Draft series: Wide receivers

Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson were the second and third picks of last year's draft and they'd carried grades of 6.51 and 6.50, respectively, from Pro Football Weekly. They were two of three receivers with grades of 6.0 or better in 2003.<br><br> This year, PFW ranks three receivers at 6.70 or better, and seven receivers at 6.0 or better. In other words, it's a great year for receivers, and it's too bad the Steelers don't need one.<br><br> Or do they?

This should be Plaxico Burress' final season in Pittsburgh. His contract expires next March and it's unlikely the Steelers will extend the contract before then. They don't want to send the wrong message to the underachieving split end.

However, if Burress has an outstanding season, he'll command a large signing bonus on the free-agent market and will leave. But if Burress endures another average or poor season, the Steelers won't want him.

While Burress' size and speed demands attention from opposing free safeties -- thus opening the field for flanker Hines Ward -- his drops and concentration lapses have frustrated Steelers coaches, so the Steelers will eventually need a threat opposite Ward. Thus far, the back-ups haven't distinguished themselves, and Antwaan Randle El is strictly a slot receiver.

For those reasons, the Steelers have invited draft prospects Rashaun Woods, Lee Evans and Keary Colbert in for visits this week. The team realizes this is the draft with which to plan ahead for life without Burress. And since the position isn't a pressing need, they can afford to be picky.

Second round - Rashaun Woods (6-1, 202) of Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in receptions in 2002 with 107 and had 77 last season. He caught seven touchdown passes in a game against SMU last season. In upset wins in 2001 and 2002 against Oklahoma's fine cornerbacks - Andre Woolfolk and Derrick Straight - Woods caught 20 passes for 355 yards and four touchdowns. In his last game, Woods showed why teams don't single-cover him. He scorched Ole Miss with 11 catches for 233 yards. He displayed his outstanding run blocking in the game as well. Woods' only perceived negative was stricken from the books at the combine, where he ran sub 4.4 40s. He's been compared to Michael Irvin because of his strong hands, body positioning and ball skills and to Jerry Rice because of his precise routes and run-after-catch ability. In any other year, Woods would be a top-10 pick, but with so many jumping jacks, sprinters and national champions, not to mention a certain Heisman Trophy runner-up, Woods is being overlooked. If he slips far enough, the Steelers might consider making a bold move up for this playmaker.

Second round - Lee Evans (5-10½, 197) of Wisconsin challenges the Steelers' standards on both injuries and character, but is obviously passing both tests. Two years ago, some considered Evans the best receiver in the nation after he ran times of 4.29 and 4.33 at his school's pro day. He didn't come out for the draft, and then tore his left ACL in spring ball. It required a second surgery and he sat out the 2002 season. He was then arrested for marijuana during a traffic stop in November of that year. The pot wasn't his, but he took the blame.

"I've proved that I wasn't using it," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after submitting to a urine test. "But it was my car; I was driving, so I'm going to take the fall for it."

Evans didn't regain his pre-injury explosiveness until the second half of the 2003 season. At the combine, he was timed at 4.37 and 4.39. As a receiver, he's considered the best to ever play at Wisconsin, the former home to both Al Toon and Chris Chambers.

Third round - Keary Colbert (6-1, 207) was USC's second receiver to Mike Williams, but Colbert's excellent post-season is making scouts wonder who really helped whom on the field last season. After making a pair of acrobatic catches in the Rose Bowl, Colbert made another in the Senior Bowl and a few more at the combine. At his pro day workout, he consistently ran in the 4.4 range. Scouts love his passion for the game, his polished route-running, his hands and his fearlessness over the middle.

Since the Steelers have almost no chance of drafting him, there's little sense in discussing Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald (6-2 7/8, 225), the Heisman runner-up. He may, however, have been passed in the overall rankings by Texas receiver Roy Williams, who ran a sub-4.4 40, a 3.94 short shuttle and had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches at his campus workout. Fitzgerald ran a 4.5 40, a 4.29 short shuttle and had a vertical jump of 35 inches.

An unnamed scout to the Houston Chronicle after Texas' pro day workout: "No wonder Texas loses to Oklahoma. When we went to Oklahoma, those kids were fired up to see us. They were ready to work out. They did every drill we asked them to do and asked if we wanted more. That's the kind of attitude you expect to see when a kid's future as an NFL player's at stake. You expect them to be excited and cooperative. You'd think those other Texas players would have followed Roy Williams' lead."

USC's Mike Williams to ESPN Magazine on being misquoted in his student newspaper: "I wasn't bad-mouthing my teammates. I just said, 'the difference between the team I'm on now and the team I was on (then) is the guys just don't burn.' And it was totally different. Troy (Polamalu), (Justin) Fargas, BKU (Kenechi Udeze), if you had any ounce of get-over-on-them, they went nuts. But with this past season, the mindset was 'Guys, we won a national championship. We're up here (raising his hand above his head). You don't have to work as hard.' And was it me? Hell yeah, you could throw me right in that group. I was getting heavier. I was a fat, lazy guy who wasn't committed to playing top level. We had guys weaseling around the work."

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