Just about every NFL club's staff is about to sit down for 10 days of 12-hours-a-day meetings to set their draft board. Coaches and medical staff will now join the team's personnel in bringing together all the information gathered to arrive at the draft slot for each player on the big board.
There are always some "wild card" players who can affect the status of a number of positions and the potential to move up or down by trading picks on Draft Day. Two weeks from now, there will be some last-minute changes, which I will address at that time. But now is the time for setting the big board.
I spent a few days with an NFL team late last week and I've spoken with a number of coaches and administrators about the wild cards. Here are a few of the players that have people shifting their draft boards:
QB Byron Leftwich of Marshall worked out for the first time this week and all of the NFL had their eyes on his performance. Most people I spoke with don't feel he can knock Carson Palmer out of the top spot, but he's battling for the No. 2 quarterback position with Kyle Boller.
OT Wayne Hunter of Hawaii has moved up significantly once the offensive line coaches got deep into their evaluations. Hunter is an outstanding athlete, and at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds, he is headed for the first round. Stanford's Kwame Harris has had the second spot on the tackle list for the past two months, but as one offensive line coach said to me, "Harris is going to be very good, but I like Hunter just as much."
DE Terrell Suggs of Arizona State has been considered the best pass rusher in the draft, but his sluggish workout has created some doubt that he is a top-three pick. Some say he will fall to the Bears at No. 4, but that also means someone could give the Texans a call at the No. 3 spot to jump ahead of Chicago. If Houston concludes that Suggs' speed and his 9-foot broad jump make it impossible to take him at No. 3, then they may be more than willing to trade down. General manager Charley Casserly has been a Draft-Day master in the past.
WR Kelley Washington of Tennessee has gotten a clean-enough bill of health and many teams have taken the medical risk tag off him. Then Washington went out and ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, weighing in at 225 pounds. From what I hear, he is moving past Bryant Johnson of Penn State, Anquan Boldin of Florida State and Brandon Lloyd of Illinois. He is gathering late momentum, and as one receiver coach said, "Washington could end up as the solid first-round pick he should have been all along."
S Troy Polamalu of USC missed the Orange Bowl, the Senior Bowl and the Combine due to a hamstring injury. With that, he has dropped down into the middle of the second round. A great personal workout that featured a sub-4.4 in the 40, a 43 1/2-inch vertical jump and 25 reps on the bench put him back in the first round for some teams. One college scouting director called him the "jewel of the second round" at one point a month ago, but now feels he could pass Mike Doss from Ohio State before the draft boards get finalized. The teams that were originally counting on having a shot at him in round two are going to have to move up.
RB Willis McGahee of Miami (Fla.) just got back from the NFL medical re-checks in Indianapolis and I've been told by the staff that he is on his way to recovery. One person said there was still some slight swelling around the knee and there were some flexibility issues, but clubs will take the medical re-check information and revisit the idea of taking McGahee. He will move up the draft boards now as a few teams reduce the medical-risk status. How high he goes is still a question, but this wild card is very much a factor.
DE Antonio Garay had five sacks in the first five games of his senior year and then got hurt. He got good grades at his medical re-check and now defensive line coaches can evaluate him with the approval of the club's medical staff. One defensive coordinator told me a month ago, "I couldn't even watch the kid's tapes until the doctors told me I wasn't wasting my time. Now we're having him in for a private workout."
Keep your eye on a few other players who may make a late run to stir the pot and scramble the draft boards. Defensive tackle Ty Warren of Texas A&M, linebacker Terry Pierce of Kansas State, tight end Dallas Clark of Iowa and cornerback Drayton Florence of Tuskegee are mentioned to me by coaches who are bringing their evaluations to the draft rooms this week.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and coaches see players differently than scouts on many occasions. By no means are the above-mentioned players the only ones who will change the path of the draft, but they are the ones I've been hearing about this week as the medical re-checks come in and the coaches present their priority candidates.
Finally, a few years ago, tight end Anthony Becht was a late second-round pick as we hit April. After the Jets' staff meeting, Becht found himself in the first round. Last year, offensive tackle Marc Colombo took a wild ride to the first round in early April, as did cornerback Mike Rumph and quarterback Patrick Ramsey. The Giants' third-round selection of OT Jeff Hatch was a bold move after offensive line coach Jim McNally had a one-on-one workout in early April with him.
Just remember, most teams really don't know what they're going to do in the draft yet, no matter how much some people think they do. These wild cards, among others, will shape the path the draft will take weeks from now.