Sunday April 29th, 2007

NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insights from the two-day pick-fest still taking place in Radio City Music Hall:

• It wasn't pretty this weekend for Troy Smith, but the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State could have done a lot worse than getting the chance to learn a little from Steve McNair in Baltimore. The Ravens ended Smith's humbling draft experience by taking him with the final pick of the fifth round (174th overall). You can't really call it a dramatic plummet, since Smith had been projected as a second-day pick for months.

The positives? In McNair, you'd hope that Smith would have a great mentor and role model, although I don't think anybody ever really credited McNair with being overly helpful to all the younger quarterbacks he has worked with in Tennessee and Baltimore. But remind me to ask Billy Volek and Kyle Boller that the next time I see them.

More importantly for Smith, there's future opportunity for him with the Ravens. With McNair pretty much a year-to-year retirement proposition at this point, and backup Boller expected to be moving on as a free agent in early 2008, the strong-armed Smith has a chance to make himself relevant in Baltimore. But he has to show he can overcome deficiencies some expect he'll have to deal with in the NFL (namely, finding enough throwing lanes despite his lack of prototypical quarterback height).

• With Oakland taking Louisville running back Michael Bush with the first pick of the draft's second day (100th overall), LaMont Jordan has even more competition for carries than he did after the Raiders signed Dominic Rhodes in free agency. Bush has to get healthy after his broken right leg required a second surgery, but his addition gives Oakland rookie head coach Lane Kiffin another play-making backfield option.

• I like BYU quarterback John Beck. I really do. They say he's a gym rat who eats, drinks and sleeps football. But let's face it, if Miami's second-round pick (40th overall) doesn't turn out to be a better NFL quarterback than Brady Quinn, whom the Dolphins passed on at No. 9, Miami fans aren't going to let Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller forget about this one.

• Oakland picked up veteran quarterback Josh McCown as a one-year bridge to the JaMarcus Russell era, but I've never thought of McCown as a stop-gap type of passer. I still think Arizona head coach Dennis Green blew it by not giving McCown a full-fledged shot to be the guy with the Cardinals.

McCown couldn't beat out Jon Kitna in Detroit last year, but my hunch is that he'll look like the No. 1 quarterback in Oakland throughout the summer and early Fall. It's tough to look good playing behind the Raiders line, but McCown is somewhat used to the pass rush from his days as a Cardinal.

When will the Raiders turn it over to Russell? Who knows? But he could be on a similar timetable to Vince Young in Tennessee and Matt Leinart in Arizona, and not quite as long as it took for Denver to replace Jake Plummer with Jay Cutler.

• Denver's Mike Shanahan is at it again. The Broncos head coach has never been afraid of the player who has non-football issues -- hello, Maurice Clarett. By drafting Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, one of this year's leading character cases, Shanahan showed he hasn't lost his nerve, even with the league focusing like a laser on the player conduct issue. Thomas went in the fourth round, meaning he cost himself plenty of money.

• You think maybe Denver thought it could use some help on the defensive line? Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss in the first round. Texas defensive end Tim Crowder in the second. Thomas, a disruptive defensive tackle, in the fourth.

It seems like only five minutes ago we were all writing laudatory things about all those ex-Browns defensive linemen who were playing so well in Denver early last season. Nothing fades quicker than a September and October success story in the NFL.

• Darrell Jackson to San Francisco for a fourth-round pick seems like a decent move to me. The 49ers just might be my pick to break Seattle's stranglehold on the NFC West this year. I like San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Joe Staley picks in rounds one and two. Third-round receiver Jason Hill is a prospect who has mid-4.3 speed and could help the 49ers develop a vertical threat, along with newly acquired Ashley Lelie.

• After a wholly disappointing 2006 season, the Panthers didn't underachieve again this weekend. The trade down in the first round with the Jets was smart, and I gave the Jon Beason first-round pick a thumbs up. And when you add in USC talents like receiver Dwayne Jarrett and center Ryan Kalil in the second round, with a solid defensive end such as Georgia's Charles Johnson in the third, you've given four segments of your roster a legitimate upgrade.

• Maybe it's just a case of rooting for the little guy, but kudos to the Bears for taking local favorite Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois. At his size, the diminutive running back has to be used sparingly in the NFL. But between him and Devin Hester, Chicago has some elusive play-makers in its arsenal.

• Not much to get excited about this weekend if you're a Cheesehead. No Randy Moss. No Marshawn Lynch. No first-round receiver like Ted Ginn Jr., Dwayne Bowe or Robert Meachem. Not even a first-round cornerback such as Darrelle Revis, Leon Hall or Aaron Ross was in the offing.

When exactly did Green Bay get so stinking boring?

• The Patriots apparently meant it when they let it be known that the top of this year's draft held little allure for them. They traded their second first-round pick to San Francisco (28th overall). They traded their second rounder to Miami (60th), their third-rounder to Oakland (91st), and their first of four fourth-rounders to Oakland (110th) in the Randy Moss deal.

• No surprise that the Jets liked Michigan inside linebacker David Harris, who many thought might be going to New England in the first round. The Jets took him in the second round, 47th overall. If Bill Belichick saw him as a natural fit in the Patriots' 3-4, he's going to be viewed the same way in Eric Mangini's defense.

• Given Donovan McNabb's injury history the past four years, I think it's only smart that Philly is taking out multiple insurance policies on him. Policy No. 1 is Kelly Holcomb. Policy No. 2 is A.J. Feeley. And policy No. 3 is ex-Houston Cougar Kevin Kolb, who the Eagles spent a surprisingly high second-round pick (36th) on Saturday night.

• Did the Chargers give up too much for Utah safety Eric Weddle, who they landed after a second-round trade with Washington? Maybe. But when your roster is as talent-laden as San Diego's, and you see a player you really covet sitting there, a player who can walk in and start at strong safety (replacing the departed Terrence Kiel), you can afford to pull that trigger.

• The Giants are a great landing spot for Brown linebacker/longsnapper Zak DeOssie. New York took him in the middle of the fourth round, about where most expected him to go. DeOssie's father, Steve, won a Super Bowl with the 1990 Giants, and New York showed the most interest in Zak of any team this spring. That's just nice symmetry.

• I'm high on the Falcons' second-round picks: Texas guard Justin Blalock at No. 39 and Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston at No. 41. Blalock is smart, versatile and a proven commodity, and Houston is a cover man with plenty of upside who happens to pattern himself after former Atlanta cornerback Deion Sanders. They were also among those 50 or so prospects every year who get labeled potential first-round picks, even though everyone knows there can only be 32 genuine first-rounders.

• I really don't have a good feel on whether Rutgers running back Brian Leonard will have a long and productive NFL career. But if having vocal fans in your corner counts for anything, the guy might be headed for the Hall of Fame. I was so happy when the Rams picked Leonard 52nd overall in the second round Saturday night, just so the pack of Scarlet Knights fans screaming "Brian Leonard, Brian Leonard!!'' would pipe down.

• With the Titans having lost running back Travis Henry to Denver in free agency, it makes sense that they would draft Arizona running back Chris Henry in the second round. Saves on team jersey costs, I suppose.

• Given the level of hatred that has always existed in the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, you think there's any chance Washington fans ever mistakenly call their first-round pick -- LSU safety LaRon Landry -- "Coach?''

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