First-round draft status: 16-20

Which first-round rookies are being slotted for starting duty and which ones showed they might not be ready yet after spring camps? And how are the contract negotiations going for these mid-round picks?

16. Philadelphia - SHAWN ANDREWS, OT, ARKANSAS
Coming off surgery to have polyps removed from his nasal region which caused fatigue and breathing difficulties for this mountain of a man, Shawn Andrews is expected to fill a rather pressing need for the Philadelphia Eagles. The general consensus in Eagles camp is Shawn Andrews is a player that can step in immediately and help at the right guard position. In the future, head coach Andy Reid anticipates Andrews will demonstrate the physical and mental ability to start at either the left or right tackle positions. Physical conditioning has been an ongoing issue for Andrews — last season at the University of Arkansas he consistently was hovering around the 400-pound mark. The weight issues caused many teams to 'red flag' this dominant lineman, and pending nasal surgery only compounded the issue. Presently, speaking with members of the Eagles' coaching staff, Andrews is working out and has managed to maintain a consistent weight of 340 pounds. The nasal surgery was a success and the team is confident Andrews will be a key factor for the team at some point in the 2004 season and beyond …………….. Contract negotiations have begun, with the team and representatives for Andrews believed to be making progress.

17. Denver - D.J. WILLIAMS, OLB, MIAMI (FLA.)
D.J. Williams is certainly fast, having all the physical ability one would look for in an outside linebacker. Prior to the draft in April, Williams was as highly rated an outside linebacker prospect as any at the position. Some scouts and league personnel evaluators questioned Williams' strength and ability to shed/avoid blockers. The Broncos were not overly concerned with some of the same notions about Williams, but the team has noticed Williams may not step in immediately and help a Denver defense that sought additional speed and stability on the edges. According to a member of the Broncos organization, Williams has had some trouble picking up the terminology of the Denver defense, which has caused the rookie to more often than not fighting to get into position. Despite great speed and quickness, Williams has not shown a consistent tendency to react to the play, rather he tends to have to progress through the play in front of him. The belief is that with practice sessions and a full training camp, Williams will obtain a vast amount of experience and thus should become much more comfortable come September, when the regular season kicks off ……………… Contract negotiations are in their initial stages. No other information is available at this time.

18. New Orleans - WILL SMITH, DE, OHIO STATE
This Ohio State University product got off to a rocky start in New Orleans. Not prepared for the elements down in Louisiana, Smith was spelled by the heat and humidity, causing the Saints' first-round draft selection to sit on the sidelines. Added to an already deep defensive line, Smith is expected to contribute in his rookie campaign, according to head coach Jim Haslett, but is not expected to be a savior by any stretch of the imagination. Quick at the point of attack, Smith has spent a significant amount of time in the weight room in anticipation of facing off against bigger and stronger offensive lineman at the professional level. In early practice sessions, Smith displayed the physical ability to provide a pass rush from his defensive end spot, but consistency was lacking ……………. Contract negotiations are underway and Smith could be one of the earlier signings of players selected in the first round of the draft, according to sources close to the team.

In an off-season of change, the Miami Dolphins sought physical offensive linemen to change the complexion of their inconsistent offensive philosophy. Revamping the offensive line was an undertaking the Miami front office took seriously. In Vernon Carey, Miami adds an offensive line prospect that should solidify one of the guard positions, or quite possibly one of the tackle spots, for years to come. Impressed with the early returns for trading up to secure the selection of Carey, the Dolphins believe Carey has the ability to become an All-Pro caliber lineman and the type of player that will provide the team with a consistent, dependable presence along an offensive line that has been average for the past few seasons. The Dolphins publicly state the jury is out as to whether Carey will immediately start in his rookie campaign, but coaches tell this column they expect him contribute immediately and should start in 2004 …………. Contract negotiations have started with both parties exchanging parameters. Presently, according to those close to Carey, work on the length of the contract and bonuses are a necessity. A deal is not close at this time.

20. Minnesota - KENECHI UDEZE, DE, USC
Questionable at the defensive end position, the Minnesota Vikings were somewhat surprised to have Kenechi Udeze, a talented defensive end from Southern California fall into their hands with the 20th selection in the first round of the draft. If not for a shoulder injury, which caused this speed-rushing end to fall on numerous team draft boards, Udeze would have easily been a top-12 selection. The shoulder in question does not appear to be worrisome to the player or the team, as Udeze is expected to contribute in training camp for the Vikings. Udeze has shown some explosiveness from the end for the Vikings in practice camp, but questions about his ability to break free of physical, dominant offensive lineman remain unanswered. The Minnesota coaching staff has worked with and discussed increasing Udeze's overall physical strength, noting the rookie has tremendous upside potential but needs to become stronger to complement his speed and quickness in the effort to become a solid three-down contributor at the professional level. Additionally, the Vikings coaching staff is of the belief Udeze will benefit from playing along a defensive line that already has the talents of last year's first-round selection Kevin Williams and Chris Hovan as anchors. ……………. Contract discussions have started and, according to representatives for Udeze, serious discussions could develop in the very near future.

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