The Bengals are on the clock, and the rest of the league is anxious about whom they will select to kick off the April 26 draft. With no prospects of a trade for the No. 1 pick in sight, new coach Marvin Lewis said last week that Cincinnati would choose from among quarterback Carson Palmer of USC, quarterback Byron Leftwich of Marshall and cornerback Terence Newman of Kansas State, and then try to sign the player before draft day. "If they don't take one of the quarterbacks like everyone thinks they will," says Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome, "it changes the whole draft."
Word around Cincinnati is that team owner Mike Brown is dead set on Palmer, the Heisman winner and a perfect gentleman of a quarterback, while Lewis, a longtime defensive coordinator, might be leaning to Newman, a cover corner with blazing speed and more of a sure thing compared with a pair of passers who aren't can't-miss prospects. ( Leftwich, who twice broke his left leg in college, is scheduled to work out for coaches and scouts on Monday.)
Whatever Cincinnati decides, trying to figure out how the first round will shake out is one of the biggest crapshoots in draft history. Last year there were seven trades involving first-round picks. This year? "I think you'll see an awful lot of movement, with teams targeting certain players more so than in the past," says Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt "More teams are filling bigger holes because of free agency." With the second selection the Lions appear set on taking Michigan State wide-out Charles Rogers. But the Texans, the Bears and the Cowboys, the next three teams in the draft order, would love to trade down and stockpile picks, as would the Jaguars (eighth) and the Ravens (10th).
Two clubs with multiple first-round choices, the Saints (Nos. 17 and 18) and the Jets (Nos. 13 and 22), will try to move into the top 10 to select Washington State corner-back Marcus Trufant and Miami wideout Andre Johnson, respectively. The Packers (picking 29th) and the Raiders (31st and 32nd) are also considering moving up. But the dominoes won't start falling until the Bengals make the first move.