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GENTLEMEN, START YOUR LINEUPS THE COLLEGE DRAFT, FREE-AGENT SIGNINGS AND EXPANSION HAVE CHANGED PRO FOOTBALL'S BALANCE OF POWER

May 08, 1995
May 08, 1995

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May 8, 1995

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GENTLEMEN, START YOUR LINEUPS THE COLLEGE DRAFT, FREE-AGENT SIGNINGS AND EXPANSION HAVE CHANGED PRO FOOTBALL'S BALANCE OF POWER

NFC West

This is an article from the May 8, 1995 issue Original Layout

49ERS: With wideout John Taylor likely to be dealt or waived
before training camp and Jerry Rice entering his 11th season, San
Francisco wanted to replace greatness with quality and not with
some free-agent retread. Mission accomplished.

Evoking memories of 1985, when the 49ers moved up 12 spots to get
Rice in the first round, they traded up 20 slots in this year's
draft to take UCLA's J.J. Stokes, a 6'5", 220-pound receiver who
will get plenty of playing time.

Rice and Stokes were both plagued in predraft scouting reports
by 40-yard-dash times in the poky 4.6-second range. But when the
49ers watched film on Rice in 1985, they kept seeing him run
away from defensive backs. Ditto Stokes, who is extremely
elusive after the catch and holds the UCLA record, with 28
touchdown receptions.

``You can find substitutes and depth in today's football, but
it's hard to find stars,'' says longtime San Francisco
front-office staple John McVay. Unless, of course, you're the
49ers. Funny how they always seem to be able to do things that
other teams can't.

FALCONS: A month before the draft Atlanta held the 10th pick in
the first round. The Falcons traded it to Cleveland for offensive
threat Eric Metcalf and the 26th pick, using the latter for
Florida State safety Devin Bush, who should start opening day. So
Atlanta may have gotten two producers with the No. 10 pick this
year. The Falcons are a long way from making the playoffs, though,
because they still don't scare anyone on defense.

PANTHERS: On Carolina's draft board Kerry Collins was the
top-rated quarterback, Tyrone Poole the top-rated defensive
back, Blake Brockermeyer the second-rated offensive lineman and
Shawn King the fourth-rated defensive lineman. The Panthers got
them all, which is why coach Dom Capers said, ``I wouldn't have
written a different script for the draft.''

The most compelling question is how long can Frank Reich and Jack
Trudeau hold top-pick Collins out of the starting lineup. It
shouldn't be long, because Collins will be playing the same type
of ball-control, mistake-free offense he played at Penn State.

RAMS: St. Louis could have used Warren Sapp because star
defensive tackle Sean Gilbert may have to be moved to end to
protect a bad shoulder. Instead, new coach Rich Brooks and his
staff drafted Florida defensive end Kevin Carter, who got mixed
reviews after being outplayed at times last season. The
offensive line should be improved with New York Jet free-agent
Dwayne White and rookie linemen Zach Weigert and Jesse James,
both taken in round 2 of the draft.

SAINTS: New Orleans has had a strange off-season, but the Saints'
draft was good. New Orleans lost out on linebacker Corey Miller of
the New York Giants and all the free-agent receivers, but they did
get the best pure linebacker in the draft, Washington State's Mark
Fields, and the most Bettis-like running back to come along since
Jerome himself, 5'11", 233-pound Ray Zellars of Notre Dame. He'll
fit right in with that smashmouth Saint offense.

NFC Central

BUCCANEERS: Tampa Bay's Sam Wyche is a player's coach, and he
proved that again in this year's draft. As the Bucs prepared to
make the 12th pick overall, Wyche got on the phone with
sinking-like-a-stone Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp. ``Tell
me, man to man, is this going to be a problem?'' he asked Sapp,
who had dropped from the top five because of reports that he had
repeatedly tested positive in drug screenings. Sapp assured him it
wouldn't be.

``We all aren't perfect humans,'' general manager Rich McKay says.
``We think the reward outweighs the risk.''

The Bucs improved their offense by luring free-agent wideout Alvin
Harper from Dallas, but they traded their quarterback security
blanket, Craig Erickson, to Indianapolis, meaning Trent Dilfer
will go it alone behind center.

BEARS: Going into the draft, Chicago coach Dave Wannstedt was fond
of 5'7" Wisconsin running back Terrell Fletcher and hoped he could
snag him in the second round. But when Rashaan Salaam was still
available on the 21st pick, he became an automatic selection.

Second-round-pick defensive tackle Pat Riley of Miami should have
a better NFL career than his NBA namesake, who was drafted by the
Dallas Cowboys out of Kentucky in 1967 but never suited up. This
Pat Riley, a 6'4", 286-pound two-year starter, could line up next
to Chris Zorich and be a penetrating rusher/run-stuffer.

LIONS: Detroit's best off-season move was to lure assistant coach
John Teerlinck from Minnesota to shore up the Lion pass rush,
because Teerlinck immediately recruited an ex-Viking, free-agent
defensive tackle Henry Thomas. The bad news is that Detroit has no
idea which Scott Mitchell will show up at quarterback -- the
terrific prospect who played so well for Miami in 1993 or the
disappointing, scatter-armed guy who was outplayed by Dave Krieg
last year. Another unknown is whether top-pick Luther Elliss of
Utah can shut up his critics and make an immediate impact at
defensive end.

PACKERS: ``The great thing about Mike Holmgren,'' says Green Bay
general manager Ron Wolf, ``is he does such a wonderful job of
putting the bad things behind him and focusing on the now.'' Wolf
should know, because the Packers sure put Holmgren to the test
this winter.

Green Bay finished a close second to Cleveland in the race for
free-agent receiver Andre Rison, this after the Packers cut
Sterling Sharpe rather than pay him $3.2 million while he
recovers from a career-threatening neck injury. Green Bay also
tried in vain to get Rob Moore from the New York Jets, had a
trade of quarterback Mark Brunell for the 63rd and 147th draft
picks fall apart because the Philadelphia Eagles couldn't sign
him, and watched the Bears choose Salaam one pick ahead of them
in the draft. Some decades it doesn't pay to get out of bed.

VIKINGS: Minnesota lost the best front-seven player in the 1995
free-agent pool when Thomas signed with the Lions, and it entered
the draft wanting a running back and some defensive playmakers.
The Vikes offered Carolina the 11th pick, a second-round pick and
running back Terry Allen for the top pick in the draft but were
turned down in their bid to get Ki-Jana Carter. Now they have to
hope that wideouts Cris Carter and Jake Reed can help offset a
mediocre running game.

Minnesota's top two picks, draftees Derrick Alexander of Florida
State, who flubbed most of his workouts, and weighty offensive
tackle Korey Stringer, should get early starting assignments.

NFC East

GIANTS: New York began the off-season by making the worst deal of
the George Young era, in effect swapping Dave Meggett for Herschel
Walker. Walker is a useful utility player and brings great locker
room presence, but signing him as a free agent for $1.6 million
after refusing to pay Meggett $2 million is ludicrous. Meggett is
the one Giant who kept defensive coordinators up nights.

The Giants could still be in position to prove that their 15-10
season-ending win over Dallas wasn't a fluke. A terrific
backfield (Rodney Hampton, Walker and top-pick Tyrone Wheatley),
good receivers (Mike Sherrard and second-year player Thomas Lewis)
and a more mature Dave Brown at quarterback give New York more
offensive punch.

CARDINALS: Arizona's off-season has been a never-ending quest for
wideouts and quarterbacks, because coach-despot Buddy Ryan threw
everyone he had at those positions away. He lost part-time
starting quarterback Steve Beuerlein to Jacksonville after making
him available in the expansion draft, then failed to sign the
signal-caller he wanted, Atlanta backup Bobby Hebert. As a
consequence he had to give a huge contract to one of the most
inconsistent quarterbacks of our time, Dave Kreig, who ended last
season in a starring role with Detroit.

Ryan traded wideout Ricky Proehl to Seattle and lost free-agent
wideout Randal Hill to Miami, then he dealt first- and
fourth-round picks and running back Ron Moore to the Jets for
productive receiver Rob Moore and used his second-round pick for
Frank Sanders of Auburn. It's amazing what stability every team
always has with the Budman.

COWBOYS: If you're a Dallas fan, you've got to be wondering how
the Cowboys improved themselves this off-season. While the 49ers
got an impact player in J.J. Stokes and a serviceable corner,
Marquez Pope, to replace Deion Sanders for at least half of the
season, the Cowboys have lost Pro Bowl center Mark Stepnoski, deep
receiving threat Alvin Harper and free safety James Washington.
The Cowboys used the draft to get Emmitt Smith a backup (Alabama
back Sherman Williams), a center for the future (300-pound tight
end Kendell Watkins of Mississippi State) and lots of special
teams help. They haven't added a single significant player.

EAGLES: Ray Rhodes is as even keel as any coach in the NFL. So it
was amazing to see him bordering on bubbly at defensive end Mike
Mamula's workout in Boston on April 6. ``Too many players in the
league don't have that burning desire to play. My players have to
have that. Mamula has it,'' he said at the time. And now he has
Mamula, whom he will likely install as a pass rusher at right
defensive end.

That, plus the acquisition of running back Ricky Watters, makes
the Eagles, who lost their final seven games in '94, a playoff
threat. The question on Watters is whether he can run between
the tackles, which he didn't have to do much of in San Francisco.

REDSKINS: With holes throughout the Washington roster, coach Norv
Turner felt he would do best to find a weapon to help the
development of last year's first-rounder, quarterback Heath
Shuler. So the Redskins took big, rangy wideout Michael Westbrook
of Colorado in the first round. ``You should see Heath now,''
Turner says. ``Westbrook really looks like he's going to be a
player.'' He had better be, because if Turner hopes to pull off a
revival, he can't afford to waste the fourth pick in the draft.

Washington made over its secondary like no other nonexpansion
team, signing strong safety Stanley Richard of the San Diego
Chargers and free safety James Washington of the Cowboys. The
Redskins are better, but they need to be a lot better to start
playing with Dallas.

AFC West

CHIEFS: Michigan tackle Trezelle Jenkins made the smartest move
of the 1995 rookie class by agreeing in principle to contract
terms before Kansas City even drafted him. Some agents and players
will decry the fact that Jenkins, the 31st pick, got only a 2%
raise over last year's 31st pick, tackle Tre Johnson of
Washington. But instead of risking that the Chiefs wouldn't pick
him if he rejected predraft terms or holding out until August for
an extra $50,000 a year that might never have materialized and
thereby falling behind in his rookie-year development, Jenkins
agreed to a four-year, $1.975 million deal. ``I look at what
happened to other guys who've signed late,'' said Jenkins, who
graduated from Michigan at the end of April, ``and I decided I
wasn't going to miss camp. It can cause so many problems. I look
at Heath Shuler with Washington last year, holding out and missing
so much time, and for what?''

The 6'7", 317-pound Jenkins could give the Chiefs a long-term fix
at left tackle, where John Alt may be in his final season. Jenkins
will be tutored by new offensive line coach Art Shell, who
semirecruited Jenkins, dining with him twice and watching films of
him at length before the draft.

The Chiefs are full of other questions. For starters, they begin
Life After Joe with all eyes on quarterback Steve Bono, who, at
32, has never entered a season as a starter.

BRONCOS: The media played Pictionary at Bronco headquarters on day
one of the draft, because Denver had traded its high picks for
tackle Gary Zimmerman, wideout Mike Pritchard and safety Ben
Smith. On day two the Broncos traded the 111th pick and didn't get
a player until the 121st pick, 6'7", 340-pound left tackle Jamie
Brown from Nate Newton's old school, Florida A&M.

New coach Mike Shanahan may have found a pair of staunch defensive
tackles -- Cleveland refugees Michael Dean Perry and James Jones
-- for what has traditionally been a feeble run defense. If
Perry's chronic ankle problems don't hinder him and Jones plays as
well as he practiced in Cleveland, those are good signings.

CHARGERS: General manager Bobby Beathard has had a quiet
off-season. San Diego signed just one free agent of substance:
safety Shaun Gayle. In the draft Beathard traded next year's
first-round pick to Detroit, but only so he could get a backup for
Natrone Means, Wisconsin running back Terrell Fletcher. The
Chargers also selected two receivers -- TCU smurf Jimmy Oliver and
somebody named Brandon Harrison from Howard Payne University.
Guess you know what you're doing, Bobby.

RAIDERS: If new coach Mike White can resuscitate 1991 NFL
Defensive Player of the Year Pat Swilling, L.A. will have had a
successful off-season. Swilling got mad at the Lions after being
benched last year, but the pass-rushing linebacker must share
much of the blame. He hasn't been truly productive since his
17-sack season in New Orleans four years ago.

New quarterback coach Jim Fassel will be reunited with former
Giant pupil Jeff Hostetler, who finally appears to have a running
game behind him. Al Davis picked a running back with the first
pick for the first time since taking Marcus Allen 13 years ago and
got a guy who looks like a scatback -- 5'8-1/2", 182-pound
Napoleon Kaufman of Washington.

SEAHAWKS: Years from now Seattle, which picked eighth, may look
like the big winner in this draft. The Seahawks' selection, Joey
Galloway, the Ohio State wideout, is that good. He's a bit small
at 5'10", but he runs a 4.18 40-yard dash, which is Deion
Sanders-fast. Galloway should be a 75-catch home run threat for a
decade, the type of player you build an offense around.

New coach Dennis Erickson hasn't landed a big free agent, but he
made a nice pickup when he traded a fourth-round choice to Arizona
for Ricky Proehl. Galloway, Brian Blades and Proehl give Seattle
three weapons at wideout instead of the one they have been playing
with most of this decade.

AFC Central

BENGALS: When Ki-Jana Carter visited the Carolina Panthers a
couple of weeks before the draft, he told team officials that
natural grass and warm weather were very important to him. At the
NFL scouting combine in February he said he hoped to play behind a
strong offensive line. Well, he's going to Cincinnati, where
there's a lousy artificial turf field and it's cold half the
season. Plus, the Bengal offensive line is not that good. Tough
spot for a savior to walk into.

Cincinnati is the first team to have had the top pick in the
draft in back-to-back years since Tampa Bay took Bo Jackson and
Vinny Testaverde in 1986-87. Carter and last year's No. 1,
defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, need to play like Marshall Faulk
and Cortez Kennedy for this franchise to come out of its '90s
funk.

``We needed a little sizzle,'' Bengal president Mike Brown says,
``and Ki-Jana brings us that.'' True. Now an offensive line has to
take shape from a totally garbled group that includes veterans
Darrick Brilz, Bruce Kozerski and Kevin Sargent. And Cincinnati
still has to decide whether Jeff Blake or David Klingler will
start at quarterback. Ki-Jana, eat your Wheaties.

BROWNS: Cleveland entered the draft with Boston College defensive
end Mike Mamula as its dream pick and Penn State tight end Kyle
Brady as an exciting backup. The Browns felt certain that before
their pick, the 10th overall, Mamula would be taken, which he was,
three spots earlier, at No. 7 , but they thought Brady would be
available. Thus the pall over the Cleveland war room when the Jets
plucked Brady at No. 9. The Browns traded their spot to San
Francisco, and about all they accomplished in the draft was to
grab the man who will succeed Testaverde by 1996: the too-short
but bulldog-tough Georgia quarterback, Eric Zeier. But the real
key to this off-season was the signing of free-agent Andre Rison,
who is a major addition to a playoff team that won 11 games last
year with a weak corps of wideouts. Not getting Brady will hurt
but not cripple Cleveland's chances to go to Super Bowl XXX.

JAGUARS: Jacksonville did two very smart things. The Jaguars dealt
next to nothing (a third- and a fifth-round pick) to Green Bay for
their probable quarterback of the future, Mark Brunell. They also
drafted a left tackle, Tony Boselli, with the second pick in the
draft.

Not to get any hopes up in Jacksonville, but check the schedule.
The Jaguars open at home with Houston on Sept. 3 and play at
Cincinnati in Week Two. No NFL expansion team has started its
first season 2-0. The Jaguars, whose offense is relatively
NFL-ready, could do it.

OILERS: Houston kept hearing on ESPN how it took guts to pick
Steve McNair with the third pick of the draft. McNair has legs
like Steve Young and an arm like Phil Simms. How gutsy is that?
The Oilers took a quarterback at what could be their highest draft
position for years, and now they'll begin the process of building
a team around him instead of Chris Chandler. Houston also won the
draft's United Nations award for selecting sixth-round center
Hicham El-Mashtoub, who was born in Lebanon, raised in Quebec and
schooled at Arizona.

STEELERS: Having lost tight ends Adrian Cooper and Eric Green to
Minnesota and Miami the past two seasons, the Steelers need to get
immediate production from their top pick, tight end Mark Bruener
of Washington. Offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt thinks
second-round pick Kordell Stewart of Colorado has the gumption and
ability to be a good quarterback, and Pittsburgh will seriously
think about making a switch if Neil O'Donnell has a mediocre
1995.

AFC East

DOLPHINS: Miami deemphasized the draft and stockpiled veterans
for a one-year run at the Super Bowl, and every player in the
locker room knows it.

With quarterback Dan Marino's health no sure thing over the long
term, with coach Don Shula perhaps in his last coaching season and
with several veterans due for free agency after the season, it's
not surprising that Miami is loading up.

Pittsburgh refugee Eric Green shores up the blocking at tight end
and should be the pass-catching equal of Keith Jackson, whom the
Dolphins traded to Green Bay. Arizona free-agent Gary Clark,
eighth on the NFL's alltime reception list, could be a key
addition. Plus, the perennially disappointing Terrell Buckley
comes from Green Bay to be a nickelback.

The Dolphins overpaid in one deal, sending second- and third-round
picks to Chicago for defensive end Trace Armstrong, a pass rusher
who turns 30 in October. Armstrong has averaged seven sacks a
season in a six-year career but helps give the Dolphins a
formidable nickel pass-rushing line with Marco Coleman at the
other end and tackles Tim Bowens and Jeff Cross.

BILLS: Groans abounded in the San Diego Charger draft room when
Buffalo took Todd Collins of Michigan with the 45th pick. San
Diego, which was choosing 51st, had been trying to trade next
year's first-round pick so it could move up and take Collins. The
Bills had a productive free-agency season, signing nickel pass
rusher Jim Jeffcoat from Dallas and linebacker Bryce Paup from
Green Bay.

COLTS: Indianapolis may have made the strangest off-season move in
the AFC, signing the NFL's lowest-rated punter, Chris Gardocki,
for $2.25 million over four years, but it also filled its biggest
need, acquiring underrated quarterback Craig Erickson from Tampa
Bay for a 1996 first-round pick. Erickson will have a new primary
receiver: former Ram Flipper Anderson, whose agent is Ted
Marchibroda Jr., the son and agent of the Colts' head coach.

JETS: New York loved the players it picked at the top of the draft
-- tight end Kyle Brady, pass rusher Hugh Douglas, bulldog guard
Matt O'Dwyer -- and they all had better be ready to play by Labor
Day. But will this team be haunted by the failure to pick Warren
Sapp? The Jets won six games last year, and after significant
off-season losses -- including most of the offensive line -- they
look like the cellar dwellers of the East entering 1995. If they
are, coach Rich Kotite could jettison Boomer Esiason by midseason
for free-agent signee Bubby Brister.

PATRIOTS: New England will use free-agent all-purpose back Dave
Meggett in many second- and third-down situations, which is one of
the things that attracted him to Foxboro . . . besides, of course,
that $3 million signing bonus. Meggett's a huge plus for the Pats.
But coach Bill Parcells still hasn't answered the nagging need for
a full-time running back. None of the draft prospects he liked
were left when the Pats' choice, the 26th, came around, so the
Patriots' hope for the near future may be risky third-round pick
Curtis Martin, 5'11", 200 pounds, who missed all but two games as
a Pitt senior because of a bad ankle. Parcells, however, may have
gotten his corners of the future in one draft: Michigan's Ty Law
and North Carolina's Jimmy Hitchcock.

COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN/ALLSPORT USA Stokes's hands and moves reminded the 49er brass of a wide receiver they took a gamble on in '85. [J.J. Stokes catching football] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Sapp figures to get the last laugh on anyone who thinks he can't make an impact at Tampa Bay. [Warren Sapp] COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS The Bengals hope that Carter (left, with ball) can become a legend, while the Chiefs hope that Bono (13, above) can replace one. [Ki-Jana Carter running with football]COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [see caption above--Steve Bono being tackled]COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND For Reich, a 10-year vet who longs to be a starter, nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina. [Frank Reich getting ready to take snap in practice] COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Green (86) has been transformed from a Steeler to a Dolphin as Miami reloads for a playoff run. [Eric Green with arms outstretched]

Three months ago the expansion Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville
Jaguars didn't have a single player on their rosters. Now, after a
dispersal draft, free agency and the college draft, both teams
have a combination of youth and experience to build upon. Here's a
look at whom they figure to start when they open the preseason on
July 29 in the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
[text not available]