Pick of the Picks Who scored and who didn't in PRO FOOTBALL'S two-day marathon - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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Pick of the Picks Who scored and who didn't in PRO FOOTBALL'S two-day marathon

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A month ago, in the midst of preparing for the draft, Patriots
coach Bill Belichick flew to the Florida Keys to visit with
former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, who never met a
draft-related trade he didn't like. The two went out on
Johnson's boat, and for five hours the retired coach spun tales
about how he squeezed out defensive end Jason Taylor in the
third round, linebacker Zach Thomas in the fifth, defensive
tackle Leon Lett in the seventh, cornerback and Super Bowl MVP
Larry Brown in the 12th. "Bill had concerns about having too
many picks who might or might not make your team," Johnson told
SI last week. "I told him, 'Hey, never worry about that. Picks
are currency. Multiple picks give you a comfort zone, and
you're never afraid to make a mistake.'"

During last weekend's NFL draft, Belichick turned Johnson's
advice into reality TV. Beginning a two-year plan to make the
plodding Patriots younger and faster up and down the depth chart,
Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli made
five trades, picked three players they think will help the team
right away and began to lay the foundation for a golden draft in
2004, when the talent pool is expected to be significantly better
than this year's.

The Patriots now have a league-high eight selections in the first
four rounds of 2004. (No other team has more than five.) Last
Friday, New England traded a third-round pick this year for
Miami's second-rounder next year. And on Saturday, New England
wheeled and dealed with its league-high 12 selections, making
four trades. One of those deals involved moving up one spot in
the first round, changing positions with the Bears and sending
them a sixth-round pick to choose Texas A&M defensive tackle Ty
Warren with the 13th pick. Later in the first round, Belichick
and Pioli turned down an offer to get Miami's first-round choice
next year and swung a better deal from Baltimore: The Patriots
moved down 22 slots--from the 19th pick to a spot early in the
second (No. 41 overall)--in order to get the Ravens' first-round
pick in 2004. Trading back up five spots to No. 36, New England
selected a player, Illinois cornerback Eugene Wilson, whom it had
in a group of six players graded at No. 19. The Saturday haul:
Warren, who's expected to be a long-term starter at left end, and
second-rounders Wilson and Bethel Johnson, a wideout from Texas
A&M who, after top three selections Charles Rogers and Andre
Johnson, might be the receiver in the draft with the best
combination of size and speed (201 pounds, 4.37 in the 40). On
Sunday, New England used a fourth-round choice on Temple
defensive tackle Dan Klecko, whose father, Joe, starred on the
defensive line for the Jets in the 1980s.

"One of the things I learned from Jimmy," Belichick said in his
Gillette Stadium office late on Saturday, "is to go into a draft
with a list of 20, 25 players you really want, from the start of
the draft to the end. Forget the ratings, forget what the experts
say. We drafted three of those guys. We could have had two more,
but if you can secure an extra first and second next year, that's
just good long-term football business."

COLOR PHOTO: KATHY WILLENS/AP (BELICHICK) PICK-ME-UPS Belichick (top left) gets a breakaway threat in Johnson (9) and hopes Wilson (28), Klecko (73) and Warren will bolster his defense.

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES (JOHNSON) [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIELS/GETTY IMAGES (WILSON) [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS (KLECKO) [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: BUTCH IRELAND/AP (WARREN) [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: J. PAT CARTER/AP (MCGAHEE) McGahee

UPON FURTHER REVIEW ...

1 WHAT WERE THE BILLS THINKING? Last week the Bills signed
free-agent running back Olandis Gary, a 1,000-yard rusher with
the Broncos whom Buffalo acquired as insurance for rising star
Travis Henry. A second-round draft pick in 2001, Henry was the
league's fifth-leading rusher last season, with 1,438 yards. In
April the Bills rewarded him with a contract extension through
2005, and at the recent NFL meetings coach Gregg Williams said he
had even bigger plans for his Pro Bowl back. "We'd like to get
Travis more 25-plus-carry games," Williams said. "We want to
exert our will more offensively. Travis is the back to do it."

Or is he? On Saturday the Bills shocked the league by using the
23rd pick in the draft to select Miami's Willis McGahee.
Considered a top five pick during a record-breaking season with
the Hurricanes last fall, McGahee tore up his left knee in the
national championship game in January and underwent
reconstructive surgery. He was still projected as a late
first-round choice, but he was expected to go to a team that had
multiple first-round selections or was in need of a marquee
running back. "True to our philosophy," Bills president Tom
Donahoe said on Sunday, "we took the best player on our board."
But if the best player on the Buffalo board was a quarterback,
would Donahoe have taken him, knowing that he had prolific passer
Drew Bledsoe? "Probably," Donahoe said.

Regardless of what they say now, the Bills have to be thinking of
trading Henry as soon as McGahee takes the field, presumably in
2004. Which is strange. Donahoe, who joined the organization in
January 2001, has done a terrific job of rebuilding a team that
went to four Super Bowls in the 1990s, but the Bills had more
areas of concern--an outside pass rusher, for one--that they
could have addressed with the 23rd pick.

2 WHY DID CHRIS SIMMS SINK LIKE A STONE? The Texas quarterback
expected to go no lower than early in the second round, yet he
lasted until the final pick of the third round, and the 97th
selection overall, going to Tampa Bay. Teams graded Simms down
for playing poorly in big games and for throwing a hard-to-catch
ball. Though the Bucs have a crowd at the position, Simms will
benefit greatly from getting to work with quarterback maestro Jon
Gruden, and he'll be able to sit and learn for at least a couple
of seasons.

3 WERE THE VIKINGS THAT INCOMPETENT? Picking seventh, Minnesota
had a deal to swap positions with the Ravens (No. 10), but
neither team could reach a league official to certify the trade
before time expired. The Jaguars and the Panthers rushed their
picks to the podium, jumping ahead of the Vikings to select
Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and Utah tackle Jordan Gross,
respectively. But here's what's important: The Vikings got the
defensive lineman they wanted, Oklahoma State's Kevin Williams,
and because of the salary scale for draft picks, they might get
Williams for $3 million less than they would've had to pay at
seven.

4 WILL THE JETS BE SECOND-GUESSING THEMSELVES? The Jets wrung
their hands before deciding not to match the Redskins' $35
million offer sheet to wideout Laveranues Coles, who got a $13
million signing bonus as part of a seven-year deal. But now New
York will have to pay its top pick, Kentucky defensive tackle
Dewayne Robertson, in the neighborhood of $12.5 million to sign.
"To us," says Jets general manager Terry Bradway, "receiver is a
replaceable position. Defensive linemen are hard to come by."

5 WHO WERE THE BIGGEST WINNERS AND LOSERS? The Ravens got two of
the top 10 players on their board, sackmaster Terrell Suggs of
Arizona State and quarterback Kyle Boller of Cal, though the cost
to get Boller (a second-round choice plus a 2004 first-round
pick) was steep for a player whose value was based on one
breakout season. The Bengals selected USC quarterback Carson
Palmer, then followed with a guard (Iowa's Eric Steinbach) and a
wideout (Tennessee's Kelley Washington) in rounds 2 and 3 who
were rated as first-rounders on some teams' boards. In the fourth
round Cincinnati added Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby,
a low first-round prospect before he was wounded in a drive-by
shooting last week. Doctors expect Weathersby to be recovered by
July. The Cardinals, meanwhile, had a chance to take a sure thing
(Suggs) but traded out of the sixth spot for a pair of
mid-first-round picks, which they used to take Penn State wideout
Bryant Johnson and Wake Forest defensive end Calvin Pace. Though
Arizona addressed a couple of needs, Pace was projected as a
third-round choice by some teams.