Witten could be first TE chosen

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   Saturday afternoon, the whole world will know where Jason Witten will begin his professional football career.
   Projected for a selection between the 15th and 40th picks, Witten is expected to be the top tight end taken in the draft, ranked above Iowa's Dallas Clark and Michigan's Ben Joppru.
   There have been several teams interested in the Elizabethton native. However, many have made free agent acquisitions and post-season deals that could affect the way they look at things.
   For instance, the New Orleans Saints, while still interested in Witten, signed St. Louis Ram tight end Ernie Conwell. The Saints were projected to pick Witten for weeks, but have steadily looked towards defense.
   The Saints would still like a younger player to develop in their youth laden offense and coach Jim Haslett visited Knoxville during the squads workouts.
   Witten visited New Orleans, along with Cleveland and Houston during the off period and has been training the past two months at Athletes Performance in Phoenix.
   The Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles have also expressed interest in selecting a tight end in the first round, as have the Indianapolis Colts.
   It's quite possible that the Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars might gather from the position early in the second round as well.
   Witten has been projected towards the Saints, Eagles, Bills, Rams and Jaguars across national mock drafts throughout the past month. It's likely that one of those five teams may obtain his service.
   Buffalo has been known as a Tennessee drafting staple in recent years, selecting receiver Peerless Price (now with the Falcons), tailback Travis Henry and fullback Shawn Bryson. They have done well with free agency and could use a target in the red zone.
   The Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants are all looking for backing tight ends, but will probably not fill that void until the later rounds.
   The NFL Draft is much like chess, as each team will try to make a skillful move. Witten's draft position will be based on team needs and available players once time shifts around.
   He certainly has the support from former teammates and last year's NFL draft picks Donte' Stallworth, as well as Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth.
   "I think he is the number one tight end," said Haynesworth on Tuesday. "He has the size, speed and strength and he's the total package. He's just like (New York Giant Jeremy) Shockey, just a little bit bigger. It will be interesting to see where he goes."
   On draft day, players go through a stressful time awaiting that all-so-important phone call from a head coach or general manager from an NFL club.
   Haynesworth went through the experience and knows how the draftees feel on the day.
   "They are probably nervous," he said, "Not knowing where they're going to go or how high they're going to go. They can't really stress about it because they have no control over it."
   "It's all in the coaches hands right now and if they want you to be on their team, they'll pick you," he said. "You might as well wait for your name to be called."
   Witten's selection will be the first of this caliber for a Carter County native. The county will have their eyes on ESPN at noon Saturday afternoon as the NFL Draft begins from Madison Square Garden in New York.