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Not so easy pickings

1. Cincinnati Bengals — Carson Palmer, QB USC: Regardless if Akili Smith hasn’t worked out after going third overall in 1999, or Jon Kitna is the starter next year, Palmer is the choice, and the contract should be signed before the draft starts Saturday.

2. Detroit Lions — Charles Rogers, WR Michigan State: Last year’s No. 1 Joey Harrington can’t succeed without some weapons, and the 6-foot-3 acrobat with the eye-popping 40-yard dash time (4.40) is the best.

3. Houston Texans — Andre Johnson, WR Miami: Like the Lions, Houston picked a quarterback first in 2002 (David Carr, the first pick overall) and needs a playmaker, which Johnson provides with an extraordinary blend of size and speed.

4. Chicago Bears — Dewayne Robertson, DT Kentucky: Kordell Stewart fills the need for a quarterback, so Chicago picks the draft’s best defender, a quick lineman who can rush the passer and clog running lanes.

5. Dallas Cowboys — Terrence Newman, CB Kansas State: With good depth on the defensive line, Dallas takes the best corner in the draft and a true difference maker on the defensive side.

6. Arizona Cardinals — Terrell Suggs, DE Arizona State: Signing Jeff Blake at quarterback negates the need for a signal caller, so combined with an anemic pass rush, that makes the hometown Suggs a no-brainer.

7. Minnesota Vikings — Jimmy Kennedy, DT Penn State: Massive tackle to stuff the run combines with Chris Hovan to help the Vikes continue to improve their defense.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars — Byron Leftwich, QB Marshall: One look at Mark Brunell’s escalating salary and diminishing results suggests someone could do the job better, and Leftwich’s tenacity and arm strength are too appealing to pass up.

9. Carolina Panthers — Jordan Gross, OT Utah: Can stop the speed rushers flooding the league, plus fills a huge need.

10. Baltimore Ravens — Kyle Boller, QB Cal: No one wants to say it, but Chris Redman is not the answer at quarterback for Baltimore. Boller had the pedigree coming out of high school and realized that potential his senior year. Adding to his value was a great workout at the NFL Combine.

11. Seattle Seahawks — Kevin Williams, DT Oklahoma State: The league’s worst run defense and a pair of aging tackles equals this Cowboy in Seattle.

12. St. Louis Rams — Marcus Trufant, CB Washington State: Top-10 value, the Rams won’t let him slip any further.

13. New York Jets — Boss Bailey, LB Georgia: Maybe reaching a little bit, but with no other linebackers even close to his stature and superior physical talents, the Boss is it. The fact that his brother Champ is a Pro Bowl corner doesn’t hurt either.

14. New England Patriots — Johnathan Sullivan, DT Georgia: DT Richard Seymour from the Bulldogs worked out well two years ago, so Pats go back to the well to shore up porous D.

15. San Diego Chargers — William Joseph, DT Miami: Only a below average senior season keeps him out of the top 10.

16. Kansas City Chiefs — Jerome McDougle, DE Miami: Hurricanes could have as many as six defensive linemen drafted. McDougle has great speed and forms a nice tandem with free agent pickup Vonnie Holliday from Green Bay.

17. New Orleans Saints — Andre Woolfolk, CB Oklahoma: Guess is with back-to-back picks, the Saints trade up because they need value over quantity. But staying put could land Woolfolk, who won’t have to start right away, which is good since he’s still learning the position after starting at wide receiver for the Sooners as a sophomore.

18. New Orleans Saints — Troy Polamalu, S USC: The anchor of the Orange Bowl champions is the draft’s best safety and continues the improvements for the defensive backfield.

19. New England Patriots — Willis McGahee, RB Miami: Taking a chance will pay off eventually for the Patriots. Guard Eric Steinbach would be an excellent choice, too, but McGahee’s potential to be the best player in this draft can’t be denied. The fact that New England worked him out privately then skipped his public workout seems suspicious.

20. Denver Broncos — Michael Haynes, DE Penn State: Denver’s line is in shambles, necessitating a speed rusher like Haynes who can get to the passer (15 sacks for Nittany Lions in 2002).

21. Cleveland Browns — Eric Steinbach, G Iowa: Top player at his position, but most teams feel quality guards can be found in middle rounds, so he slides to No. 21.

22. New York Jets — Kelley Washington, WR Tennessee: Biggest gamble yet. A healthy Washington gives the Jets a 6-foot-3 wideout with blazing speed, a sore spot for New York. However, spinal fusion surgery ended his season prematurely in 2002, plus his age is a concern after he played a couple years of minor league baseball.

23. Buffalo Bills — Chris Kelsay, DE Nebraska: A solid end who can both rush the passer and stay at home against the run.

24. Indianapolis Colts — Jason Witten, TE Tennessee: Ken Dilger was a vital part of the offense and he was never replaced. Throwing to a fellow Volunteer should suit Peyton Manning fine.

25. New York Giants — Kwame Harris, OT Stanford: Projected a top-10 pick in 2004 had he stayed for senior season, his great size (6-foot-7) is a natural for ailing Giants line.

26. San Francisco 49ers — Taylor Jacobs, WR Florida: J.J. Stokes is on his way, so cue up Jacobs. The talk is San Fran goes QB, but as Steve Mariucci’s ouster shows, this is not an organization that’s interested in waiting for a young quarterback to develop.

27. Pittsburgh Steelers — Larry Johnson, RB Penn State: Johnson fits the mold of Pittsburgh’s grind-it-out offense to a tee, and he has local ties.

28. Tennessee Titans — Bryant Johnson, WR Penn State: Johnson and Johnson stick together, going back-to-back. Perfect replacement for Kevin Dyson with a 4.57 40.

29. Green Bay Packers — Rex Grossman, QB Florida: The infatuation with the former Gator, whose numbers, like UF’s record, declined steadily in 2002, is beyond me. However, logic says Brett Favre won’t last forever.

30. Philadelphia Eagles — E.J. Henderson, LB Maryland: The Eagles don’t have many needs. An end to replace Hugh Douglas would do, though none merit this pick. With every other LB a cut below Henderson, he’s the Eagles’ man.

31. Oakland Raiders — Jeff Faine, C Notre Dame: Barret Robbins’ disappearance causes a need at center, which is OK, since Faine is a definite upgrade, as well as good value at this point.

32. Oakland Raiders — Ty Warren, DT Texas A&M: Steady, if unspectacular, the rush for defensive tackles could push his value way up, actually making him a bargain at this juncture.

Contact Oracles Sports Editor Anthony Gagliano at