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FOR LIST OF IMPACT ROOKIES, DON'T TAKE IT FROM TOP

Antowain Smith dramatically came of age in the turnaround second half against Indianapolis last week, but the Buffalo Bills' prize rookie running back is just one of several premium draftees who made marks during the first quarter of the NFL season.

This is a survey of the early returns from the first round of the 1997 college draft:

Top 10

1. Orlando Pace, St. Louis, Ohio State offensive tackle -- Gets his first start against Oakland today, although he was in last week's game against the Giants for 40 of 44 plays. The week before he was on the field for half the plays. His holdout retarded his progress. No one is keeping track of "pancake blocks," as the publicity office at Ohio State did.

2. Darrell Russell, Oakland, USC defensive end -- Part of the Raiders' revolving front four. Most notable moment came when he was fined for an illegal hit on Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler. He may go mano-a-mano with Pace today.

3. Shawn Springs, Seattle, Ohio State defensive back -- Reported late but started from opening day. Toasted in first two games, both severe losses. Playing better, but his vast skills seem wasted in a defense that depends almost solely on zone coverages.

4. Peter Boulware, Baltimore, Florida State linebacker -- Big part of the Ravens' surprising 3-1 start. He already has four sacks. He's being used like Derrick Thomas in Kansas City, playing "up" as a linebacker on the first two downs and then functioning as a defensive end on third down.

5. Bryant Westbrook, Detroit, Texas cornerback -- Missed first two games with an injury, then moved into starting lineup. He's been inconsistent.

6. Walter Jones, Seattle, Florida State left offensive tackle -- Struggled like all the Seahawks in the first two games, missed last week's game with an injury. His replacement, huge Grant Williams, a second-year man, played so well in the victory over the Chargers that coach Dennis Erickson is thinking of starting him at right tackle when Jones returns.

7. Ike Hilliard, Giants, Florida wide receiver -- Immediate starter, everything Giants had hoped for, and then he suffered an injury that put him out for the season.

8. James Farrior, Jets, Virginia outside linebacker -- Made immediate impact. His speed and savvy impressed Bill Parcells. He may have pushed Marvin Jones into improvement.

9. Tom Knight, Arizona, Iowa cornerback -- Immediate starter on a Cardinal defensive unit that played well in its first month.

10. Chris Naeole, New Orleans, Colorado guard -- Mike Ditka was criticized for taking a guard so early in the draft and Naeole hasn't played at all because of an injury.

Lower in the first round, the best have been the Bills' Smith (23rd overall pick out of Houston), Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn (Florida State, 12th), Pittsburgh cornerback Chad Scott (Maryland, 24th), Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez (California, 13th) and Washington defensive end Kenard Lang (Miami, 17th).

Dunn has been electrifying in the Bucs' 4-0 start. Coach Tony Dungy doesn't want the little guy to get too many carries, so he rotates him with fullback Mike Alstott and veteran back Errict Rhett.

Gonzalez has been a key to quarterback Elvis Grbac's sound debut with the Chiefs.

Washington had one of the weakest defenses in the NFL last year, so Lang's contributions have been big. He forced a fumble in the last few minutes to set up Gus Frerotte's winning touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook in the game that opened the Redskins' new stadium.

Others making impressions are wide receiver Reidel Anthony, the Bucs' second first-round choice from Florida; New England defensive back Chris Canty (Kansas State, 29th), San Francisco quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (Virginia Tech, 26th) and Jacksonville's Renaldo Wynn (Notre Dame, 21st).

Canty is the Patriots' nickel back and has been in the midst of some important action. He also had a 63-yard kickoff return to spur a scoring drive against the Jets. Anthony caught a touchdown pass against Miami last week. Wynn is on the front-four shuttle with the Jaguars.

Druckenmiller started the second game of the season against St. Louis when Steve Young was recovering from a concussion. The coaches had him under wraps, like the Bills' brass operated with Todd Collins last year, but he had few negatives in the Niners' victory.

Atlanta cornerback Michael Booker of Nebraska hasn't done much, but the Falcons are pleased with Kent State's O.J. Santiago, a third-rounder who became a surprise starter at tight end.

Kenny Holmes, the Miami defensive end whom Tennessee drafted first, has been so-so, but Pratt Lyons of Troy State, another defensive end drafted in Round Four, has played a lot better. Florida linebacker Reinard Wilson is having so much trouble learning Cincinnati's new defense that he's on the verge of losing his job.

Miami's Yatil Green, the wide receiver whom the Dolphins drafted No. 1, suffered a knee injury in training camp and is lost for the year.

Most of the other first-rounders haven't had much playing time. Trevor Pryce, the Clemson defensive tackle drafted by Denver, has been inactive every game. "This team has so many veterans, only three rookies made the roster," points out a Broncos spokesman.

Tarik Glenn of Indianapolis pulled off the rare feat of winning a starting job and still disappointing the Colts. The disappointment came when the ex-California star missed every minicamp and then held out almost to the start of the season.

The Colts had planned to give him a crash course as their new left tackle. Instead, he showed up so late, they had to use another rookie, Georgia guard Adams Meadows, at left tackle and were forced to play Glenn at right guard, even though he had never played either guard position. He, more than any other Colt, is responsible for his team's crash-and-burn start this month.

Penalty accepted

OOOOPs! -- In Thursday's column I wrote that Nebraska had lost a game to Arizona State earlier this season. Miami, not the Cornhuskers, was the highly ranked team upset by the Sun Devils. Nebraska, which scored an important victory at Washington last week, has a record as clean as the driven snow. I deserve a 50-yard penalty for a dumb mistake.

Felser's Top 10
(Last week's rank in parentheses. NR: Not ranked)
1. New England Patriots (1) -- Still rolling.

2. Denver Broncos (2) -- Also rolling.

3. Green Bay Packers (3) -- Still struggling.

4. Tampa Bay Bucs (5) -- Impressive weapons.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (4) -- By the hair of their chin.

6. Dallas Cowboys (6) -- Needed rest.

7. Baltimore Ravens (9) -- Two road wins!

8. Philadelphia Eagles (10) -- Minny will be tough.

9. San Francisco 49ers (NR) -- Suspect but winning.

10. Kansas City Chiefs (NR) -- Gut check in Carolina.

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