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Lenny P: on top NFL prospects, Morton, etc...


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i saw that the Dockery part was posted, thought i'd put the rest up... nice note on Morton! and how about those Hurricane LB's? i am hoping we can pick one up i the next draft...

Thursday, July 3

Williams, Manning among top prospects for 2004 draft


By Len Pasquarelli


It is rare indeed when the two major combine services that provide scouting reports to subscriber franchises, National Football Scouting and Blesto, agree in their spring grades on which player is the highest rated senior for the following year's draft.

Roy Williams could be the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NFL draft.

But this is one of those rare years and, apparently, University of Texas wide receiver Roy Williams is a pretty rare player as well.

A few weeks ago, ESPN.com reported in a feature story that Williams was the top-rated senior prospect in the National report, with a lofty 7.9 grade on that combine's nine-point system. It turns out that Williams also merited the top grade in Blesto's springtime report. On the Blesto five-point system, in which lower grades are superior, Williams was given a grade of 1.11. In a big year for players with the Williams surname, the second-highest rated player was Miami linebacker D.J. Williams, with a 1.14 grade.

Of course, the process of evaluating talent for the 2004 draft is in its nascent stages, and there are a multitude of factors that will subsequently alter the manner in which most prospects currently are being viewed and how they actually will come off the board next April. The Blesto report, however, seems to reinforce the notion that the '04 lottery could be very deep at the wide receiver spot.

In addition to the marvelously talented Williams, there are three other wide receivers -- Lee Evans of Wisconsin (grade: 1.16), Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods (1.20) and James Newsom of Oregon State (1.25) -- with grades that rank them among the top 20 prospects on the Blesto report.

Only twice since 1970, with Irving Fryar in 1984 and Keyshawn Johnson in '96, has a wide receiver been chosen with the top overall selection in the draft.

"(Williams) is certainly a special player," said one NFC college scouting director. "He is going to be a difference maker and, depending on who is picking when, he could be the top player in next year's draft. Hey, had he come out into this year's draft, we might have had three wide receivers taken in the top five or six picks."

One of the positions at which the National and Blesto reports diverge is quarterback. The National ratings had J.P Losman of Tulane ranked first and Mississippi's Eli Manning second. The order is reversed on the Blesto report, with Manning earning a 1.23 grade and Losman not far behind at 1.25. A third quarterback, Cody Pickett of Washington, also ranked in the top 20 overall, with a 1.26 rating.

There were 18 players who were scored at 1.29 or lower, usually commensurate with a first-round rating. How they stacked up: Roy Williams, 1.11; D.J. Williams, 1.14; Evans, 1.16; linebacker Jonathan Vilma (Miami), 1.17; tailback Greg Jones (Florida State), 1.19; Woods, 1.20; guard Vernon Carey (Miami), 1.23; offensive tackle Robert Gallery (Iowa), 1.23; tailback Tony Hollings (Georgia Tech, who is entered in the upcoming supplemental draft), 1.23; Manning, 1.23; Losman, 1.25; Newsom, 1.25; defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (Oregon State), 1.26; Pickett, 1.26; offensive tackle Travelle Wharton (South Carolina), 1.27; tailback Mewelde Moore (Tulane), 1.29; defensive end Will Smith (Ohio State), 1.29; and linebacker Dontarrious Thomas (Auburn), 1.29.

In general, scouts feel the 2004 draft shapes up as a relatively deep one, but with more quality on the offensive side of the ball. At least at this early juncture, the quality and depth on the defensive line that has been a part of the last two lotteries doesn't appear to be there, although the linebacker position seems upgraded over recent drafts.

Around the league

Not so fast for Jets and Robertson:

Remember those reports, including some in this space, that the New York Jets might have first-round defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson signed to his initial professional contract before July began? Obviously, those prognostications were overly optimistic. In fact, it is altogether feasible now that Robertson, the former Kentucky standout and the fourth overall player selected in the 2003 draft, won't even be on the field when the Jets open camp on July 21. Even with the indefinite suspension handed down to starting tackle Josh Evans late last week (a move some contended would heighten the urgency to expeditiously complete a Robertson deal), New York officials haven't yet ratcheted up negotiations. Some team officials privately concede they don't expect Robertson to make the trip to Tokyo for the "American Bowl" game with Tampa Bay on Aug. 2. There is no acrimony in the early negotiations, but the Jets appear satisfied to wait until the early first-round market is more defined. They are specifically eyeballing the Dallas Cowboys' negotiations with cornerback Terence Newman, the fifth player chosen overall. Unfortunately, those talks are going nowhere at this point, since the Cowboys prefer to strike an accord that includes no "backside" enhancements.

With Evans exiled, likely for at least half the season, New York probably will make a decision next week on how to fill his spot. The team could bank on a youngster like James Reed to fit into the tackle rotation or could seek out a veteran free agent. The Jets made contact this week with the agent for unrestricted veteran Bernard Whittington, a solid nine-year journeyman who can play end or tackle, and who would provide 20-25 snaps per game. The Jets seem to have no interest in another free agent tackle, Steve Martin, who was with New York in 2001 and played for New England last season.

Field position

Still wondering why the Jets fought so hard (but unsuccessfully) a few months ago to keep restricted free agent Chad Morton from defecting to the Washington Redskins? One of the league's premier return specialists, Morton was key to the Jets leading the NFL in 2002 in average field position following a kickoff. The average starting point for New York was the 31.7-yard line. There were just five teams that averaged better than the 30-yard line after a kickoff and here is a look at them:

Team Average field position

N.Y. Jets 31.7

New England 31.4

Philadelphia 31.1

Dallas 30.6

Kansas City 30.1

Ford could return to Titans' garage: The Tennessee Titans, another playoff-projected franchise possibly looking to bolster its defensive tackle rotation, might be toying with the notion of bringing back one of its own free agents before camp commences. Nine-year veteran tackle Henry Ford, who has played his entire career with the franchise, remains a possibility to re-sign. He's not on the front burner yet, but Titans officials have internally discussed bringing him back for another year, given their dearth of inside depth. The starters, 2002 first-round pick Albert Haynesworth and fourth-year veteran Robaire Smith, seem set. But on the current depth chart, rookie Rien Long appears to be the No. 3 tackle, and Tennessee might want more protection than that. An underclass entry in the '03 draft, Long won the Outland Trophy at Washington State last season, but his stock slipped dramatically in the two months before the lottery and he lasted until the fourth round. The reports on Long have been positive to this point, but Ford, especially playing at the veteran minimum base salary, might be a better option for this season. There are two or three other teams who also have some interest in adding Ford before camp.

Hollings securing spot in suplemental draft:

During his Tuesday on-campus audition in front of representatives for 22 franchises, Georgia Tech tailback Tony Hollings did enough to all but ensure that he will be selected in next Thursday's supplemental draft, which includes six prospects. Hollings checked in at a hair under 5-foot-11, and weighed 216 pounds, seven pounds less than both scouting combines had him listed at in their early spring reports. While he didn't run the 40, a concession to the fact that his surgically-repaired knee isn't yet 100 percent rehabilitated, Hollings moved well in change of direction drills to indicate his recovery is on schedule. He performed 16 repetitions in the standard 225-pound bench press, had a vertical jump of 36 inches, and caught the ball surprisingly well. As indicated here in the past, there are still questions about Hollings, a former defensive back who played just four games at tailback during his truncated college tenure. But there are enough teams in need of a tailback, and who seem to feel the potential reward outweighs the risk, that Hollings will be chosen.

There was an ill-advised broadcast report in Atlanta suggesting Hollings will be picked in the first two rounds. That would be a monumental upset. But with three or four franchises legitimately interested, it is possible now that someone will invest a middle-round choice to secure his rights. "Outside of not running the 40, and we were all advised beforehand that he wouldn't do that, he did a good job and probably helped himself," said an official from one NFC North team. "Somebody will take him." Hollings was leading the nation in both rushing and scoring in 2002 before he tore up his knee toward the end of the fourth game of the season. Two teams told ESPN.com that, despite medical reports that Hollings will be ready for two-a-day workouts in camp, he could start the season on the league's physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list.

Dockery taking advantage of second chance:

Funny sometimes how quickly things change in the league. At the predraft combine workouts in Indianapolis, no team was more turned off by the performance of University of Texas offensive lineman Derrick Dockery than the Washington Redskins, who felt he lacked definition and simply hadn't prepared very well for his audition. But credit the Redskins for continuing to monitor Dockery, despite their initial disgust, in the weeks preceding the draft. Washington scouts and personnel officials eventually did an about-face on Dockery and chose him in the third round. Heading into training camp, coming off solid performances in offseason sessions, he already has emerged as a key figure for line coach Kim Helton. There is a chance that the versatile Dockery could, with a very good camp, bump Larry Moore from the starting center spot. Or he could beat out Dave Fiore at right guard and force the veteran to move to center. At worst, Redskins coaches figure Dockery will be the No. 3 tackle, behind starters Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels. Good thing for Washington, it seems, that its personnel staff afford Dockery a second chance to make a good impression.

Safety in numbers for Bengals?

There is no denying that rookie head coach Marvin Lewis has provided stability to a Cincinnati Bengals franchise in dire need of that coveted commodity. There are few starting positions that will be contested when the team starts camp later this month. One exception, though, is the safety spot. The Bengals have six veteran safeties on the roster and it is definitely a case of viewing the glass as half-empty or half-full. Some team officials feel the half-dozen safeties -- JoJuan Armour, Rogers Beckett, Kevin Kaesviharn, Marquand Manuel, Mark Roman and Lamont Thompson -- represent one of the deepest groups in the league. Conversely, there are some observers who insist that the club keeps importing safeties (like with the waiver claim of Beckett last month) because they aren't certain that quantity translates into quality.

Beckett, Roman and Thompson are all former second-round choices who have yet to play up to potential. The former Bengals staff thought it was getting a real steal in Thompson last year but, for all of his size, it turned out he didn't like to hit. The two dozen interceptions Thompson collected during his college career at Washington State distracted people from noticing his glaring lack of range. Maybe the assemblage of safeties will improve with the coverage schemes being implemented by Lewis and coordinator Leslie Frazier. Or maybe the safeties are just a bunch of guys who won't ever step up. Finding the answer to that mystery, though, is clearly a very early priority for Lewis and his staff.

Don't expect much change for Dillon:

While on the subject of the Bengals, much has been made recently about the purported plan to throw the ball more to Corey Dillon in 2003, apparently to take advantage of some receiving skills no one seemed to realize he possessed. But don't bet on Dillon getting many more receptions than the career-high 43 he posted in 2002. In two years under the direction of coordinator Bob Bratkowski, the Cincinnati offense hasn't really focused on getting the ball to the backs via the passing game. Bengals running backs combined for 169 receptions in those two years and Dillon had 77 of those. For his career, his average is 30.2 catches per year, and the whole idea he is going to get out into the flat and beat the coverage of linebackers is overstated. Bratkowski likes three-wideout sets, and in free agent signee Reggie Kelly, he now has a tight end capable of 25-35 receptions per season, so the ratio of passes directed toward running backs isn't going to dramatically increase.

As for running backs in general, the Cincinnati brass is becoming increasingly concerned over the condition of valuable backup Brandon Bennett, who is Dillon's top caddy. The four-year veteran is battling a disc problem in his back, his condition hasn't shown much improvement in the offseason, and he might not be ready for camp. The Bengals had some interest in Arizona tailback Thomas Jones before he was traded to Tampa Bay, and might still be in the market for an experienced No. 2 running back.

New England still looking to nose(tackle) ahead:

As much as the New England staff likes the combination of first-rounders Richard Seymour (2001) and Ty Warren (2003) at the end spots in the Patriots' new 3-4 front, the team would still like to upgrade at nose tackle. There is some possibility Warren will still slide inside, but the Pats would prefer to avoid that if possible, and might simply have to work with a rotation of players like Jarvis Green and Dan Klecko on the nose. The nose tackle spot was an offseason priority for New England, and the Patriots worked hard to locate a viable player, but just seemed to keep hitting dead ends.

QB carousel spins toward 2004:

The quarterback carousel has all but slowed to a halt for this year, but some teams and players are already scrutinizing the free agent market for 2004. At the top of a lot of lists figures to be Brian Griese, whose contract structure all but dictates that the Dolphins will jettison him after the season, provided he hasn't ousted Jay Fiedler from the starting job. But there are also some younger quarterbacks who might prove to be intriguing free agent buys next spring. Guys like Doug Johnson (Atlanta), Tim Rattay (San Francisco), Todd Bouman (New Orleans), Anthony Wright (Baltimore) and Billy Volek (Tennessee) are all eligible for unrestricted free agency. The restricted class will include Marc Bulger (St. Louis), Mike McMahon (Detroit) and A.J. Feeley (Philadelphia).

Maybe it isn't a group with much profile, but there is some talent in the bunch, and some guys with undeniable self-confidence. In Atlanta, for instance, Johnson has eschewed all long-term offers, because he doesn't want to be stuck behind Michael Vick for several more years, and he firmly believes that he can go elsewhere and win a starting spot.

Texans turn to Europe:

Look for the Houston Texans, who are always seeking depth on the offensive line, to sign NFL Europe League standout Dave Pruce next week. Pruce played for the Frankfurt Galaxy this spring and the former University of Buffalo star, who was in camp with the Bills in 2002, was one of the top two or three offensive linemen in NFLE. Scouts like his size (6-foot-8 and 295 pounds) and potential and feel he could be a late bloomer. If Pruce passes the team physical (the Houston staff will closely check out an ankle injury he sustained in Europe), a deal will be struck. Most of the better free agents from the NFLE season (players who were not allocated by NFL teams) have now signed for camp. Pruce could land a five-figure signing bonus -- perhaps as much as $15,000-$20,000 along with some other incentives -- which would be, by far, one of the largest inducements to a guy from the NFL Europe League.

Al's mistake:

Even growing up in Pittsburgh, where you didn't earn your union card until you proved how much you hated the Oakland Raiders, it was difficult for this correspondent not to admire Al Davis. His litigious excesses aside, the man was one of the leading innovators of this era, and deserves the perch in the Hall of Fame that was so grudgingly afforded him. We offer this disclaimer because, in light of some of the testimony by Davis in the Raiders' latest court proceedings against the city of Oakland, it appears that the Raiders boss made some uncommon mistakes. Primary among them: Not getting some of the guarantees, which he now claims were lies or misrepresentations by Oakland officials, in writing. If you've ever seen a Raiders contract with a player, and we have, it is incredibly thorough and even maddeningly meticulous. And that is precisely how the Raiders' deal with Oakland should have been. Everything carefully delineated. Everything in writing. Every painstaking detail committed to black and white.

Updates from the CFL:

Heartbreaking news for that loyal handful of Albert Connell fans that breathlessly awaits our weekly updates on the wide receiver's CFL exploits: Seems that Connell, who had six receptions in his first two games for the Calgary Stampeders, has been moved to the injury list and didn't play in this week's victory over Ottawa. Even worse news for those fans who still believe Lawrence Phillips has a chance of re-emerging in an NFL uniform some day. The Calgary tailback broke his hand after rushing for 65 yards on six carries and is probably sidelined for three months.


Word in the agent community is that one of the big entertainment conglomerates that entered into the athlete representation business a few years ago is quietly attempting to sell its football division. Seems the firm's top executives don't believe the return on its representation of NFL players has been commensurate to its investment. . . . Although it doesn't appear a deal is close, the Patriots would like to strike a contract extension with center Damien Woody, who is entering the final season of his current pact. . . . Eagles officials continue to pitch extension concepts to wide receiver Todd Pinkston, who seems to be an emerging player and who can void his contract after this season if he reaches a pre-determined receptions benchmark. . . . Don't make any wagers on Chad Hutchinson opening the regular season as the Dallas Cowboys' starter. At least not yet. Coach Bill Parcells likes the athleticism of Quincy Carter and isn't ready to throw in the towel yet on the third-year veteran. Still no signs, either, that Parcells has panicked enough to place a call to free agent quarterback Ray Lucas, who played for him with the Jets and who was recently released by the Miami Dolphins. . . . It's always hard to evaluate players before the pads go on but, for the second year in a row, it appears the Giants have landed a very good tight end prospect. No, third-rounder Vishante Shiancoe isn't Jeremy Shockey, but the former Morgan State star turned some heads during offseason workouts and earned the respect of the veterans. . . . Things could still change in camp but it looks like the Ravens will move third-year defensive back Gary Baxter, who played cornerback in '02, back to safety. Baxter demonstrated great range and playmaking potential while lining up at free safety in the offseason. The move would mean that Corey Fuller, signed as an unrestricted veteran to play free safety, would be deployed at his longtime cornerback spot instead. . . . Green Bay officials expect defensive tackle Gilbert Brown to re-sign with the team before camp begins.

The last word: "If I'm in the coach's doghouse, what can I do about it? I don't know if I am or not. Why don't you ask him?" - New York Giants running back Ron Dayne, on his future with the team and his relationship with coach Jim Fassel

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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That's the most exciting thing for us in getting Morton, especially coupled with Hall. If our starting field position increases to around an average of around the 30 yard line, all we have to do is move 40 yards for a legitimate opportunity to score. Last year we'd move that and have no real idea whether we could score and often we'd have to play to get even closer for lack of trust.

Now, unlike Betts who you could set a clock to in getting 24 or so yards a kick return, Morton may have some poor returns, but will have some explosive ones as well, giving us an even greater advantage. The NFL is a funny league. When you have an advantage over other teams you do what you can to foster that. The Jets don't appear to have learned that.

And it was odd seeing the Robertson negotiations are not looking great if that's true. The Jets could turn what was a strength last year into a weakness if Robertson is slowed by a hold out.

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i am hoping Robertson comes into camp a bit out of shape, so when opening night arrives he won't be all that ready to take on our maulers!!

and i am very excited about Morton and the explosive dimension he will bring to our special teams... he is the kind of returner that will have all eyes on him when he is on the field... and the O will be pumped when they get the ball!

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I find that bit about the Cowboys starting QB situation for opening day interseting.

If the Tuna thinks that Carter will be a better starter that Hutchinson, that seems kinda strange to me. You have a running type of QB in Carter playing against a team in the Falcons, who's defense practices against probally the fastest QB in the NFL in Michael Vick.

If I am the Falcons(Or in MY case, someone who roots for whoever the Cowboys play against as my #2 team each week), I am licking my chops at the thought of chasing down a QB not as fast as the guy I'm chasing all day in practice.

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It's been nothing but positive reports coming out of minicamp this year, which isn't a surprise, but the only negative comment came from a Philly reporter.

There haven't been any glaring "concerns", that I can remember at least. If anything, our acquired players have been pleasent surprises. :)

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I'm still trying to bend my mind around "credit the Redskins" in the Dockery blurb. I know Lenny P (the artist formerly known as The Bloated One) has had a recent change of heart concerning the Skins. But almost every positive item by the media about the Redskins is delivered in a backhanded manner. Something like this:

"The constant flipflops of the Redskin front office may have finally paid off. At the combine they were turned off by Derek Dockery, but they flipped before the draft and took him in the third round. Looks like he's turning out to be a keeper, too. Lucky for the Redskins the draft was held before they could flop back again. Oh, and Dan Snyder, money, money, snyderbrenner, blah blah blah."

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clearly Lenny doesn't follow events too closely :)

I HAVE heard the Skins are toying with the idea of starting Dockery at guard or using him as the backup to JJ at RT.

I HAVE NOT however heard that he was perhaps slated to replace Larry Moore at center :laugh:

At 6'5 and 340 Dockery would have to be one heck of a flexible guy to effectively man the center position.

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Pasta belly got confused. Dockerys not playing center. Hes 6-6 345lbs. and may change the line completely if he starts.

Option on is moore at center with JJ at RT and samuels at LT of course, and fiore at LG and thomas at RG.

Option two is If Doc starts then thomas moves to LG and fiore moves to center with Doc filling in at RG.

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Two things come to mind for me.

Why I was wrong on assessment of the Jets, (Morton clearly put a huge dent in that stat), and the two keys (Coles and Thomas). plus the kicking game still shows, we took the better of what may very well be the "league's" coming best in Hall!

I had the impression the Jets were still vyable, but those off field incidents and FO are killing their behinds. Edwards has bigger problems than ever now.

The other thing is now I see why Emmitt Smith seemed to have more life than he realistically was supposing. "Field position" average was having him run downhill more than up, like our backs sometimes did, and especially when Marty was here. Parcells, knew it off the bat and of course father time and excused Smith from the negotiations with the Cowboys.

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