It's almost the halfway point of the NFL season, and the college season is well past that. So we thought it a good time to look ahead to next year's NFL Draft.
It might seem a bit early, but it's never too early for draft gossip in this space.
Initial impressions from the potential 2005 draft crop:
- There will be some quality quarterbacks going early, especially if juniors Matt Leinart of Southern California and Aaron Rodgers of Cal come out as expected.
- Once again, the receiver position is a good one, with Michigan's Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams of USC -- you remember him, right? -- topping the list.
- Corners and defensive ends will again be tough to find.
- There will be some good backs.
With that, here's a look at our top 10 players heading into the latter part of the college season.
[font=verdana]Miami's Antrel Rolle might be the lone future star at cornerback in next year's draft. (Getty Images)
[/font] Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami:
Teams are always searching for quality cover corners, and Rolle is that. At 6-feet, 205 pounds, he has the size teams want from a corner and a propensity for making big plays. He did a wonderful job on Larry Fitzgerald last year when the 'Canes played Pittsburgh. He doesn't have blazing speed, getting timed at 4.5 this spring, but he plays faster. He did have an off-field incident this summer, but it was out of character, and word is this is a good kid.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, California:
This is one of the fastest risers on the board. Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who has worked with Joey Harrington and Trent Dilfer and other quality passers, said this is the best quarterback he has had. Rodgers is mobile, which NFL teams love, and he has a feel for the passing game. He's a junior, but indications are he will leave school -- especially if he is ranked this high.
Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin:
After an injury-marred 2003 season, James has come on to be the best outside pass rusher in this draft. He is also a quality run player. That combination should push him high into the first round, after not being ranked as a first-day pick by the scouting services entering the season. This type of player is hard to find, which is why there is such a premium placed on the position.
Alex Barron, T, Florida State:
At 6-7, 323 pounds, Barron has the powerful build teams crave from their tackles. But he's also light on his feet, showing the ability to excel in pass protection, while also having the power to dominate in the run game. Another in the recent line of quality tackles to come out of FSU, including Seattle's Walter Jones and Philadelphia's Tra Thomas.
Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan:
At 6-2, 209, Edwards has the size teams love, plus speed (4.45). What's more, he plays that fast, which isn't always the case with receivers. He is polished and has made major strides as a senior after a good junior year. His speed makes him the likely first receiver off the board next spring. He is the son of former NFL fullback Stanley Edwards.
Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn:
The "Cadillac" should be the first back taken. He has good size, at 5-11, 210 pounds, and breakaway speed, getting timed at 4.46 this spring. The thing that stands out about him, though, is his ability to make people miss in traffic. He has a wonderful ability to make cuts.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn:
The "other" back at Auburn, Brown is a quite a complement to Williams. Like Williams, he has great speed, getting timed at 4.40 in the spring. At 231 pounds, he is a little bigger than Williams, although he isn't as shifty. He blocks better, which pro scouts will like.
Matt Leinart, QB, Southern California:
This is a player that will be dissected a bunch if he does decide to come out. Some scouts question his arm strength, while others wonder if he's a product of a great team. Leinart has a good feel for the passing game, which shows up on tape. He knows where to go with the football, which is half the battle for a young NFL passer. His stock will rise much like that of Philip Rivers a year ago if he does enter the draft. He just makes plays.
Thomas Davis, S, Georgia:
A big, physical safety who is a junior but surely on his way into this draft. Davis has played linebacker as well at Georgia, but he runs well enough to be a Pro Bowl safety. Watch the Bulldogs play. He's all over the field. A minor injury two weeks ago could have an impact on his decision to come out.
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Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas:
At 6-3, 231, Johnson has good size and speed, getting timed at 4.55 this spring. He has played much better as a senior than he did last year as a junior. There were some scouts who wondered if he was tough enough a year ago, but he seems to have cooled some of that talk. He has great range, which teams love from their linebackers in this era of wide-open football.
Andrew Walter, QB, Arizona State; Rod Wright, DT, Texas (Jr.); Mike Williams, WR, USC; Cedric Benson, RB, Texas; David Pollack, DE, Georgia; Marlin Jackson, S, Michigan.
Players we really like (maybe more than the scouts):
James; Davis; Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma; Mike Patterson, DT, USC; Darnell Bing, S, USC (third-year sophomore); Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma; Kyle Orton, QB, Purdue; Bryant McFadden, CB, Florida State; Ernest Shazor, S, Michigan (Jr.); Mercedes Lewis, TE, UCLA (Jr.); Brandon Browner, CB, Oregon State (third-year sophomore); Jamaal Brown, T, Oklahoma
There was talk the Cowboys would be turning to Drew Henson
at quarterback in the coming weeks. And Henson would not have been alone if the Cowboys did not win last week against the Lions. The word is the Cowboys are planning to go to a bunch of younger players if and when they are eliminated from playoff contention. But with a game at Cincinnati this week and a home game next Monday against the Eagles, the Cowboys feel now they can get back into things with consecutive victories. If they lose those games, look for Henson and some younger players to get more time as things are retooled for next season. The Cowboys have two first-round picks next year -- theirs and Buffalo's -- so they have a chance to get two quality players. The Bills' pick could be in the top 10.
When the Bengals meet the Cowboys on Sunday, it will pit Chad Johnson
against cousin Keyshawn Johnson,
which reminds me of a conversation I had with Keyshawn last summer. While chatting up the league -- and Keyshawn is one of the best at that -- I mentioned the perception is that Chad is better than Keyshawn. "Man, do you know how much of his yardage he gets after the game has been decided?" Keyshawn said then. "They're always behind. That's why he gets a lot of numbers." That might have been the case at the time of that conversation, but it's not anymore. Chad Johnson is better than Keyshawn now. And it's not close. We will say this, though: Keyshawn has played well for the Cowboys.