- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Washington Redskins vice president of football operations Joe Mendes won't read mock drafts on the Internet or anywhere else, but that doesn't mean he's not curious about who they think his club will take with its top selection, 18th overall in this weekend's NFL Draft.

"What are they saying?" Mendes asked when questioned yesterday about the annual proliferation of predictions.

Try everything. The Nebraska guard. The defensive tackle from Wisconsin. Either of the Florida receivers. Either of top quarterbacks Joey Harrington or Patrick Ramsey. Heck, name a player pegged for the mid-to-late first round and somewhere someone probably is saying the Redskins will draft him.

And what does Mendes think of those guesses?

"I'd say they're all [correct]," he replied wryly.

Mendes might be playing it close to the vest, but the purveyors of mock drafts are flashing their insight to anyone willing to waltz past their Web sites. Each major sports site has some guru who's got the latest scoop, from teams' wants and needs, to who's hot and not, to just what fans can expect of their favorite team when its 15 minutes are up in Saturday's first round.

"I think it's fun," said agent Hadley Engelhard, who represents an almost-certain first-rounder, North Carolina defensive tackle Ryan Sims. "It gets the fans excited and gives them something to talk about. I know some of the drafts even have chat rooms where you can talk about why a team should take this guy or that guy."

But that doesn't mean Engelhard wants his clients perusing mock drafts or checking out chat rooms. It might be tough these days to ignore omnipresent ESPN expert Mel Kiper or keep from clicking into the latest revisions by CBS SportsLine, CNN/SI, Pro Football Weekly or the Sporting News, but Engelhard thinks prospective draftees are better off hitting the weights.

"I've got one client who says, 'How come I'm projected in the third round?'" Engelhard said. "I'm like, 'Who's saying that? You can't trust that.' That's why they call them 'mock drafts.' Does the general public pay attention to them? Probably. Do NFL people? No."

Redskins coach Steve Spurrier certainly doesn't pay them much mind. He admits to having seen a few predictions for the Redskins' top pick, but he didn't find them very enlightening.

"The few I've seen, they've had us taking all kinds of guys," Spurrier said with a chuckle. "One of them had us taking a guy we haven't even talked to."

Quips notwithstanding, though, a club's apparent lack of interest in a player actually might signify secret desire. While some mock-draft speculation about a team's target is based on genuine sources with genuinely credible information, sometimes it can be deliberately leaked misguidance meant to throw off competing teams.

"They do that all the time, no doubt about it," Engelhard said. "Some predraft visits are done totally as a decoy. They have no intention of drafting the guy. Or they won't bring a guy in when they really want him. It's all a mind game."

Mendes, for his part, has stuck to his tight-lipped ways as the draft approaches. Extremely cautious about what he reveals in free agency, he might be even more secretive with regard to the draft.

"I believe you don't produce any information," Mendes said. "You just focus on the task at hand."

But while teams might be narrowing down choices as they do that this week, mock drafts seem to be growing more disparate, each coming up with its own "sleeper" picks. The only thing all mock drafts agree on is pick No. 1: The Houston Texans will select Fresno State quarterback David Carr. Of course, the Texans have announced that they will select Carr and even have begun negotiating a contract with him.

Thus the intrigue begins with the Carolina Panthers at No. 2. Most mock drafts say the club will go with local product Julius Peppers, a North Carolina defensive end with rare quickness and agility, but some recent drafts say the Panthers are leaning toward Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer.

Predictions vary increasingly as mock drafts make their way toward the Redskins at No. 18. Most base their guesses on Washington's two key needs guard and defensive tackle while others wager that Spurrier will get a skill-position contributor to his high-powered offense at receiver or quarterback.

Based on those projections, the Redskins will select Nebraska guard Toniu Fonoti, Auburn guard Kendall Simmons, Colorado guard Andre Gurode, Tennessee defensive tackle John Henderson, North Carolina's Sims, Wisconsin defensive tackle Wendell Bryant, Florida receiver Jabar Gaffney, Florida receiver Reche Caldwell, Oregon's Harrington or Tulane's Ramsey.

And that's if they don't pull a surprise.

Mendes, however, thinks that a wide range of predictions is perfectly fitting for where Washington is drafting. At No. 18, he said, it all depends on who's available.

"You have to let the draft board determine who you're taking," Mendes said. "You can't fall in love with a guard. The goal is to maximize the value of the pick in whatever way you can."

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