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Top Players in the NFL Draft

Feb 11, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Now that the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl are over, the biggest NFL news is about the upcoming draft and all of the free agents that may be changing teams. I would like to focus on the players in the draft. Every year at this time, all of us fans begin to wonder which players our favorite teams will add during the draft. I thought I would introduce some of the top players that will be available in this year's draft. In describing these players I will be relying on ESPN's draft expert, Mel Kiper, for his opinion.

Starting with the Quarterbacks, we have the much-hyped Michael Vick, the Heisman Trophy Winner, Chris Weinke, record setting Drew Brees, Mike McMahon and Jesse Palmer. All of these quarterbacks had terrific seasons for their teams in 2000. They all have the potential to become NFL quarterbacks.

Michael Vick has been receiving lots of press and is the favorite as the first pick in the draft. He played at Virginia Tech where he completed 97 out of 179 passes for 1,439 yards, 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also rushed 113 times for 636 yards and 9 touchdowns. Vick possesses tremendous running skills and great arm strength, but needs to become more patient in the pocket to find the open receiver. Many people think that Michael Vick will be a great NFL quarterback and could help a team like San Diego turn things around. Personally, I see Michael Vick as a quarterback much like the Pittsburgh Steelers Kordell Stewart.

Chris Weinke, from Florida State, won the Heisman Trophy as well as the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's best quarterback. Weinke had a terrific career at FSU. During his senior season he completed 291 out of 482 passes for 4,441 yards, 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He really had an amazing season in getting his team to the National Championship Game against Oklahoma. Weinke may already be 28 years old, but I believe he has the talent necessary to make him very successful. Playing in the high-powered offense at Florida State gives him a big advantage.

Drew Brees finished his career, at Purdue, as the most decorated passer in Big Ten History. He holds 34 NCAA, Big Ten and Purdue passing records. He was the winner of the Maxwell Award, as the Nation's Top Overall Player. He also led the nation in total offense with an average of 358 yards per game. During the 2000 season he completed 302 out of 512 passes for 3,668 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also added 509 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns. Drew Brees will likely be a first round pick in the draft.

Jesse Palmer played for the Florida Gators and split playing time with a freshman, during his senior season. He finished with 1,713 yards, 11 touchdowns passing, 6 touchdowns rushing and only 5 interceptions. Palmer showed flashes of being a great QB at Florida but never really won the confidence of his coach to be the full-time starter. Mike McMahon, of Rutgers, is also considered to be one of the better quarterbacks in the draft. He finished the season with 2,157 yards, 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. I personally see Palmer and McMahon being drafted, in the later rounds, by a team that is not in desperate need of a new starting quarterback.

At running back this year we have a few players that could make an immediate impact with Deuce McAllister, LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Bennett, Keavon Barlow and Anthony Thomas. All of these players finished their college careers with impressive seasons.

Deuce McAllister had an injury filled senior season at Mississippi. He still rushed for 789 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 4.6 average per carry and caught 20 passes for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is a big league talent who is as competitive as anyone else in the draft; Mel Kiper is calling him this year's Jamal Lewis. I think he is a definite first rounder to a team like Philadelphia that is in desperate need of help at the running back position.

Ladainian Tomlinson was the Doak Walker Award winner for College's Most Outstanding Running Back. He was also named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 2,276 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns with an average per carry of 5.7 yards. He is only the 8th player in NCAA history to go over 2,000 yards in a season. His vision and decisiveness on the field are traits that all teams look for in a running back. He has also shown promise as a pass receiver out of the backfield.  Tomlinson is also a likely first round pick.

Michael Bennett is out of Wisconsin, where he played behind Ron Dayne, before taking over as the starter this season. He finished with an impressive 1,681 yards, 11 touchdowns and 5.4 yards per carry average. He is a prospect on the rise with great productivity on game day, according to Kiper. I think Bennett is a productive back, which could make a nice addition, as a third down back.

Anthony Thomas played for Michigan, where he had the benefit of playing behind a tremendous offensive line. He finished the season with 1,733 yards, 18 touchdowns, a 5.4 average per carry, 17 catches for 271 yards and a touchdown. With McAllister and Tomlinson rated ahead of him, Thomas is likely a second round pick.

Keavon Barlow played for Pittsburgh. He had a good year finishing with 1,167 yards, 9 touchdowns and a 5.3 yards per carry average. He also added 174 yards and a touchdown on 16 catches. As you can see this year's draft seems pretty deep at the running back position.

At wide receiver there is also a lot of talent this year. The best players at this position are David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Chad Johnson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Antonio Bryant. These players all possess the physical skills and talent needed to make it in the NFL.

David Terrell played at Michigan, where he finished the season with 67 catches for 1,130 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has a tremendous work ethic and physically has all the skills needed to be successful at the next level. Terrell is very likely to be a first round pick.

Koren Robinson, from NC State, is a complete wide out with the ability to pick up big yards after the catch. He had a terrific season finishing with 69 catches for 1,218 yards and 13 touchdowns as well as a touchdown and 114 yards rushing on 16 carries.  

Chad Johnson, from Oregon State, is a player that the more you watch him play, the more you become enthusiastic about his ability to make big plays. Johnson had 37 catches for 806 yards and 8 touchdowns this season. With an impressive average of over 21 yards per catch, Johnson is likely to be chosen in the early rounds of the draft.

Rod Gardner played at Clemson, where he finished the season with 58 catches for 1,050 yards and 7 touchdowns. He has the size, body control and natural skills to cause problems for the smaller corner backs in the NFL.

Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne both played for the Miami Hurricanes. Moss is a consummate playmaker with the versatility to be a big help in the return game and the toughness to go across the middle. He had a great season with 51 catches for 837 yards and 5 touchdowns as well as 6 carries for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also, as a punt returner, he had 655 yards and 4 touchdowns. Moss is a definite playmaker that will be highly sought after in the draft.

Reggie Wayne is a skilled route runner who is quicker and more explosive than most people think. He finished the season with 46 catches for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns.  He is on Kiper's top 25 list. The Fred Biletnikoff Award Winner, for College's Most Outstanding Wide Receiver, was Antonio Bryant from Pittsburgh. Bryant had a solid season with 73 catches, 1,457 yards and 13 touchdowns.

At full back there are two players that had very impressive seasons, Ja'Mar Toombs and Dan Alexander. Toombs played at Texas A&M and Alexander played for Nebraska. Toombs had 152 carries for 548 yards and 17 touchdowns. With so many touchdowns he really showed the ability to get the tough yards down in the red zone. Alexander had running back like numbers with 1,392 yards, 10 touchdowns and an overwhelming 6.9 yards per carry average. Alexander is very attractive, with his ability to play at running back or full back.

Todd Heap and Brian Natkin are the two players that impressed the most from the tight end position. Heap, out of Arizona State, has bulked up to 250 pounds and has the ability to develop into a huge weapon with good blocking skills. He had 48 catches for 644 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. Mel Kiper is very big on him and has him listed as #10 on his Top 25 list. Natkin played at the University of Texas-El Paso, where he finished the season with 67 catches for 844 yards and 4 touchdowns. He obviously had a very productive season for a tight end. He is the kind of player that an offense will need to incorporate into their game plan.

In a draft that seems to be very deep with offensive players, the 4 most impressive on the offensive line were Kenyatta Walker, Steve Hutchinson, Leonard Davis and Jeff Backus. These players are all on Mel Kiper's Top 25 list. Both Hutchinson and Backus played at Michigan, which had one of the most impressive lines in college football. Walker played Right Tackle with Florida, but has the skills necessary to play on either side of the line. The 49ers are said to have a strong interest in Walker. Hutchinson is an outstanding football player, who is an experienced Left Guard with the ability to also play Right Tackle. Davis is a huge and talented player, who showed noticeable improvement in his pass blocking skills throughout the season. Backus is a natural Left Tackle that had several terrific performances as a starter for Michigan.

Moving to the defense now, where there are also several talented players in this year's draft. Among the top defensive players are Justin Smith, Jamal Reynolds, Jamar Fletcher and Dan Morgan. Reynolds won the Lombardi Award, given to the Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman. Fletcher was given the Jim Thorpe Award as College's Most Outstanding Corner Back. Dan Morgan received the Butkus Award as well as the Chuck Bednarik Award as the Most Outstanding Linebacker and Most Outstanding Defensive Player respectively. I believe all of these players are potential first round picks.

Here is a look at the top defensive linemen. Gerald Warren is a Defensive Tackle out of Florida who Kiper compares to last year's 6th overall pick, Corey Simon. Justin Smith is a Defensive End out of Missouri, who is a tremendous physical specimen with great game day performances. Damione Lewis, from Miami, is an instinctive Defensive Tackle with the quickness and natural explosion to wreak havoc. Richard Seymour is a Defensive Tackle, from Georgia, with the talent necessary to take his game to a new level. Jamal Reynolds, a Defensive End from Florida State who causes concern for opposing offensive line coaches due to his proven skill level as an edge pass rusher. Willie Howard, a 293 pound Defensive Tackle with the quickness and overall ability to be a factor, who will not be out hustled, from Stanford. These are the top defensive linemen available in this year's draft.

At the top of the other defensive positions are Fred Smoot, Jamie Winburn and Dan Morgan. Fred Smoot, a corner back from Mississippi State, who is a proven playmaker with experience in both zone and man to man packages that also anticipates well in coverage while showing impressive recovery skills. Jamie Winburn is a Linebacker from Vanderbilt whose productivity is unmatched. Dan Morgan, a Linebacker from Miami, "who does nothing but react simultaneously to the direction of the play, getting your attention with his disciplined approach, feel for the position and ability to chase down plays sideline to sideline", described by Kiper. I think Morgan can be compared to Ray Lewis when talking about the way he plays. If Morgan is still on the board, I hope the 49ers use their first round pick on him.

This is just a sampling of the players available for the upcoming NFL Draft in April. This should give you some idea of the talent that is available. I hope that my own opinions, mixed with those of Mel Kiper, provided an accurate description of these players. As players start their workouts and start to showcase their skills to the NFL scouts, more information will become available about the players' skills and statistics. 49ers Web Zone will provide you with all the information, as it becomes available.

It is my opinion that the 49ers biggest needs are at Linebacker, Offensive Line, Wide Receiver and Defensive Linemen. Dan Morgan is my choice for the 49ers since it looks like we will be losing Ken Norton and Winfred Tubbs. Santana Moss would also be an interesting choice with the departure of Jerry Rice and Tai Street's injury. I am looking forward to see which players the 49ers select and which free agents they re-sign or bring in.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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