Inside The NFL

March 06, 2000

Who's No. 1?
Cleveland left the combine torn between two potential top picks

At the end of a long Saturday at the annual meat market that is
the NFL Scouting Combine, the two prime candidates to be the
first pick in the April 15 draft met in the lobby of their
Indianapolis hotel. Both looked very tired. "Dog," Florida State
wideout Peter Warrick said to Penn State defensive end Courtney
Brown, "the process is wild, ain't it?"

Warrick was referring to the poking and prodding of the four-day
combine, which gave 300-plus draft prospects their first extended
exposure to their potential employers. He could have meant the
uncertainty that will bedevil both players until April 15,
because as the combine wrapped up on Monday, the question still
remained, Who'll go No. 1?

The Browns, who hold the top pick, don't know. There's a split
within the team over whether to choose Warrick or Brown, with
Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington a dark horse. Funny thing
is, there's a good chance that the loser in the Warrick-Brown
race could fall to fourth, or lower, because the Redskins,
picking second and third, are a lock to pick Arrington and could
go with Alabama's Chris Samuels to solve their left tackle
problem.

Warrick would give Cleveland the game breaker that second-year
quarterback Tim Couch needs. "I love Tim Couch," Warrick says.
Cleveland also seems ready to forgive Warrick for his illicit
shopping spree last fall that led to a two-game suspension. "The
reason I'm here," he said at the combine, "is to answer all
those questions about my character. I'm about to become a big
fish in a big fishbowl, and I've got to be clean. I will be."

However, a faction in Cleveland likes to point out that the
Browns can get a solid receiver later in the draft, as they did
last year when they took Kevin Johnson with the first selection
in the second round, and that it's hard to find a quality
defensive end who figures to play 10 years or more and has no
off-field flaws. That would be Brown, a good run stuffer who also
collected 33 sacks in four Big Ten seasons.

Arrington, meanwhile, will have to answer for his sometimes
chippy play and explain why he got kicked out of practice last
fall by coach Joe Paterno. "Coach felt he needed to make a point
that day, I guess," Arrington says. "But as for any other
off-field issues, teams won't find any with me. I'll bring pride
to the NFL."

To the Skins, most likely. The bet here is that his teammate,
Brown, will land in Cleveland.

Let's Make a Deal
Redskins, Niners Hit Jackpot

A party of Redskins coaches and scouts were in a jovial mood
last Saturday night as they dined at an Indianapolis steak
house. Coach Norv Turner kidded player personnel director Vinny
Cerrato, telling him he'd be the most famous man in America on
draft day, with lots of draftcam time. Three hours earlier
Cerrato had acquired the third pick in the draft from the 49ers
for the 12th, 24th, 118th and 148th choices (two first-rounders,
a fourth and a fifth). Now, with the wine flowing and the filet
mignon and salmon on order, Cerrato reveled in having the second
and third selections in a top-heavy draft. "If there are four
great players in this draft, and we think there are, we'll get
two of them," Cerrato said.

San Francisco general manager Bill Walsh's maneuver gives the
Niners 10 picks in the seven-round draft--they'll probably take
their quarterback of the future with the 12th or 24th
selection--and conjures up memories of the team's 1986 draft.
During the 12-round selection process that year, the 49ers
repeatedly traded down to acquire multiple choices, which they
used to build the nucleus of the teams that would go to the
Super Bowl in '89, '90 and '95. Linebacker Charles Haley,
fullback Tom Rathman, wideout John Taylor, tackle Steve Wallace
and defensive ends Kevin Fagan and Larry Roberts came out of
that draft.

"No way you can expect that again," said Walsh, who as coach in
'86 made those picks. "We had to do this for our survival
because with our salary-cap problems, we can't get good free
agents. Our future depends solely on how we do in this draft and
next year's."

Hot Prospect
Burress Shoots Up Draft Boards

Peter Warrick may well be the first selection in the draft, but
three teams that pick in the top 15 tell SI they rate Michigan
State wideout Plaxico Burress higher than Warrick. The big
reason is that the 6'5 1/2" Burress has almost seven inches on
the 5'10 3/4" Warrick, but Burress also is a physical receiver
with the smarts of a Cris Carter.

"I've watched Cris Carter and Michael Irvin get an edge with
their little tricks against defensive backs," says Burress, the
first Spartan to have back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons,
"and I've learned how to get that edge. You back into a guy for
position. You push off even with just a finger. Little things.
But I also think my strength is that if I can't get around you
with a move, I'm going to run you over."

The Saints' Solution
Mueller Goes Bargain Hunting

When Randy Mueller took the New Orleans general manager's job on
Jan. 27, he had a lot of holes to fill on a club that went 3-13
last season. Worse, because the Saints had sent their first- and
third-round choices to the Redskins last April so they could
select running back Ricky Williams, Mueller had only one pick
among the first 95 in this year's draft. So he spent the first
two weeks of the free-agent signing period luring nine players,
including seven whom the Saints project as starters and whose
total cap value will be only $9.28 million.

The club spent wisely in signing quarterback Jeff Blake and
defensive tackle Norman Hand (combined 2000 cap cost: $4.35
million). Middle linebacker Charlie Clemons, buried on a good
St. Louis defense, will have much to prove as New Orleans's
defensive quarterback. The riskiest pickup? Wideout Jake Reed,
the 32-year-old enigma who arrives from Minnesota deflated after
averaging only 39 catches a season in the past two years. "He's
totally lost his confidence," a former Vikings teammate says.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Cleveland could use the game-breaking Warrick (left), but players such as Brown don't come along every year. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above]

Dispatches

While at the scouting combine the Browns' brass met at length to
discuss offering a contract to the best free-agent offensive
tackle left on the market--the Giants' Roman Oben. The reason:
Orlando Brown's right eye, damaged when it was struck by a
penalty flag on Dec. 19, hasn't healed. Brown is beside himself
that his career may be over....

The Bengals just don't get it. They needed to make a solid offer
to the best player on their bad team, restricted free-agent
running back Corey Dillon, and came up with only a five-year,
$14 million package, which he rejected. That deal was $11
million less than what the Lions gave a lesser free-agent back,
the Jaguars' James Stewart, who has rushed for 2,951 yards in
his five-year career. Dillon was a 1,000-yard rusher in each of
his three seasons, averaged 4.6 yards per carry behind a leaky
line and has good hands. If the Bengals don't match another
team's offer for Dillon, they will get first- and third-round
draft picks as compensation. For a team in need of a running
back, that would be a reasonable price to pay for Dillon....

The prospective gem of the 2001 free-agent crop? Easy. Ravens
Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden has a clause in his contract that
allows him to become an unrestricted free agent after next
season....

Some family members are trying to talk Reggie White out of
retirement, but he's making a good living as a
religious-motivational speaker ($25,000 per appearance) and
probably won't return.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
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Bogey (+1)
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