The Top 50, Revisted

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January 16, 2003
The Top 50, Revisted
by Warren DeLuca

With the college season in the books and the underclassmen having declared their intentions one way or the other, the time has come to take another look at’s Top 50 prospects that was released back in August. Of those original 50, 27 made the cut again. What happened to the other 23? Injuries took their toll, with seven having their 2002 seasons impacted to a significant degree by medical issues. Eight (including some of the injured) will return to college for the 2003 season. The rest of the shakeup comes from a combination of players on the original list who slipped during the season and new players who emerged. No doubt more movement will occur between now and when Paul Tagliabue steps up to the Madison Square Garden Theatre podium on April 26th.

Note that the players at each position are listed alphabetically, not in order of their projected draft status.

August: Rex Grossman, Byron Leftwich, Eli Manning, Dave Ragone, Chris Simms
January: Grossman, Leftwich, Carson Palmer, Ragone, Simms
In August, we thought this had a chance to be an exceptional group of quarterbacks, and it appears that will be the case, although not necessarily how we might have thought it would shape up. Palmer’s head caught up to his exceptional tools and he jumped to the front of the line. Manning stayed in school, at least for now. Grossman, Ragone, Simms, and up-and-comer Kyle Boller of Cal are all vying for the third spot behind Palmer and Byron Leftwich.

Running Backs
August: Dahrran Diedrick, Clarence Farmer, Dwone Hicks, Onterrio Smith, Lee Suggs
January: Chris Brown, Larry Johnson, Musa Smith, O. Smith, Suggs
It looked like Willis McGahee would significantly upgrade the backs, until he blew out his knee. Fumbles and a drop in production caused Diedrick’s stock to fall. Farmer injured his knee and is staying at Arizona. Hamstring and knee problems slowed Hicks. Brown said he was staying at Colorado, and then had a change of heart. Johnson had a monster season. Musa Smith runs tough up the middle.

Wide Receivers
August: Bernard Berrian, Andre Johnson, Charles Rogers, Kelley Washington, Roy Williams
January: Taylor Jacobs, A. Johnson, Bryant Johnson, Rogers, Washington
The receiver corps took some big hits, but still has talent at the top. Rogers is at the head of the class. Jacobs can make the tough catch in traffic. Bryant Johnson is another big, physical wideout. Washington’s injury situation (spinal fusion surgery) turns him from blue chip to wildcard – the doctors will have a big say in where he goes. Berrian missed the season with a knee injury and will return to Fresno State. Roy Williams is staying at Texas and is the early bet to top the charts in 2004.

Tight Ends
August: Ronnie Ghent, Trent Smith, Aaron Walker, Jason Witten, Doug Ziegler
January: Teyo Johnson, Mike Pinkard, Ben Watson, Witten, George Wrighster
Underclassmen upgraded this group as several athletic tight ends want to show that they can be the next Jeremy Shockey. Ghent blew out his knee and may have an option to return to Louisville for another year. The oft-injured Ziegler broke his leg in September. TE/WR tweener Johnson has the speed to challenge the defense deep. Pinkard, Watson, and Wrighster can make things happen in the passing game.

Offensive Linemen
August: Ben Johnson, Brett Williams, Kwame Harris, Vince Manuwai, Will Ofenheusle
January: Jeff Faine, Jordan Gross, Harris, Manuwai, Eric Steinbach
A great deal of turnover took place in the trenches. Gross is the best O-lineman on the board. Notre Dame junior Faine is the top center available. Steinbach, a guard at Iowa who could project to left tackle in the NFL, was a standout for the upstart Hawkeyes. Slow feet hurt Johnson and Ofenheusle.

Defensive Ends
August: Greg Gathers, Jerome McDougle, Cory Redding, Terrell Suggs, Dewayne White
January: Michael Haynes, McDougle, Redding, Suggs, White
This position played out almost as expected. The scouts love Haynes’ quickness and work ethic. A kidney disorder knocked Gathers out for the year; he’ll be back at Georgia Tech next year. Redding and Suggs look to fit a 3-4 defense better as blitzing outside linebackers, but we’ll keep them here for the sake of consistency.

Defensive Tackles
August: Darnell Dockett, Tommie Harris, Jarrett Johnson, William Joseph, Jimmy Kennedy
January: Johnson, Joseph, Kennedy, Dewayne Robertson, Jonathan Sullivan
The members of this group should all get their names called early on draft day. Robertson is a disruptive force inside. Sullivan had a breakout year as a junior. Dockett had problems off the field and decided to stay in school. Harris had an off year and needs another season at Oklahoma.

August: Mario Haggan, E.J. Henderson, Bradie James, Clifton Smith, Eddie Strong
January: Boss Bailey, Gerald Hayes, Henderson, Terry Pierce, Smith
The linebackers lack a superstar prospect but have quality depth. Bailey has the tools to really impress at the combine. Hayes is tough in the middle. Junior Pierce could play either inside or out.

August: Terence Newman, Derrick Strait, Dennis Weathersby, Eugene Wilson, Andre Woolfolk
January: Rashean Mathis, Newman, Marcus Trufant, Weathersby, Woolfolk
The cornerback class looks fairly average. Newman is clearly the top corner. Mathis starred as a free safety at I-AA Bethune Cookman, but will first be tried as a cornerback. Trufant was the best corner in the Pac 10. Strait stayed in school. Wilson looked like he had "senioritis" and was just trying to get through the season.

August: Mike Doss, Anthony Floyd, Ken Hamlin, Terrence Holt, Troy Polamalu
January: Julian Battle, Doss, Hamlin, Polamalu, Antwoine Sanders
There’s not a Roy Williams among this year’s group of safeties. Battle is raw but athletic. Sanders is a rangy free safety. The scouts love Holt’s special teams play, but aren’t so crazy about his lack of speed.

WAR ROOM NOTES: The 54th Annual Senior Bowl is this Saturday (1:00 p.m., ESPN) in Mobile, Alabama. This game is generally considered the best of the all-star games since NFL coaches run the teams. Senior Bowl Week has become an annual convention for pro and college coaches, scouts, and general managers, with hundreds of football people descending on the Gulf Coast city, plus the media and, of course, the agents. It’s the place to be if you’re a head coach looking to fill out your staff or an assistant looking for a job. The scouts typically get more out of the practices than the game itself, as they can observe how each player fairs in drills against quality competition and responds to NFL coaching. Remember a year ago that it was at the Senior Bowl that David Carr really solidified his status as the Texans’ first pick in franchise history. This year, the Texans staff will coach the North team, while the Lions staff is in charge of the South squad. Dom Capers and his assistants have an excellent opportunity to get an inside glimpse at what the players are really like and how they fit into the Texans’ offensive and defensive schemes. Unfortunately, possible Texans draft targets Jordan Gross, Jimmy Kennedy, and Terence Newman are not participating.

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