it was the grave marked unknown right beside
Air's been let out of this draft ~ Rick Gosselin
The top picks? At this point, it's anybody's guess
08:14 PM CST on Saturday, March 5, 2005
There is no Peyton Manning in the 2005 NFL draft. There is no Eli Manning. There isn't even a Matt Leinart.
And therein lies the problem with the 2005 draft. Without that marquee name at the top of the board, this draft lacks punch. Greatness at the top of the board generally exudes an air of greatness throughout. Weakness at the top emits an air of mediocrity throughout.
"The draft is always a crapshoot," said Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe at the NFL scouting combine last weekend. "But this one may be moreso than others. There doesn't seem like there's any consensus on who the better players are.
"Usually when you come to the combine, you have some idea who the top five to seven guys are. I'm not sure we know that this year. With the seventh pick of the draft, you'd expect to get a good player. But who that is right now, I couldn't venture a guess."
Leinart probably would have been that first pick, which belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. He has won back-to-back national championships at Southern Cal, plus the 2004 Heisman Trophy. The 49ers are a quarterback-driven franchise that is in dire need of a triggerman.
But Leinart elected to return to Southern Cal for his senior season, as did Peyton Manning in 1997 and Eli Manning in 2003. Nothing wrong with that.
"In another year, Matt could possibly be the greatest quarterback ever to play at the college level," said his former Southern Cal teammate, Lofa Tatupu, who elected to skip his senior season to enter this draft.
With Leinart missing from the draft board, the quarterback position appears soft. The top two passers opted to leave school early to enter this draft. Both are flawed.
Cal's Aaron Rodgers stands only 6-2, and Utah's Alex Smith is only 20 years old. They combined to throw 1,252 passes in their careers. That's combined. Peyton Manning threw 1,381 passes himself in college.
But Manning isn't in this draft. Neither is Leinart.
"It's my job to prove I'm the best player in this draft," Rodgers said.
A draft hasn't been this unsettled at the top since 1991 and 1992 when defensive tackles Russell Maryland (1991) and Steve Emtmann (1992) were the first overall choices, almost by default. The top quarterbacks in those drafts were Dan McGwire (1991) and David Klingler (1992). So those drafts lacked sizzle.
Rodgers will be among the most scrutinized players this spring. NFL teams want to draft quarterbacks. They like drafting quarterbacks. High. Quarterbacks have been the first overall pick of the last four drafts and six of the last seven. So the best quarterback in a draft generally receives the benefit of doubt.
But Rodgers will have competition for that top spot.
Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards won the Biletnikoff Award as the college game's best receiver, setting the Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions.
Another from the Big Ten, Wisconsin defensive end Erasmus James, looms as the best pass rusher and Florida State offensive tackle Alex Barron the best blocker. Ball carriers Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams of Auburn and Cedric Benson of Texas all project high. But first-pick-of-the-draft high?
"The draft is moving more towards need, which means if you're looking for a tackle, the kid at Florida State might look better to you than the receiver at Michigan," Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "If you're looking for a receiver, the kid from Michigan might look better than a running back.
"In each one of those different scenarios, a kid might bounce in or out of the top two or three. I don't think there's a consensus that these are the top five players in the country. You can take them in any order."
But Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay warns draftniks not to focus so much on the top of the board.
"There's a perception that this draft isn't as good as years past," McKay said. "I don't like that perception. In reality, the draft is seven rounds. There's as much value in the third, fourth and fifth [rounds] as there is in the top 10 as far as team building. So I don't think we should be there rating this draft just yet.
"It's just hard to say who's going to end up going one, two and three. That will keep it interesting. But by the time we get to draft day, we'll have figured out those names."
PROJECTED TOP 10 PICKS FOR THE 2005 NFL DRAFT
1. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan
A three-year starter with 252 career catches. Edwards, the winner of the 2004 Biletnikoff Award, is the best blend of polish and accomplishment on this draft board.
2. Ronnie Brown, HB, Auburn
Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown shot out of the blocks and perhaps to the top of NFL draft boards with his time in the 40.
His 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 233 pounds at the combine shot him to the top of the running back board. He also has the best hands among the draft's elite backs.
3. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, HB, Auburn
Just a stride behind Brown with a 4.50 40, Williams was the reason Brown spent his career as a part-time starter. Williams rushed for 1,100 more career yards than Brown.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Cal
The NFL loves accuracy, and that's Rodgers' strength. He has a lightning-quick release and completed 63.8 percent of his career passes. But at 6-2, he lacks prototype size for the position.
5. Cedric Benson, HB, Texas
Benson may indeed be the best back in the draft. But by not running at the combine, he opened the door for Brown and Williams to pass him – and they did. Benson was a 5,500-yard career rusher at Texas.
6. Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn
Adam "Pac Man" Jones went to the combine with top billing at the cornerback position. But Jones didn't work out and Rogers did. What he showed NFL scouts was a 6-0 corner with 4.31 speed.
7. Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin
Pass rushers don't slide on draft day, and the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year brings speed off the edge. James had eight sacks last season and forced seven career fumbles.
8. Adam "Pac Man" Jones, CB, West Virginia
Jones has an edge over Rogers in that he's an elite kick returner. But Terence Newman was an elite college kick returner, too, and has returned just one NFL kick for the Cowboys.
9. Alex Smith, QB, Utah
Smith has the height (6-4) that Rodgers lacks and may wind up as the top quarterback on the board. But he has started only two seasons at a lower-level conference and is only 20 years old.
10. Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma
Like James, Cody led a major conference in sacks this season. He plays the game on the other side of the line with 38 career tackles for loss. But James worked out at Indy, Cody didn't.
Based on performances at the NFL scouting combine, the arrow is pointing up for these five:
Matt Jones, QB, Arkansas
Did you see the movie, Remember the Titans? Jones is "Sunshine" with his flowing blond hair and carefree attitude. He ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the combine, the fastest ever by a quarterback. And that was at 6-6, 242 pounds. He played wide receiver at the Senior Bowl, and some NFL teams are projecting him as a tight end. One team dubbed him "Jim Thorpe" after his workout.
Pittsburgh led the NFL in defense playing a 3-4 scheme and New England won a Super Bowl playing it. The NFL is a copycat league, and there'll be a surge back to the 3-4 in 2005. So there's a greater premium on the undersized pass rusher this year – players such as Demarcus Ware of Troy State and Jonathan Goddard of Marshall. Guys whose size and speed puts them in between the defensive end and linebacker positions, making them "tweeners."
Oklahoma wide receivers
The Sooners went three-deep at wideout with any team in the country last season. Mark Clayton and Mark Bradley are both first-day talents, and Brandon Jones has mid-round ability. All ran lights out at the combine with Clayton clocking a 4.43 40, Bradley a 4.47 and Jones a 4.48. The NFL loves speed – and the NFL loves these three Sooners.
Derek Wake, OLB, Penn State
Wake had a good career at Penn State, starting three years and making almost 200 career tackles. His combine workout translates into greater productivity at the next level. He ran a 4.59 40 and broke the combine record with a vertical leap of 45 ½ inches. Wake is freaky athletically.
In an NFLPA survey released in February, Indianapolis' RCA Dome was voted the league's worst playing surface. But the prospects invited to the NFL combine last weekend loved it. The RCA Dome produced lightning-fast 40-yard dash times, which puts money in your pocket on draft day. Nine defensive backs ran sub-4.40 40s, and Hampton WR Jerome Mathis clocked in the 4.2s.
Based on performances at the combine, the arrow is pointing down for these five:
Maurice Clarett, HB, Ohio State
Clarett's 4.81 40-yard dash time was disappointing – and it looked worse by the day as cornerbacks ran in the 4.3s, safeties in the 4.4s, linebackers in the 4.5s and defensive linemen in the 4.6s. Even worse, Clarett passed on the rest of the workout. This after telling the NFL he'd do everything. So he gets marked down for competitiveness.
Fewer and fewer kickers get invited to the combine each year and, with the way they kick in Indianapolis, you can see why. Tennessee's Dustin Colquitt, the best punter in the draft, was erratic, and Ohio State's Mike Nugent, the best kicker, couldn't reach the end zone on his kickoffs.
Cedric Benson, HB, Texas
Benson went to the combine as arguably the top back and potentially one of the top two players in this draft. But he didn't run a 40 – and Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams of Auburn did. Brown ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and Williams a 4.50, propelling both past Benson on most NFL draft boards. Benson doesn't work out until March 23.
Jason Campbell, QB, Auburn
Last year, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers did not throw at the combine. Ben Roethlisberger did and, showing off his strong arm, propelled himself into the top half of the first round. This year, top prospects Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith opted not throw. Jason Campbell, a four-year starter at Auburn and the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, potentially could have been this year's Roethlisberger. But he also elected not to throw.
The Raiders were in dire need of a running back and would have gotten a blue-chipper with the seventh overall pick of this draft. But Oakland traded the pick to the Minnesota Vikings in the Randy Moss deal. They signed RB Lamont Jordan in free agency, but may regret letting a Benson, Brown or Williams pass them by.