Intrigue Grows For NFL Draft Day

Thursday, April 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ First comes Michael Vick. After that, intrigue.

That seems to be the scenario for Saturday's NFL draft, where the Virginia Tech quarterback, who played only 20 games, is almost sure to be taken by the San Diego Chargers with the first pick.

Negotiations already have taken place between Vick and the Chargers, but whether he's signed or not, he's almost certain to be headed to San Diego.

Then come the questions:

_ Will Cleveland, which has the third pick, trade down with Green Bay, which has the 10th, and use the pick on linebacker Dan Morgan, whom new Cleveland coach Butch Davis coached in college at Miami? The glitch: San Francisco, which picks ninth, may want Morgan.

_ If that's the case, would the Packers, who want defensive tackle Gerard Warren of Florida, trade with Arizona, which has the second choice? Or will the Cardinals take offensive tackle Leonard Davis of Texas and allow Green Bay to deal with Cincinnati, which chooses fourth?

_ Will St. Louis and Kansas City finally make the deal that will send quarterback Trent Green to the Chiefs? About all that seems to be holding up that trade, which would give the Rams Kansas City's first-rounder and 12th overall, is the antagonism lingering from former St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil's return after one year of retirement to coach the Chiefs.

_ How many more trades will there be in a draft in which almost everyone from 15 to 45 is relatively equal?

``There are probably as many good players from 15 to 25 or 30 as there are from 5 to 15,'' says Marty Schottenheimer, the Redskins' new GM and coach, who would like to trade down from the 15 spot, in large measure to alleviate cap problems inherited from owner Daniel Snyder's futile spending spree last season.

``A very deep draft, from top to bottom,'' says Gil Brandt, the NFL's draft consultant.

It starts with Vick, who is leaving Virginia Tech after his sophomore season because, frankly, he discovered he was the clear No. 1 pick.

``I realize that I still have a lot to learn,'' Vick said when he announced for the draft after twice saying he would return to school. ``But the opportunity was presented for me and I just said to myself, `Be a man, not a boy, and take advantage of the opportunity'''

It's also taking advantage of the money _ the first pick in the draft, particularly if he's a quarterback, should be set for life with a contract that this year will probably run between $50 million-$60 million over six years or so. The two sides are currently haggling over where in between the number will fall.

After Vick come a dozen or so topflight prospects, led by Warren, a 325-pound tackle who played at Florida; Davis, a 370-pound offensive tackle from Texas; Kenyatta Walker, a 311-pound offensive tackle from Florida; and Justin Smith, a 267-pound defensive end from Missouri.

The top skill players are running backs LaDanian Tomlinson of TCU and Deuce McAllister of Mississippi, and a flock of wide receivers _ the deepest position this year _ led by Koren Robinson of North Carolina State, Nate Gardner of Clemson and David Terrell of Michigan. The Wolverines also have three offensive linemen who could be taken in the first round _ guard Steve Hutchinson and tackles Jeff Backus and Maurice Williams.

The only other quarterback who's a potential first-rounder is Drew Brees of Purdue. Heisman winner Chris Weinke of Florida State probably will be picked later and Josh Heupel, who led Oklahoma to the national title, is projected as a late-round pick if he's drafted at all.

But much of the intrigue centers on Morgan, a middle linebacker who has moved from a late-round pick to a top-tenner. Davis compares him with Ray Lewis, the 2000 season and Super Bowl MVP.

``Their careers are strikingly similar,'' says Davis, who says Morgan is worthy of being the third player taken. ``His grade was as high as anyone at all the other positions.''

Most other teams, however, don't consider Morgan a top-three pick. So the Browns, in hopes of obtaining an extra draft pick in the second or third round, are trying to go down to take him.

One possibility: Green Bay, which picks tenth, but only if the Browns are sure that San Francisco, which has the ninth pick, won't take Morgan. The Packers and Cardinals, who have the second choice, might also work out a deal so Green Bay can get Warren.

More than ability figures into this.

With most of the 31 teams close to the salary cap, the higher the pick, the more cap room that has to be made. Washington, at 15, might get the receiver it needs in Clemson's Rod Gardner, but they also would have to pay him more than a collection of lower picks.

And as history has proven, there are plenty of bargains to be had down low _ in 1993, when Seattle used the second overall pick on quarterback Rick Mirer, Mark Brunell went in the fourth round and Elvis Grbac and Trent Green in the eighth. Brunell, Grbac and Green are far more valuable now than Mirer.

Pending trades, Seattle and St. Louis each have two first-round picks _ the Seahawks at seven and 17 and the Rams at 20 and 29. The Cowboys, who traded their pick to Seattle for the rights to Joey Galloway, has its first pick at 37, while Tennessee, which got Kevin Carter from the Rams, doesn't pick until 60th.

Whoever goes wherever, every team is sure to say about a pick: ``We were shocked he was still available when we were up.''

Remember that when they release him in two years.