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Drafting receivers in first round can be a reach

There's a perception that receivers are a dime a dozen in the NFL. It's a misconception. Decent receivers are a dime a dozen. Finding a sure-fire, great receiver in the draft is a lot harder than most people think.

The track record of receivers taken in the first round of the draft the past decade proves it. The 1996 draft class was a great one for receivers. Five were taken in the first round. Four have had outstanding careers -- Marvin Harrison, Keyshawn Johnson, Eric Moulds and Terry Glenn. The other, Eddie Kennison, has had a decent career. Terrell Owens was a fourth-round pick that year.

Since then, the first-round success rate has been shaky.

There were 32 receivers taken in the first round in the eight drafts from 1997 through 2004. (It's too early to draw conclusions on the draft classes of the last two years.)

Of those 32, 12 players were busts, and another six were poor to below average. Just 14 -- or 44 percent -- were decent or better.

Many colleges are playing a wide-open passing style. It's easier to make the transition from college to pro at receiver than at offensive line or quarterback. One would expect a success rate of better than 44 percent. Yet this is another example of why the draft is such an inexact science.

Nine could be considered very good to outstanding. They are: Randy Moss ('98), Torry Holt ('99), Plaxico Burress ('00), Santana Moss ('01), Reggie Wayne ('01), Javon Walker ('02), Andre Johnson ('03), Roy Williams ('04) and Lee Evans ('04).

The busts were, by year: '97: Yatil Green, Anthony Reidel, Rae Carruth; '98: Marcus Nash; '99: Troy Edwards; '00: Sylvester Morris, R.J. Soward, Peter Warrick; '01: David Terrell, Freddie Mitchell; '03: Charles Rogers; '04: Rashaun Woods.

Eight of 22 first-round receivers from 2000 to '04 aren't even in the league today.

So it should not come as a surprise that several teams are rumored to be interested in trading up to get Oakland's No. 1 overall pick.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech, is the No. 1 talent available, and if anyone ever looked like a sure bet it's him. He has Owens' size, Moss' speed and Harrison's positive attitude.


>Big Market McNair

While the approval by NFL owners last month of enhanced revenue sharing was good news for small markets, it's obvious it was a hard-won bargain and that some big markets aren't all that sympathetic to the small-market cause.

Houston owner Bob McNair said after the deal: "It takes less money to operate in the smaller markets."

McNair also said, "You have to let the marketplace work, and will markets change over time? Yes, they do change. Will there be markets that can't support a team over time? Yes, we'll probably see that. I think all of us want to minimize it and would prefer that that not occur. But, yes, markets will change. Cities will lose population, other cities will gain, and so you will have adjustments as you go forward."

There's little doubt he had Buffalo on his mind when he was making those statements.


>Cooling on Quinn

Opinion around the NFL on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn is divided. Obviously, many teams think highly of him. He's expected to be one of the top five picks on Saturday. Many mock drafts have him going third to Cleveland.

However, more than a few teams do not see him as a top-10 caliber pick. I talked to an AFC East college scout late last season who said he didn't even have a first-round grade on Quinn. He wasn't predicting Quinn would be a bust. But he did not think his talent merited a high pick.

The contention, among teams with doubts about Quinn, is he is not exceptional in any measurable category. His arm strength is good but he does not have a howitzer. His accuracy was good, but his completion percentage dropped from 64.9 percent as a junior to 61.9 percent as a senior. He benefited from playing in a quarterback-friendly offense with a genius (Charlie Weis) for a head coach. If you could draft Quinn and Weis as a package, that would be something really special. Weis has compared Quinn to Tom Brady. Quinn's leadership and work ethic seem outstanding. But Quinn did not play big against the top competition. He had a bad day against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. He threw three picks against Michigan. He hit less than 50 percent of his passes versus Southern Cal.

Quinn had some great moments, to be sure. But if I were a Browns fan, with the scars from the Tim Couch experience still showing, I'd be hoping that somehow, some way, JaMarcus Russell falls to No. 3 on the draft board.


>Pac Man appeal

Suspended Titans cornerback Pac Man Jones probably made a mistake by appealing the year-long suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. With the players union behind the suspension, Jones would have been better off accepting his punishment and trying to build up some good will from the league office. It's hard to see him winning any kind of appeal.

The Titans, meanwhile, have a tough call in the draft. They need some more weapons for young quarterback Vince Young, and their top receiver is coming off a major injury. But they also had the 32nd-ranked defense last year.

David Givens, Tennessee's veteran wideout, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Nov. 12 but he also had a broken bone in the knee, which required bone plugs, and other torn cartilage. There's some question whether he'll be ready by training camp.


>Onside kicks

* Ricky Williams is eligible for reinstatement to the NFL this week but the league probably won't take action on his status until after the draft. Expect him to be reinstated. The Dolphins don't have much behind starting back Ronnie Brown, so they could use Williams to form a strong one-two backfield punch. However, St. Louis coach Scott Linehan, the former Dolphins coordinator, suggested Thursday he might be interested in pursuing Williams as a backup to Steven Jackson.
* The NFL is taking personal conduct seriously. But it's also rabid in defense of its brand. The league fined Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher $100,000 last month for wearing a sports drink cap for the first several minutes of Media Day at the Super Bowl. Gatorade pays the NFL about $45 million a year to be its league-sponsored drink. Urlacher was fined $5,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit to the Bills' J.P. Losman last season. The news of the latest fine was announced by the company that makes the drink -- Glaceau. Urlacher is an investor in the company.


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