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20 Apr 2005

Previewing the Top Offensive Picks

By Russell Levine

The 2005 NFL Draft is one of the most intriguing in recent memory, since the lack of a clear-cut top prospect means the 32 teams probably have the players ordered 32 different ways. But even without an obvious franchise-defining player, there are still plenty of interesting prospects. Over the next two days we will profile some of the players whose names you can expect to hear called during the first day (Rounds 1-3) of the April 23-24 draft. Here's a look at the top players on the offensive side of the ball, listed in expected order of selection:

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers
California, 6-foot-2, 223 lbs.

Rodgers, who led California to a surprising 10-1 regular season, is the latest QB prospect to emerge from the tutelage of Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. The good news for Rodgers is that all those previous Tedford prospects - David Carr, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, Akili Smith, and Trent Dilfer - were taken early in the first round. The bad news is that they've had at best uneven careers. Nevertheless, San Francisco is the odds-on favorite to take local product Rodgers with the first overall pick. Rodgers began his senior season as a decent prospect but shot up draft boards after carving up USC to the tune of 23 straight completions - outplaying Heisman winner Matt Leinart in the process - in a road loss in October. He has good size and above-average arm strength, and displayed the accuracy (63.8% completions in two seasons at Cal) that pleases coaches running the West Coast offense.

Alex Smith
Utah, 6-foot-4, 212 lbs.

The trigger man in Utah's explosive spread-option offense the past two seasons, Smith boasts a roster of impressive statistics befitting a first-round quarterback prospect: a 21-1 record as a starter (including a Fiesta Bowl win in 2004), a no. 2 national ranking in passer efficiency, and nearly 3,000 yards passing and 32 touchdown passes with only four interceptions while completing 67.5% of his passes. But there's another number that has helped push him up draft boards into the upper reaches of round one: his 3.74 GPA. Big and strong, Smith played in an offense that emphasized athleticism and quick decision-making. The offense also differed greatly from a traditional pro set, which means Smith's learning curve will be steeper than most. Still, he could be taken by Miami, Cleveland, or Tampa Bay in the first five picks.

Jason Campbell
Auburn, 6-foot-4, 223 lbs.

Campbell often gets overshadowed by his offensive backfield teammates - running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams, both likely top-five picks - but he was the one named SEC Offensive Player of the Year following Auburn's 13-0 season in 2004.
Campbell was a highly touted high school QB who struggled in his first three seasons at Auburn before joining forces with his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, Al Borges. Under Borges's tutelage, Campbell completed 69.4% of his throws for 2,700 yards and 20 TDs with only seven interceptions. He showed a strong arm and excellent mobility for his size, though his footwork needs some improvement. He'll go in the second or third round.

Charlie Frye
Akron, 6-foot-4, 217 lbs.

When a quarterback prospect emerges from the Mid-American Conference these days, NFL teams take notice. The MAC has produced Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and Ben Roethlisberger in recent seasons, and Frye appears to be next in line. He has the requisite size, completion percentage (63.6% for his career), mechanics, and arm strength to succeed in the NFL. He also opened some eyes with an MVP performance at the Senior Bowl and should be selected by the early third round.

Andrew Walter
Arizona State, 6-foot-5, 234 lbs.

Walter's stock would likely be higher if not for a separated throwing shoulder he suffered in the Sun Devils' regular-season finale. After off-season surgery, he recovered enough to work out for scouts in April, displaying better-than-average arm strength and decent mobility for someone of his size. After the workout, Walter should be taken by the mid-third round.

Wide Receivers

Braylon Edwards
Michigan, 6-foot-3, 211 lbs.

Edwards returned to school for his senior season and emerged as perhaps the best overall prospect of the second straight receiver-deep draft class. He cut down on dropped passes, proved he knows how to use his body to gain position, and was almost never beaten for a jump ball. It would be a shock if he lasts beyond the fifth pick.

Mike Williams
USC, 6-foot-5, 229 lbs.

Williams also may have benefited from not being in last year's draft. He sat out the year after entering the 2004 draft following the Maurice Clarett decision, only to have his eligibility reneged by the courts after the NFL appealed. He's a huge target who wowed scouts with his overall athleticism and should be a top-seven pick.

Troy Williamson
South Carolina, 6-foot-1, 203 lbs.

Williamson is one of the 2005 draft's "workout warriors." His stock has risen after he turned in a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash. His speed, size, and athletic ability will make him a first round pick, but he never had a season with 1,000 yards or more than seven TD catches in his two years as a college starter.

Mark Clayton
Oklahoma, 5-foot-10, 193 lbs.

Unlike Williamson, Clayton was an extremely productive college player, hauling in nearly 150 passes for more than 2,300 yards and 23 touchdowns his last two seasons. He lacks the size of the other top wideouts in this draft, but ran a 4.40 in the 40 and also projects into the first round.

Roddy White
Alabama-Birmingham, 6-foot-1, 201 lbs.

A four-year starter at UAB, White led the nation in receiving yardage as a senior and was third in average yards per catch (19.1). He has good speed and technique, and should be taken by the early second round.

Matt Jones
Arkansas, 6-foot-6, 242 lbs.

Jones is probably the most intriguing prospect in the entire draft. A three-year starter at QB for Arkansas, Jones began to create a buzz when he played receiver at the Senior Bowl, then caused scouts' heads to explode when he ran a 4.41 40 at 242 pounds at the combine. Though he's inexperienced at receiver and tight end (his other projected NFL position), he's an almost certain first-day selection. Some team, perhaps Pittsburgh, with its history of drafting multitalented athletes, may even take him in the first round.

Tight Ends

Heath Miller
Virginia, 6-foot-5, 265 lbs.

Miller appears to be the only tight end in the 2005 draft that is a sure bet to go in the first round. The Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end in 2004, Miller is a huge target who led the Cavaliers in receiving the past two seasons. He would make a nice fit at no. 26 for the Jets, who just lost starting tight end Anthony Becht in free agency.

Alex Smith
Stanford, 6-foot-4, 258 lbs.

The "other" Alex Smith is a polished receiver who needs work on his blocking ability. A standout senior season, with 52 catches for 706 yards and three touchdowns, probably moved him into the second round.

Running Backs

Ronnie Brown
Auburn, 6-foot-0, 233 lbs.

Brown, a versatile back who can run with power or speed and also catches the ball well out of the backfield, headlines a top-heavy class of running backs. His blocking is adequate, and any shortcomings in that area won't be enough to keep him from being selected very early, perhaps as soon as no. 2 by Miami.

Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams
Auburn, 5-foot-11, 217 lbs.

Willliams has slipped behind his teammate in most mock drafts because Brown appears to be the more polished all-around player. But when both were healthy at Auburn, it was Williams who started and got the majority of the crunch-time carries. He seems to have caught the eye of Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden, who coached Williams at the Senior Bowl, and the Bucs could grab Williams with the fifth overall pick.

Cedric Benson
Texas, 5-foot-10, 222 lbs.

Let's see, a powerful running back from Texas with huge career numbers and a head full of dreadlocks ... remind you of anyone? That's what Benson is afraid of. In fact, he's gone out of his way to distance himself from Ricky Williams, even going so far as to cut off his dreadlocks and appear of the cover of ESPN the Magazine under the headline "I'm NOT Ricky." Benson will probably be the third running back off the board in round one, falling behind the Auburn duo because of slightly slower times in the 40.

J.J. Arrington
California, 5-foot-9, 214 lbs.

Teams interested in college production will take a hard look at Arrington, who could be selected anywhere from the late first to the third round. He was the nation's only 2,000-yard rusher in 2004, led the nation in per-carry average, and ran for at least 100 yards in every game. He also turned in an outstanding 40 time at the NFL combine, but he drops on draft boards because of his short stature, poor blocking skills, and lack of receiving ability.

Marion Barber
Minnesota, 5-foot-11, 221 lbs.

The son of a former NFL player, Barber is a powerful back with strong receiving skills, though his numbers at Minnesota were held down by sharing carries with Laurence Maroney. He needs to improve his blocking, as do most college backs, but has decent speed and enough production in college to warrant a second-round pick.

Offensive Linemen

Alex Barron (T)
Florida State, 6-foot-7, 320 lbs.

In a draft class not known for elite offensive linemen, Barron stands above the rest. He is a physical specimen with the height, arm span, and agility NFL teams covet at left tackle. There are some red flags about his competitiveness after a college career in which he did not always dominate as expected, but he has too much talent to last much longer than the top 10 picks.

Jammal Brown (T)
Oklahoma, 6-foot-6, 313 lbs.

Brown is a steamroller of a tackle who used his natural strength to help pave the way for Oklahoma's explosive offensive attack. He probably lacks the quickness to play left tackle in the NFL, but is still a solid first-rounder.

Khalif Barnes (T)
Washington, 6-foot-6, 305 lbs.

Barnes is a bit of a mystery after missing much of his senior season with an injury, but he's a polished blocker with good quickness and decent strength who will probably be selected in the second half of the first round.

David Baas (C/G)
Michigan, 6-foot-4, 319 lbs.

Michigan has a reputation for producing solid, technically sound offensive linemen and Baas is no exception. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's best center in 2004 despite starting just nine career games at the position. His versatility could push him into the late first round.

Marcus Johnson (T/G)
Mississippi, 6-foot-6, 321 lbs.

Johnson was a four-year starter at Ole Miss, playing mostly guard, but he has the speed and agility to play right tackle, where his quickness will allow him to get outside to cut off speed rushers. Johnson would be a valuable selection in the middle of the second round.

Chris Spencer (C.)
Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 309 lbs.

Spencer started just one year in college, but proved a lot to scouts during the 2004 campaign. So much so, in fact, that he is regarded as the premier center prospect in this year's draft. He's a solid, powerful blocker who's strong enough to take on nose tackles in the increasingly popular 3-4 scheme in the NFL, and quick enough to pull from the center position.

Adam Terry (T)
Syracuse, 6-foot-8, 330 lbs.

Is it possible to weigh 330 pounds and still appear somewhat lean? When you're 6-foot-8, the answer is yes. Terry is the rare lineman who looks like he could comfortably carry even more weight. But he may not have the quickness to play left tackle in the pros, a fact that will keep him out of the first round.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 20 Apr 2005

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