By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007
After a one-year break, the love affair between wide receivers and NFL general managers is set to resume in the first round of this weekend's draft.
Only one wideout was selected in the first round of last year's draft, and Santonio Holmes of Ohio State didn't come off the board until the 25th overall choice by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the two drafts before that, however, NFL teams drafted 13 wide receivers in the first round -- seven in 2004 and six in 2005.
The first round of this year's draft Saturday promises to resemble those two, with talent evaluators around the league projecting that about a half-dozen wideouts likely will be picked.
"As far as we can see, it's very, very deep at wide receiver," San Diego Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said during a predraft news conference late last week. "We think there are a lot of guys that could come in and contribute to whatever team selects them. I'm very impressed with the group of receivers in this draft."
The raves begin with Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech. He's big and fast, and many scouts regard him as the best player in this year's draft pool and the top wide receiver prospect to come out of college in several years. Pro Football Weekly reported last week that Johnson admitted to past marijuana use during an interview taped by the league at the scouting combine in February in Indianapolis and distributed to each of the teams. But executives from two clubs said late in the week that the report is unlikely to affect Johnson's draft status.
The Oakland Raiders apparently are considering taking Johnson with the top overall choice. The prevailing sentiment around the league is that the Raiders are more likely to go with Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell, which could leave Johnson going second to the Detroit Lions or to a team that might trade up into that spot. The Lions are said to be eager to trade down in the draft order, and Johnson might be the one prospect good enough to lead a club to trade up for such a lofty selection.
Even the Washington Redskins, with their dearth of picks in the draft's later rounds, have contemplated trading up for Johnson.
"I think certainly trading back and getting some [additional] draft picks would be great," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said at the annual league meeting last month in Phoenix. "I also think if you're sitting there and you're thinking about getting a guy that's got a hole in their game and you're going to be paying that kind of money, you'd better be moving up and get somebody that doesn't have a hole in their game."
That somebody, Gibbs said, might be Johnson.
"I think everybody here would like to have Calvin Johnson," Gibbs said as he looked around at the others in attendance at the NFC coaches' breakfast.
Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin said of Johnson the same week in Arizona: "He seems perfect. You can't find a bad thing. When you're talking about the number one pick, you're looking for a bad thing. Everyone is going to tell you good things. That's why they're up there. So you look for a bad thing. With him, you can't find a bad thing."
Johnson will be long gone by the time the run of other first-round wideouts begins, probably around the middle of the round. Other receivers being mentioned as strong first-round possibilities include Ohio State teammates Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez, Dwayne Bowe of LSU, Robert Meachem of Tennessee and Dwayne Jarrett of USC. Few people in or around the league, though, seem to have a firm grip on how the draft will go after the first few selections.
"The story of this draft is the lack of clear-cut guys at the top of the first round," said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Redskins and Houston Texans. "There are enough first-round guys, but there's not certainty at the top. I'm not sure there's so big a difference between the 10th and 20th [picks], or even the 10th and 25th. That means you'll have everyone trying to trade down and no one wanting to trade up."