Palmer hopes to rise to top of draft class

Saturday, February 22, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS -- Carson Palmer understands the history.

Heisman Trophy winners usually don't get picked first in the NFL draft, and Cincinnati's first-round picks often fail.

Palmer wants to change those trends.

"I've not met a whole lot of people like me," he said Friday at the league's scouting combine. "I think I can go in and turn it around."

The former Southern California quarterback won the Heisman in December, and now the question is whether NFL teams will see him as the best player available in the draft. Only one vote will count when the draft is held April 26 in New York, and it belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Palmer, who's not short on confidence, says he can do for Cincinnati what he did for the Trojans last season: turn around a faltering team.

The Bengals, who are picking first for the third time in nine years, haven't made the playoffs since 1990 and have gone 55-137 since then. Their track record with drafting quarterbacks is even worse. The last two times Cincinnati selected a quarterback in the first round, they went with David Klingler and Akili Smith. Both were busts.

Palmer has heard the horror stories about the Bengals, but he isn't worried.

"I don't know what the big knock on them is," he said. "All I heard coming in here were negative things. It doesn't look bad to me. It looks like a good place for a quarterback to go."

Palmer proved he can help a team go from mediocrity to title contender during his senior year at USC. After going 16-16 in his first three seasons, he got the Trojans into the top 10 and led them to the Orange Bowl.

At a school known as Tailback U., he was the first of the school's five Heisman winners to play quarterback. If he is the first pick in the draft, Palmer would become the first Heisman winner chosen No. 1 since Tampa Bay selected Vinny Testaverde in 1986.

"It would be great to be the No. 1 pick, for all the reasons everyone knows," he said. "I just want to end up with the right team and in the right system."

But in a quarterback class some analysts have compared with the 1983 draft -- which produced John Elway and Dan Marino -- there is no consensus on Palmer going No. 1. He and Marshall's Byron Leftwich are ranked by most analysts as the top two quarterbacks in the draft. The rest of the class includes Florida's Rex Grossman, whose stock has been steadily rising, Louisville's Dave Ragone and Texas' Chris Simms.

Determining who's the best, however, hasn't been easy.

Palmer and Leftwich both possess prototypical size. Palmer was measured at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, and he calls himself a pocket passer who can move around.

Leftwich came in at 6-5 3/4, 240, and he may have more mobility. He also claims to have a stronger arm, but leg injuries the last two seasons are keeping the doctors busy this week.

Leftwich said Friday that he's healthy, and that too much was made of what he described as a hairline fracture in his lower left leg. The school initially reported it as a sore shin.

"We didn't want anyone to know it was broken, because I knew someone would try to take me out," Leftwich said.

Palmer, meanwhile, had impressive stats last season -- 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions -- and experience in the West Coast offense. He also believes that having played in two different offenses and under two different coordinators at USC will help speed his adjustment to the NFL.

So who's better?

"I'm not going to answer that question," Leftwich said before glancing at a Bengals official. "I'm going to let them answer that."

Palmer seems just as content to let everything play out. All he wants is a chance to rewrite history.

"I think my leadership is different, the way I approach the game is different," he said, referring to the Bengals' past failures. "I'm very meticulous going into the game, and I'm meticulous about the situations I'm going into. I like to watch the guys, like Peyton (Manning), who have made it."

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