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Judgment Day In today's now-or-never NFL, the heat is on personnel chiefs to draft college players who not only will make good pros but also will have immediate impact

Art Rooney Jr., who put together all those great Steelers drafts
of the 1970s, used to have this objection to the
best-available-athlete theory of drafting. "You can find all the
great athletes you want in the Olympics," he'd say, "except that
half of them are women and the other half don't like football."

Well, Rooney would be happy now because the best-availables have
gone the way of the blacksmith. Free agency has changed the NFL,
so you draft a guy to fill a specific need, plug him in and hope
that he'll give you 50 to 60 snaps a game right away. If you
draft the best available athlete and bring him along slowly,
then maybe in three or four years, when he's ready to make his
move, his contract is up and it's sayonara. "You look for early
ability to play," says Bengals player personnel director Pete
Brown. "To develop a player for someone else is self-defeating."

Free agency will occasionally bring in a veteran who can put a
team over the top--Reggie White with the Packers, Deion Sanders
with the 49ers and, to a lesser extent, the Cowboys--but the
draft is still the proven source of success. The nucleus of
strong teams remains homegrown talent.

"The more you study free agency, the more you realize the money
you're wasting," says George Young, the former general manager
of the Giants who left the club in January to become the
league's senior vice president of football operations. "A guy
coming in from the outside might not fit your chemistry. A
player has a comfort zone with the people around him; he fits in
a niche. He goes to a different team, maybe the niche isn't
there. I remember studying George Allen. He did as good a job of
picking up veterans as anybody. But as good as he was at fitting
them in, he never won it all.

"There are seven rounds of the draft now, and you can't afford
to make many mistakes. People have more patience. A lot fewer
draft choices are cut than there used to be."

This year's crop of players is deep and talented. The richest
talent areas are at running back, offensive line and secondary,
which could eat up half of the first-round picks. "Usually you
get eight or so premium players on top, then there's a
drop-off," says Bengals coach Bruce Coslet. "This time you've
got the Big Five, but the rest of the first round is solid, too.
There's quality through the next three rounds."

The Big Five will probably go in this order: quarterbacks Peyton
Manning and Ryan Leaf, then defensive end Andre Wadsworth,
cornerback and Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson and running
back Curtis Enis. Which team takes which is another matter. Once
you get past the two quarterbacks--the Colts haven't said for
sure which they'll take with the first pick, leaving the other
one for the Chargers--the next three spots in the draft order
are up for grabs. This is Deal Week in the NFL, and the action
this year figures to be near the top.

The Cardinals are willing to trade out of the third spot, but
their asking price is so high--two No. 1s, plus veterans--that
other teams have been scared off. The Raiders, picking fourth,
with a creaking secondary and the worst defense in the league
last season, seem a natural for Woodson, rated the best
defensive back to come out since Sanders in 1989. Strangely
enough, Oakland is also talking trade. Seems that Al Davis is
nervous about Woodson's agents, the Poston brothers, who held
out last year's top pick in the draft, tackle Orlando Pace,
until the third week of the exhibition season.

The Jaguars, with the ninth and 25th picks in the first round,
are one of the teams trying to move into the Bears' spot, at No.
5, but say they won't give up both first-rounders for Enis.
(Woodson might be another story.) The Patriots also have two
picks in the first round--Nos. 18 and 22--and, having lost their
premier runner, restricted free agent Curtis Martin, to the
Jets, they would love to get Enis. But New England also says it
will part with only one of its top picks to move up. Though they
have only one first-round choice (No. 14), the Panthers are in
the hunt for Enis too, unless they have to surrender that
selection to complete a trade for Redskins defensive tackle Sean
Gilbert, a franchise player who has already agreed to terms with

Finally, there are the Rams, who, as they did last year, have
the sixth pick and are desperately trying to put together a
package to move up. St. Louis would like Enis, but coach Dick
Vermeil says that the price of moving up is higher than it was
last year, when he sent the Jets first-, third-, fourth- and
seventh-round selections in the '97 draft for the opportunity to
select Pace.

Teams aren't the only ones moving up and down the draft board.
Without fail, there's at least one player each year whose stock
drops and drops. Last year it was Alabama linebacker Dwayne
Rudd, who figured to go in the top eight but fell all the way to
the Vikings at No. 20. "I kept pinching myself," Minnesota coach
Dennis Green says. "I kept thinking, Do we really have a shot at
him? But a guy drops, and then the next team starts figuring,
What's wrong with him? So they pass, and so does the next one
and the next. Rudd kept dropping, and finally I phoned him in
New York and said, 'Hey, were you in a car accident last night?'
Then we got him, and all he did for us was run like a deer and
hit a ton."

Prediction: This year's free-faller will be Marshall's Randy
Moss, a 6'4", 200-pound wideout who ran 4.31 and 4.44 40s for
NFL talent scouts in a 25[degree] windchill, a player who made 90
catches for 1,647 yards and 25 touchdowns last year (plus six
receptions for 173 yards and a score in the Motor City Bowl) and
at one time was called the best athlete in the draft. The
negatives: a guilty plea to two counts of battery while in high
school and a positive test for marijuana while in college, plus
a reputation for doing many wonderfully athletic things on the
field but not many tough ones. Against Mississippi in the Motor
City Bowl, he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass on the Thundering
Herd's first play, but then a pair of 5'9" cornerbacks took
turns pressing him on the line, and his game went kaput.

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Hot commodity Enis figures to be among the first five players selected, but for whom he'll be carrying the load remains a question. [Curtis Enis in game]

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Run stopper Rogers (50) showed he has a nose for the ball during his senior year, when he racked up 115 tackles. [Ron Rogers in game]


Here's how Paul Zimmerman thinks the first round of the NFL
draft will unfold. (Asterisk indicates a projected trade.)

1 COLTS Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee
Polished, poised, professional; Archie's kid has it all,
including leadership ability

2 CHARGERS (from Cardinals) Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State
Bigger than Manning, with a bigger gun and untapped potential,
so don't be surprised if Colts make a last-minute switch to him

3 CARDINALS (from Chargers) Andre Wadsworth, DE, Florida State
Trade-up still possible by another team hungering for this
278-pound pass rusher with tremendous speed and burst off the ball

4 RAIDERS Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan
Best cover man since Deion, with same arrogance; just what
Oakland needs to inject new life into dying secondary

5 RAMS* (from Bears) Curtis Enis, RB, Penn State
Everyone wants this relentless 242-pounder, but St. Louis, with
highest pick to deal, wins battle to move up

6 BEARS* (from Rams) Keith Brooking, LB, Georgia Tech
Randy Moss, the gifted wideout, a possibility, but in same
division with Barry Sanders, Robert Smith and Warrick Dunn,
Chicago needs a big (6'2 1/2", 244 pounds), fast inside linebacker

7 SAINTS Tra Thomas, T, Florida State
Moss's name mentioned here also, but Mike Ditka leans toward
crunch rather than flash

8 COWBOYS Grant Wistrom, DE, Nebraska
Offense certainly can use boost (i.e., Moss), but this 273-pound
edge rusher with a nonstop motor is too good to pass up

9 JAGUARS (from Bills) Vonnie Holliday, DT, North Carolina Jacksonville will grab run-stuffer first and hope premier runner
is available when its number comes up again at 25

10 RAVENS Duane Starks, CB, Miami
Unless they trade for Panthers cornerback Tyrone Poole, in which
case they'll take WR Kevin Dyson or move down

11 EAGLES Kyle Turley, T, San Diego State
At 309 pounds not a monster but a fine athlete with a superb
work ethic; some say he's best tackle on the board

12 FALCONS Shaun Williams, S, UCLA
Big hitter who can play strong side; team him with Packers
import Eugene Robinson and--presto!--secondary is in good shape,
or at least better

13 BENGALS Brian Simmons, LB, North Carolina
Both of Cincy's first-round picks go for defense (ranked 28th in
NFL last year); nailing best outside LB on the charts is good
place to start

14 REDSKINS* (from Panthers) Flozell Adams, T, Michigan State
We're assuming Skins and Panthers complete Sean Gilbert deal; if
not, Carolina goes for North Carolina DE Greg Ellis

15 SEAHAWKS Randy Moss, WR, Marshall
How did he last this long? Runs like the wind but more
aggressive off the field than on it

16 OILERS Takeo Spikes, LB, Auburn
Dyson gets strong consideration but coach Jeff Fisher is a
former Buddy Ryan cornerback, and his defensive instincts kick in

17 BENGALS (from Redskins) Greg Ellis, DE, North Carolina
Can Cincinnati be this lucky? Put former Cardinal Michael
Bankston at one end and Ellis at the other, and the 3-4's in

18 PATRIOTS (from Jets) Robert Edwards, RB, Georgia
Can he become another Curtis Martin? He has been injury-prone
but did hit Wisconsin for 110 yards in the Outback Bowl

19 DOLPHINS Fred Taylor, RB, Florida
They'll have to trade up to get this 226-pounder who runs 40 in
4.46, but Jimmy Johnson's serious about running game

20 LIONS Anthony Simmons, LB, Clemson
Undersized but speedy (4.55 in the 40); Detroit needs open-side
linebacker to replace the retired Reggie Brown

21 VIKINGS Corey Chavous, CB, Vanderbilt
Serious cover guy who will get first crack at right corner spot,
vacated when free agent Dewayne Washington left for Steelers

22 PATRIOTS Germane Crowell, WR, Virginia
Big (6'3", 210 pounds) and physical; could be a perfect
fit to complement Terry Glenn's downfield speed

23 BUCCANEERS Kevin Dyson, WR, Utah
A shock that this smooth, highly productive receiver is still
available; Tony Dungy's personal favorite, just as Warrick Dunn
was last year

24 GIANTS Mo Collins, T, Florida
Massive 337-pounder drew raves for work against Florida State's
Andre Wadsworth last year

25 JAGUARS Robert Holcombe, RB, Illinois
Tireless worker who gained 1,253 yards for an 0-11 team; if
Jacksonville wants more zip, could go for UCLA tailback Skip Hicks

26 STEELERS Leonard Little, DE-LB, Tennessee
Tweener, at 230 pounds, who could jump into aging Greg Lloyd's
linebacker spot; Kailee Wong, Stanford's 267-pound defensive end
also getting a long look

27 CHIEFS Terry Fair, CB, Tennessee
James Hasty will be 33, Dale Carter's contract will be up;
Kansas City could also go for Auburn tackle Victor Riley

28 49ERS Victor Riley, T, Auburn
Scouts say his stock has gone way up, and that's where San
Francisco might have to move to get him

29 PACKERS Brian Kelly, CB, USC
Speed is questionable, but with Doug Evans's free-agent
departure, spot opened in the secondary; projects as nickelback

30 BRONCOS Alan Faneca, G, LSU
Boom-boom drive blocker who knocks defenders off the line; right
guard Brian Habib is gone, but Denver will continue to live by
the run


They aren't the top-rated players at their positions, but Dr. Z
is intrigued by these five prospects.

John Avery, RB, Mississippi
Too small at 5'9 1/2", 184 pounds, the scouts say, but I heard
that about Warrick Dunn last year. Avery is a blazer (4.37 at
the NFL combine) with a terrific burst and great cutting
ability. He reminds me of Dalton Hilliard, a second-round pick
out of LSU in 1986, who ran for 4,164 yards during an eight-year
career with the Saints.

Ron Rogers, MLB, Georgia Tech
The knocks are that he's too slow and too stiff. All he does is
make tackles and stuff holes. Always around the ball. A player.
Just wait.

John Wade, C, Marshall
An old-style run blocker with fine pop coming off the ball. Pass
blocking? He can learn that.

Kailee Wong, DE, Stanford
Leaped off the charts at the combine, most notably running a
4.62. I don't get snowed by numbers, but he's a player, too,
with terrific hustle.

Eric Ogbogu, DE, Maryland
A pumped-up 245-pounder, the scouts say, but can this guy rush
the passer? He convinced me in the Hula Bowl, where he had four
sacks, a couple of the scratching, clawing variety.