middle that Kennedy will bring. The Rams lost their best run stuffer, Jeff Zgonina, a hard working, but limited athlete, to free agency, but they filled that roster spot with man of far greater God given talent.

Plus the Rams use a rotation of defensive line players, to keep them all fresh and wear down offensive linemen, so Kennedy will get lost of work as a rookie, and actually can contribute more than a rookie corner could. In college, Kennedy said he was double teamed, “pretty much every play,” and in the pros he will be able to influence the entire offensive line strategy with his size and quickness.

The one game Kennedy said the opposition left him one on one with a blocker was against Wisconsin this season, a game in which Kennedy sacked QB Brooks Bollinger four times. The Rams simply could not pass on a player who becomes their most imposing DT since Sean Gilbert, without the baggage that eventually caused Gilbert to fade into very wealthy mediocrity.

Kennedy is the type player Dick Vitale refers to as an “Aircraft carrier” when describing big space eating basketball centers, and like those huge pivot men, massive defensive tackles can make everyone around them, better, just like Kennedy did in college. Two of his fellow Nittany Lion defensive line mates, DE Michael Haynes and DT Anthony Adams, were taken in the first and second rounds respectively. No doubt they were helped by the fact that Kennedy had to be the focus of the offensive line every play.

Kennedy is one of the best defensive tackles to come down the pike in quite awhile, and for the Rams to get him at pick 12 is truly remarkable. By the time the Rams intense defensive line coach, Bill Kollar gets through molding the guy nicknamed “Grizzly Bear”, he is going to be a true monster in blue and gold, anchoring the line of scrimmage for a long time. Asked whether reports of weight problems could be an issue with the Rams, Kollar made it clear that it was not going to happen, and that Kennedy was surely going to come in harder than Pickett. “It would be impossible to be in worse shape than “Big Grease” was when he came in as a rookie.”

That brought a chuckle from the media members in attendance, but since Pickett has become “born again hard” under drill sergeant Kollar, there is every reason to believe Kennedy is a no risk pick for the Rams. In fact it was a very easy pick, because he was just too good to even consider bypassing for what remained in talent.

If anyone needs proof that the top tier ended at the Kennedy pick, just look at what happened afterward. The Patriots, worried that they were not going to get any of the top tackles, traded up one spot to 13th, to take Texas A&M DT Ty Warren. Most scouts had Warren as a late first round talent, a huge drop in rating from that given Kennedy by everyone.

The player most Rams fans thought they would take, linebacker Boss Bailey, didn’t get picked in round one, lasting until the second pick in round two. If fact the Rams liked Oregon State’s Nick Barnett better, and so did the Packers, who made him the first linebacker off the board at pick #29. The picks from #13 to #19 were made by teams other than those who originally owned those picks, which indicated teams moving to grab need once all the top surefire talent was gone with Kennedy’s selection.

The Bears took Kennedy’s teammate, Haynes, and the Eagles dealt up with the Chargers to take Jerome McDougle to replace Hugh Douglas. McDougle has talent, but his lack of size may keep him from being a true star. The Steelers then traded up to get USC safety Troy Polamalu in a deal with the Chiefs.

Then the Cardinals, looking at a second rate bunch left to them at #17 and #18 compounded their foolishness by selecting a player, defensive end Calvin Pace of Wake Forest, that no one had anywhere near round one, let alone mid round one. They did fill a huge need at WR with yet another Penn Stater, Bryant Johnson, but how well can a rookie do with a mediocre quarterback and no help from other NFL caliber receivers?

Pace is coming off a fractured fibula in his last college game, and although he has decent speed, he was considered by most NFL analysts as a mid round type talent. His selection became the final shock of round one, as if the Cardinals had reminded everyone how not to do a draft. After that, things settled down, much like the final movement of a symphony does, with only a few moments of emotion. In the case of the 2003 draft, round one, that emotion came in the form of the Ravens desperately attempting to move up from round two to take the last QB they really loved, Kyle Boller of Cal.

To get the strong-armed Golden Bear, the Ravens had to give their second rounder, and also throw in their first round pick in 2004. All because they couldn’t get a card turned in before the clock ran out, at least according to Mike Tice. That’s a high price to pay for being tardy.

The last 13 picks of round one went back to being relatively calm, as the bears got their quarterback, Florida junior Rex Grossman, at pick #22, the Colts got the receiving TE they need badly in Iowa junior Dallas Clark, the Giants filled their D-line hole with Miami Hurricane William Joseph, another player who saw his stock fall recently; the Chiefs got the running back they need in case Priest Holmes hip is not going to get better soon; the Niners took another hometowner, junior tackle Kwame Harris; the Packers got their desperately needed linebacker help in Barnett, Tennessee added cornerback Andre Woolfolk; Denver and Cleveland played it safe with solid offensive line help in tackle George Foster and center Jeff Faine; and Oakland took two “Raider type” players to finish the round, yet another hometown player in Cal cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and Colorado defensive lineman Tyler Brayton.

Another stir was caused when Buffalo, seemingly a mile deep at running back with Travis Henry and Olandis Gary, took a chance with Miami’s Willis McGahee, who completed a miracle recovery from a devastating knee injury in the last college game he played, for the NCAA National Championship, by making it all the way back to the first round, at pick #23, still the very first running back selected.

By the time Paul Tagliabue passed the baton to his second in command Gene Washington, so the ex-NFL star receiver could conduct round two, no one had any doubt that this five hour first round symphony was like nothing they had ever seen on draft day.

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