Early 2003 Draft Risers/Sinkers

The NFL Draft is little more than one month away, so it's time to take a look at players climbing the boards and those heading in the other direction. After a week of work at the Senior Bowl followed by combine workouts, prospects are now being tested on college campuses, as the scouting process quickly comes to an end for 2003.

By reason of inactivity, Byron Leftwich, a passer many felt would be the initial pick of the draft just four months ago, is sliding toward the bottom end of the first ten choices. After breaking a bone in his leg late during his senior season, Leftwich admitted it was the second time in his college career he's had a problem with a fracture in the leg, raising medical concerns. Florida's Rex Grossman had an inconsistent performance at the combine and as a result, will fall toward the end of round one.

Conversely, Kyle Boller lived up to his legendary athletic skills, looking like a linebacker at the combine and running faster than most receivers, which has moved him into the top 20. Dave Ragone may have salvaged a first-round spot for himself with an equally impressive combine performance after a rocky senior season.

Running Backs
Possibly no ball handler improved his stock the past two months the way Justin Fargas has. After displaying tremendous pass catching skills at the Senior Bowl, this "slow interior runner" had a jaw-dropping performance on the turf at the RCA Dome, clocking a blistering 4.35 during the combine. Formerly considered a fringe first-day choice, Fargas is quickly rising into solid first-round status. Junior Musa Smith offers power, speed, and instinct that has scouts buzzing after a solid individual workout Tuesday. Many think Smith could be the second back selected in the draft.

Originally rated highly, Lee Suggs' refusal to workout at the combine coupled with a lack of participation in the Senior Bowl hurt his draft stock. Besides wanting to know how fast the Virginia Tech senior really is, scouts are concerned about his pass catching skills because Suggs totaled only 15 receptions in college. Many questions still remain and time is running out for Suggs.

Miami's Andre Johnson is making his way toward the top after turning in a spectacular workout during the Hurricanes' Pro Day. Running as fast as 4.35 in the forty at a svelte 227 pounds, Johnson also responded with a solid pass-catching session and could be on his way to Arizona with the draft's sixth pick. Sam Aiken proved himself to be one of the most sure-handed prospects available in the draft and looks like a top 45 selection, while Bobby Wade of Arizona also displayed solid receiving skills at the Senior Bowl and combine, which could see him sneaking into the third round.

Kevin Curtis of Utah State could be moving up draft boards faster than any receiving prospect. After a terrific Senior Bowl, possibly the best of any wideout, then an equally impressive performance at the combine, Curtis recently ran a 4.37 during individual workouts and has moved into the draft's first day.

One of the worst performances of the post season was turned in by Anquan Boldin. Running a pedestrian-like 4.75 during his forty at the combine, Boldin dropped almost as many passes as he caught afterwards. Considered a possible second-round pick prior to February, Boldin is struggling to remain a first-day selection.

Offensive Linemen
Three blockers have stood out and all play tackle. Originally considered "just a guard", Eric Steinbach stunned scouts with his ability to effectively handle the left tackle duties at the Senior Bowl, then went on to have a sensational workout at the combine. As a result, the All-American pick is now headed into the top 20.

Jordan Gross of Utah solidified himself as the top offensive lineman in the draft and looks as though he's moved into the top ten, while junior Kwame Harris displayed outstanding athletic skills and answered scouts' questions of his abilities to play at the next level.

Big Tony Pashos of Illinois looked outstanding in the Senior Bowl and has established himself as possibly the premiere run blocker in this draft.

The sleeper headed up boards is little-known Wayne Hunter of Hawaii. A former defensive lineman, Hunter has taken well to the offensive line after moving there two seasons ago, and now looks like a first-day draft choice.

Defensive Linemen
The play of the front-four prospects the past two months has teams smiling. Several top players performed brilliantly and are hot commodities as April approaches.

No lineman has improved his stock the way Kevin Williams has. A one-man wrecking crew at the Senior Bowl, Williams had scouts shaking their heads as they watched the Oklahoma State prospect destroy the opposition. In fact, one prominent general manager referred to him as "an animal" after the all-important Wednesday practice in Mobile. The ability to play tackle or end, or the versatility to be used in a two-gap system, has Williams moving toward the top ten.

Underclassman Johnathan Sullivan answered the call during the combine after initially stating he would not workout, and now looks to be a good value in the middle of round one. Clemson's Nick Eason has done much the same after solid showings at both the Senior Bowl and combine.

Miami pass rusher Jerome McDougle increased his draft stock at the combine after an inconsistent Senior Bowl, and has solidified himself as a first-round choice.

McDougle's college teammate William Joseph is heading in the other direction. Considered a top five pick coming into the season, Joseph did not test well athletically during the 'Canes Pro-Day, and now questions are arising about his character.

Like his older brother four years ago, Boss Bailey is establishing himself as one of the best athletes in the draft. The outside linebacker did not run for scouts at the combine but had an outstanding showing during individual workouts, and will mostly likely be the first linebacker selected this April.

A pair of small-school prospects have stood out. West Texas A&M star Chaun Thompson was seamless working out alongside bigger name prospects, displaying outstanding all-around skills. Khalid Abdullah of Mars Hills also showed the talent to play against the big boys on Sundays.

Surprisingly, several undersized pass rushers who project to outside linebacker looked good recently. Antwan Peek, Bryant McNeal, and one of the draft's sleepers, Shurron Pierson of South Florida, lined up in three-point stances during their college days but all now appear to have what it takes to play off the line of scrimmage, and each is headed into the middle frames.

LaMarcus McDonald, a tackling machine in college, weighed only 209 pounds at the Senior Bowl then showed up at the combine 20 pounds heavier with a 40 time of 5.00. At one time McDonald was considered a third-round pick, but he's heading south now.

Defensive Backs
A pair of corners from the Pac Ten have stood out in the post-season and, as a result, will make a lot of money for themselves. Marcus Trufant of Washington State capped his stellar college career by turning in perhaps the best week of practice at the Senior Bowl, which moved him into the initial 12 picks of round one.

Likewise, Dennis Weathersby, although considered a "slow cornerback" at first, impacted the Oregon State program since he was a freshman and scorched the surface at the combine, racing to a 4.35 clocking in the forty. This performance improved his draft ranking by as many as fifteen slots.

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