ESPN: Insider: Kipers big board 1/7/05 Friday, January 7, 2005 By Mel Kiper Jr. ESPN Insider Bowl season is over and underclassmen are declaring for the NFL draft, so it's time to update the Big Board with the top junior prospects (as well as one sophomore) currently eligible for the draft. This list could change considerably in the coming days and weeks as we wait for decisions from several juniors who would fall into the top 15 should they declare: USC QB Matt Leinart; Virginia OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson; Virginia LB Ahmad Brooks; Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams and Virginia TE Heath Miller. But until then, Texas RB Cedric Benson remains the No. 1 player on the board while the shuffling continues below him with junior QBs Aaron Rodgers of California and Alex Smith of Utah debuting in the top five and junior WR Troy Williamson of South Carolina making his initial appearance at No. 11. In all, seven underclassmen make their first Big Board appearance this week. Here's how those players and the rest of the top 25 draft-eligible prospects fall into order: 1. Cedric Benson, RB, Texas (5-10½, 222) | previous rank: same Last game: 23 carries, 70 yds. in a 38-37 win over Michigan Benson is a strong, tough runner who has been incredibly productive in his four years in Austin. He has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons, and his ability to block and catch the ball make him a complete back. Benson has tremendous vision and quick feet, and thanks to his powerful lower body the first tackler rarely brings him down. He is not flashy but puts up big numbers against top competition. 2. Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma (6-4, 265) | previous rank: 5 Last game: 2 tackles (1 solo, 1 ast.) in a 55-19 loss to USC Cody continues moving up the board because of his impressive overall body of work this season. He has been utilized as both a stand-up outside linebacker and a defensive end with his hand on the ground, in much the same way as former NFL standout Kevin Greene. This year Cody finished with 42 tackles (17 for loss, including 10 sacks) and 12 QBH. 3. Aaron Rodgers (jr.), QB, California (6-1½, 205) | previous rank: unranked Last game: 24-for-42, 246 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT in a 45-31 loss to Texas Tech Don't put too much stock in Rodgers performance in the Holiday Bowl because he was without his top three receivers. A smart, accurate passer with good athletic ability, Rodgers completed 68 percent of his passes this season. His arm strength is good enough and his release is quick, and the fact that he seems a bit mechanical at times is simply a product of the way Cal head coach Jeff Tedford coaches his quarterbacks to hold the ball at shoulder level. Rodgers is a better prospect than former Golden Bears QB Kyle Boller, now of the Baltimore Ravens. 4. Alex Smith (jr.), QB, Utah (6-3, 207) | previous rank: unranked Last game: 29-for-37, 328 yds., 4 TDs; 15 car., 68 yds. in a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh A mobile quarterback who rushed for 631 yards and 10 TDs, Smith is also a very efficient passer who completed 68 percent of his attempts with 32 touchdowns against only four interceptions. He is tremendously intelligent and will pick up on offensive system quickly at the next level, but the one knock is that he somewhat of a finesse passer who did not have to muscle a lot of throws into tight spots in college. 5. Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn (6-0, 230) | previous rank: 2 Last game: 14 car., 68 yds in a 16-13 win over Virginia Tech Brown showed against Tennessee earlier in the year that he is one of the most complete backs in the nation, running and catching the ball with equal skill. He averaged over six yards per carry this season and had 34 catches. Brown has the size, instincts, power and quickness to put up unbelievable numbers and would be a Heisman candidate if he were the clear No. 1 on the depth chart. An explosive powerhouse who is a complete back. 6. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan (6-2½, 210) | previous rank: 9 Last game: 10 receptions, 109 yds., 3 TDs in a 38-37 loss to Texas Edwards was rising after single-handedly taking over the game against Michigan State, catching all three of his touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and overtime. He has the size, athleticism and overall pass-catching skills to dominate games and is doing just that at times this year. Edwards is also no longer riling the coaching staff with dropped balls and lapses in concentration. 7. Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn (5-10½, 207) | previous rank: 3 Last game: 19 carries, 61 yds. in a 16-13 win over Virginia Tech A very creative and deceptively strong runner who has few peers in terms of pure running skills. Williams does not have imposing size but can still get tough inside yards, a skill which contributed to his 1,307 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He needs to work on catching the ball out of the backfield, but that's about it. Williams carried 239 times for 1,165 and 12 TDs in 2004. 8. Mike Williams (jr.), WR, USC (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) | previous rank: 4 Last game: Williams did not play in 2004. Williams is only a junior but dominated the collegiate game for two full years before his bid to join the NFL draft as a sophomore was ended by the courts and he was declared ineligible by the NCAA. Williams will enter the 2005 draft, and the only reason he has fallen from the top spot on the Big Board is because he has not played at all this year. But if he can stay in shape and keep his weight at or below 230, Williams should ultimately be a top-15 pick. Williams likely would have been a top-10 pick last season because his size, strength and toughness make him a tremendous package who can use his body control and hands to go after the ball over smaller defenders. His two-year totals at USC: 176 receptions, 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns. 9. Travis Johnson, DT, Florida State (6-4, 292) | previous rank: 8 Last game: Florida State defeated West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, 30-18 Has improved significantly from where he was last year. Johnson has been dominating offensive linemen all year and has spent a lot of time in opposing backfields. 10. Derrick Johnson, OLB, Texas (6-3, 233) | previous rank: 7 Last game: 8 tackles (4 solo, 4 ast.), 1.5 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 1 QBH in a 26-13 win over Texas A&M Led the Longhorns with 125 tackles last season, including 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Johnson will finish his career with over 400 total tackles and has also intercepted eight passes over the last two seasons. A great athlete who has a nose for the ball and is all over the field. 11. Troy Williamson (jr.), WR, South Carolina (6-1½, 200) | previous rank: unranked Last game: 3 rec., 26 yds. in a 29-7 loss to Clemson Williamson can flat-out fly and will likely end up being the fastest wide receiver in this year's draft. He put up 19.4 yards per catch this season in a non-passing offense, and with his size/speed ratio Williamson should continue to zoom up the draft board. 12. Shawne Merriman (jr.), DE/OLB, Maryland (6-3, 255) | previous rank: unranked Last game: 12 tackles (7 solo, 5 ast.), 3.5 TFL (2.5 sacks), 1 QBH in a 13-7 win over Wake Forest A combo guy on the edge who will test of the charts. Merriman benches 385, squats 590 and has a 41½-inch vertical jump that is the best ever for a defensive lineman in Maryland history. But don't forget his production, as he led the Terrapins with 17 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. Merriman cold play outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, or put his hand on the ground and play end in a 4-3. 13. Adam "Pac-Man" Jones (jr), CB, West Virginia (5-9½, 191) | previous rank: unranked Last game: West Virginia lost in the Gator Bowl to Florida State, 30-18 Jones is lethal not only a a cover man but also as a kick and punt returner. He is a little raw technically but still an outstanding cover corner, and he has tremendous closing speed and is more than willing to give up his body in run support. In today's NFL, where the rules are tilted in favor of the receivers and corners are unable to become true "lockdown" defenders, that tackling ability in the open field will be just one more asset to combine with his speed, aggressiveness and special teams skills. 14. Roddy White, WR, UAB (6-1, 205) | previous rank: unranked Last game: 6 rec., 113 yds., 1 TD in a 59-40 loss to Hawaii Runs a consistent 4.42 in the 40 giving him a size/speed combination in the elite category. White averaged 21.6 yards per catch last year and scored seven TDs, and this season he finished second in the nation in receiving yards per game 121.0) while averaging 20.0 yards per catch. White also held his drops to a minimum this year. 15. Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin (6-4, 260) | previous rank: 6 Last game: 2 solo tackles in a 24-21 loss to Georgia James missed most of last season with a hip injury but had a great showing in fall camp and carried that momentum over to the regular season. He is currently nursing an ankle injury but still commands double-team blocks. An outstanding pass rusher who is also strong against the run, James was able to get back into form after an ankle injury earlier in the season. 16. Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami (6-0½, 200) | previous rank: 11 Last game: 5 solo tackles 1 PBU in a 27-10 win over Florida Rolle has consistently proven his mettle against the top wideouts in the country. A perfect example of that came last year when he shut down former Pittsburgh wideout and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Larry Fitzgerald. Teams did not throw his way this season, yet he was still a force for the Hurricanes with solid run support and tackles in the backfield. 17. Alex Barron, OT, Florida State (6-7, 325) | previous rank: 12 Last game: Florida State rushed for 301 yards in a 30-18 win over West Virginia Athletically gifted with great footwork as a pass blocker, Barron started 30 games during his career. 18. Shaun Cody, DT, USC (6-4, 288) | previous rank: 15 Last game: 5 tackles (2 solo, 3 ast.), 1 TFL in a 55-19 win over Oklahoma A versatile performer who can play either end or tackle, Cody helped the Trojans finish first in the nation in rush defense at 79.4 ypg. 19. Channing Crowder (so.), MLB, Florida (6-2, 245) | previous rank: unranked Last game:3 solo tackles, 1 fumble recovered in a 27-10 loss to Miami Crowder has sophomore eligibility but is three years removed from his original high school and therefore eligible for the draft. He adjusted immediately to the level of competition as a freshman, finishing second on the team with 106 tackles and starting nine games, the most ever for a true freshman at Florida. Has great toughness and was one of the top-tackling linebackers in college this year despite missing three games with a knee injury. Ideal physical ability for a guy in the middle. 20. Thomas Davis (jr.), S, Georgia (6-3, 233) | previous rank: unranked Last game: 8 tackles (6 solo, 2 ast.), 3 TFL (2 sacks), 1 FF, 1 PBU in a 24-21 win over Wisconsin A combo safety/outside linebacker in college, Davis is a weakside linebacker prospect in the mold of Derrick Brooks. Davis was limited at times this season by minor ijuries, but he is an excellent blitzer and a punishing tackler who loves to get down in the box against the run. Were his coverage skills a little better Davis could be a safety in the vein of Roy Williams, but as it is he ranks as an excellent lineabacker prospect. 21. Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn (6-0, 194)) | previous rank: same Last game: 6 tackles (5 solo, 1 ast.) in a 16-13 win over Virginia Tech Has 4.4 speed in the 40 and is a physical player who can tackle in the open field and is an asset in run support. Rogers is a respected cover man with good ball skills who has been Auburn's best defensive player this year, and with good showings in postseason workouts and all-star games he could ultimately move into the first round. Consistency, durability and experience against top-level competition in the SEC should all boost his stock. 22. Jammal Brown, OT, Oklahoma (6-5, 313) | previous rank: 16 Last game: Oklahoma rushed for 128 yards in a 55-19 loss to USC Equally adept at run and pass blocking, Brown has long arms that allow him to get his hand on defenders and move them off the ball using his good feet and balance. 23. Matt Roth, DE, Iowa (6-3½, 266) | previous rank: 10 Last game: 4 tackles (3 solo, 1 ast.), 1 TFL in a 30-25 win over LSU A fiery and intense player who is a tremendous natural pass rusher, Roth is a nice complement to standout tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Roth led the Hawkeyes with eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles during the regular season and tied for the team lead with eight sacks. His 14 tackles for loss were second on the team during the regular season. That overall consistent body of work is what has elevated Roth in recent weeks. 24. David Pollack, DE, Georgia (6-2½, 265) | previous rank: 13 Last game: 4 tackles (3 solo, 1 ast.), 3 TFL 2 sacks), 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH in a 24-21 win over Georgia Not physically imposing, Pollack plays with incredible intensity and passion. He is quick off the ball, has great closing speed and wreaks havoc as a pass rusher, as evidenced by his 28 quarterback pressures last season. 25. Bryant McFadden, CB, Florida State (5-11½, 185) | previous rank: 19 Last game: Helped hold West Virginia to 191 passing yards in a 30-18 Florida State victory He has not intercepted any passes this year but that's because opposing teams respect him and are not attacking his side of the field. McFadden has very good athletic ability and good but not great recovery speed at 4.49. A few more interceptions and big plays would have him in the top 15, but he is a very consistent cover man who will also come up in run support. DROPPED Marcus Spears, DE, LSU (6-4, 295) | previous rank: 14 Last game: 9 tackles (8 solo, 1 ast.), 2 sacks, 1 PBU, in a 43-14 win over Arkansas Will not turn into a 10-12 sack performer at the next level because he lacks great closing speed, but Spears looks like a five-sack guy who will be an outstanding run stopper and disruptive to the passing game because of his size and long arms. Spears began his career as a tight end and early in his career was utilized on both sides of the ball, showing his athletic prowess. He will be able to play in any defensive structure and should be a solid pro. If Spears can keep his motor running for 60 minutes each week he will continue to ascend up the draft board. 24. Charlie Frye, QB, Akron (6-3½, 229) | previous rank: 17 Last game: 26-for-43, 436 yds., 3 TDs in a 37-27 loss to Miami (Ohio) If things play out right for Frye the rest of the year, he could become this year's version of Ben Roethlisberger, the former Miami (Ohio) quarterback who was the 11th overall pick last season. This season has been a struggle thanks to no help from the offensive line, no running game and no big-time receivers to work with. He has played this year with a dislocated finger and shown good toughness, and his willingness to shoulder the load every week has helped tremendously. Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma (5-10, 188) | previous rank: 18 Last game: 3 rec., 35 yds., 1 TD in a 35-0 win at Baylor Clayton set new standards for OU wide receivers last year with his 83 receptions for a 17.2-yard average and 15 touchdowns. The best wideout after the catch we've seen in quite some time, Clayton leads the Sooners with 51 catches this season, 16 more than the next player on the list. Adam Terry, OT, Syracuse (6-7½, 310) | previous rank: 20 Last game: Syracuse rushed for 309 yards in a 43-17 win at Boston College One of the most outstanding athletes at the tackle position in all of college football. Terry runs a 5.15 in the 40 and is a smart fifth-year senior with 33 career starts under his belt. He is a bit of a finesse player but will continue to develop and become a solid all-around tackle, and his experience will get him some first-round looks. Alex Smith, TE, Stanford (6-4¼, 257) | previous rank: 22 Last game: 1 rec., 30 yds. in a 41-6 loss at California An incredibly gifted tight end with tremendous body control to adjust to the poorly-thrown ball. Smith is a great hook-zone threat and can stretch the deep middle with his speed. Smith should hold on to his spot as the top TE on the board after becoming a complete tight end this year. Corey Webster, CB, LSU (6-0, 205) | previous rank: 23 Last game: 3 tackles (2 solo, 1 ast.), 2 PBU in a 43-14 win over Arkansas Webster has played through injury this season and has not been up to the level of his blue-chip performance as a junior, but you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has not been the dominating, shutdown corner he was a year ago but has plenty of time to get healthy and return to form. Webster recorded seven interceptions and five pass breakups last season.