Don't pass on this draft

Cris Carter
Yahoo! Sports

Cris Carter's draft analysis:
Overview | AFC: East - North - South - West | NFC: East - North - South - West

Craig James' draft analysis:
Overview - QBs - WRs - More offense - Defense


Listen to Cris' overview of this year's NFL draft.

You don't have to be a former receiver to appreciate the talent at that position in this draft.

A lot of people have talked about it. This month's draft might be the best in history as far as wide receivers are concerned. Will people remember the receivers of the Class of 2004 like they remember the quarterbacks from the Class of 1983?

They might. But don't forget that the draft recently has not been kind to a lot of first-round picks. It will take a number of years before we realize if this class will be memorable, but on paper, it looks like the best class in at least the last 20 years.

Looking at the receivers in this draft, the third or fourth receiver taken is more likely to have a bigger immediate impact than the first or second. That's simply a function of going to a better team.

It's hard for receivers to contribute right away with teams that don't have good offensive foundations. Mike Williams would be in a better position to have an impact in 2004 with Atlanta or Jacksonville than Larry Fitzgerald might in Arizona or Oakland. And if the Jets take a wideout at No. 12, look out.

Fitzgerald is the highest-rated player in the draft. He's just a complete receiver, the best to come out of the Minnesota area in the amateur ranks in a long, long time. He has got the size teams want, but he also has ball skills that are second to none. If he "slides" to the Arizona Cardinals with the No. 3 pick, Dennis Green will put in a system that allows Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to shine.

But aside from Fitzgerald, seven other receivers could go in the top 40 picks. The next three are likely to be named Williams – Mike from USC, Reggie from Washington and Roy from Texas.

Size makes these three stand out. Mike is the biggest of the three. Roy is more slender but he's fast. And Reggie has the size but lacks the breakaway speed that some scouts are looking for.

When you get down to the guys who will go from, say, 20th to 40th, it's pretty hard to distinguish who's better. It's more about who better fits a team's system.

For example, let's look at the San Francisco 49ers, even though they are picking 16th. They have to replace Terrell Owens. If both Reggie Williams and Lee Evans are available, they're more likely to take Reggie Williams. Evans is faster, but he's too small to be Owens' replacement. If Williams isn't out there, San Francisco still may go with a bigger guy, even if he is rated below Evans.

All that – plus three star quarterbacks?
The receivers are brilliant. But what makes this draft great is that three really great quarterbacks also will go early. And it's easy to disagree over who is the best of the three. Philip Rivers is rated lower than Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, but I wouldn't take either before Rivers.

Rivers was a winner year in and year out at North Carolina State. Forget about his throwing motion – all he does is throw strikes. And he's 6 feet 5 inches tall. And he's a smart, gifted leader.

Roethlisberger has tremendous upside but lacks a lot of experience at quarterback. This is a guy who came to Miami (Ohio) as a wide receiver.

And you can't go wrong with a Manning.

A tough draft for running backs
Not every glamour position can be strong. This year running back takes a back seat to the guys in the passing game.

Steven Jackson of Oregon State is the highest-ranked guy, and he's barely in the top 15. More often than not you've got a couple of running backs in the top 10.

The early pickers have many holes to fill
With this abundance of skill players available, I'll be curious to see the trade activity that takes place in the next couple of weeks. The teams that are drafting early need to address multiple areas, and one early pick doesn't do that.

Let's look at the San Diego Chargers. They're not going to change the team drastically by drafting a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. It could be in their best interest to move down, add some picks and still get an impact quarterback. If they stay in the top 10, the Chargers still will find a quarterback to their liking.

The Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals are in the same boat. The New York Giants are in a different situation at No. 4. If they can get Robert Gallery, the tackle from Iowa, they should. He is probably the player most ready to step on the field right now for any team in the league.

If the Giants can fortify their offensive line, they should dramatically improve their 4-12 record from last season. Competing for the NFC East crown won't be easy, but Gallery would be a big step in that direction.

Drafts aren't solely for the stars
The players drafted between the third and sixth rounds will be the ones that make or break drafts for teams. Early entrants like Mike Williams and Maurice Clarett – if they are eligible – just bump some solid, more experienced players down a notch, leaving them available later than you might expect. Look for a lot of sleepers in those rounds.

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