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No guarantees, experts


(April 19)—There are no rights or wrongs this week. There is only opinion and rumor. And if you think for one second fate isn't the most important player in the NFL draft, then consider the Jaguars' 2001 draft.

It may be the all-time example of convoluted logic resulting in simple genius. In the '01 draft, the Jaguars made two "home run" picks: defensive tackle Marcus Stroud in the first round and offensive tackle Maurice Williams in the second round. But it was anything but simple.

As you may recall, Tom Coughlin was the consummate "needs" drafter. In '01, Coughlin had decided he would address his two lines in the first two rounds of the draft. There was no question about that, and in the days leading up to the start of the draft Coughlin had decided he would select a defensive tackle first and an offensive tackle second, because it was Coughlin's belief he was more likely to find an offensive tackle in the second round than he would a defensive tackle.

To that end, the Jaguars hoped Williams would be available in round two, but they doubted he would. So they targeted a contingency player, Illinois offensive tackle Marques Sullivan, for the second round. They knew that was high for Sullivan, but he was a big, athletic guy they believed could be the player they needed.

When it came time for the Jaguars to make the 13th pick, they were surprised that Florida offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker was still available. Compounding their decision was that they had Walker rated ahead of Stroud on the team's draft board, and there was no doubting the Jaguars' need at offensive tackle. But they passed on Walker and selected Stroud, which prompted draft guru Mel Kiper to refer to the Stroud pick as "the biggest reach of the first round."

By the way, right after the Jaguars picked Stroud, Buffalo traded its pick and it was thought they were reacting to Stroud's unavailability, but it was Jamal Reynolds who the Bills wanted, and Green Bay selected Reynolds three picks ahead of the Jaguars' selection of Stroud. Now, with Buffalo's pick at 14, Tampa Bay selected Walker.

Wow! This was starting to get rich.

Anyhow, Williams continued to fall and when it was the Jaguars' turn to pick in the second round, Williams was the easy choice. The Jaguars were delighted, and now Coughlin could begin attacking his other needs.

One of those needs was for a punter, and in the fifth round the Jaguars selected David Leaverton. Two picks later, the Bills drafted Sullivan.

Hey, wait a minute, isn't that the guy the Jaguars wanted to draft in the second round? How do you not draft him in the fifth round, if you were willing to draft him in the second round? How do you pass up that kind of value?

If you're looking for logical answers to logical questions, the 2001 draft isn't the place to look. The Jaguars passed on the higher-rated player in the first round, were able to draft a player they didn't think would be available in the second round, then passed on a player in the fifth round they had deemed worthy of the second round.

And what was fate's part in Buffalo's future? Recently, the Packers cut Reynolds.

So, how did it all turn out? Well, Walker has been a starter for the Bucs but not without disappointment. Stroud made the Pro Bowl last season, which clearly disputes Kiper's claim Stroud was a "reach" at 13. Williams has been a three-year starter and is one of the building blocks of the Jaguars' future. Leaverton was cut in his rookie training camp and has not re-surfaced, and Sullivan is the Bills' starting left tackle.

Logic? Where? Stroud and Williams represent one of the best one-two punches in Jaguars draft history, and Coughlin certainly deserves the credit because he's the man who drafted them, but fate has to get some credit, too. After all, if the Jaguars had merely selected the highest-rated player on their board, they would've picked Walker, Williams and Sullivan.

The point to all of this is that what's about to transpire at the end of this week is not to be taken too seriously. There are no guarantees and certainly no experts. Teams can only do their homework, pick and hope. Fate will take care of the rest.

Enjoy the draft in its true spirit, which is to say an exercise in opinion. Some will be right and some will be wrong, but we won't know which until a couple of years from now.

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