February 9 OVERVIEW OF THE 2005 DRAFT by Colin Lindsay, Editor, GBN The Indianapolis scouting combines and the plethora of on-campus workouts are still to come, however, the 2005 draft class is starting to come into focus...sort of. And 'sort of' are the operative words as there is still much sorting out to do before April 23rd. Indeed, with just a tad over 70 days to go before the first pick is made at this year's draft, there is no clear consensus as to who the #1 overall prospect is; in fact, there's a barely a clearcut top 10 at this point. What is becoming clearer, though, is that after last year's terrific draft, 2005 might be one of he thinner drafts in recent years. And the overall quality of the 2005 draft wasn't helped when a number of promising underclassmen, starting with Southern California junior QB Matt Leinart who had been expected to be the #1 player picked this year before surprisingly opting to return for his senior season. Who's #1... Leinart's decision to stay in school has created something of a void at the top of the 2005 draft board. What Leinart's decision did was open the door for a couple of other junior QBs - Alex Smith of Utah and California's Aaron Rodgers - to move into the #1 slot, though, neither carries a 'sure thing' tag. The Utes' Smith is an exceptional athlete, but pro scouts are concerned about his ability to survive the pounding in the NFL. Rodgers, meanwhile doesn't have Smith's overall athleticism or arm strength, but is a fine technician with a quick release. That lack of arm strength, though, may cost Rodgers the top grade in this year's QB class. Complicating the process, at least for San Francisco which has the #1 pick this year, is the fact that there are few other real top pick prospects at other positions. Texas RB Cedric Benson is probably the leading senior prospect, and while he's a fine player, there are concerns how much he wants to pay the price to be a great one in the pros. Same story, sort of, for athletic Michigan WR Braylon Edwards, a big-play waiting to happen who can also be very inconsistent. Meanwhile, its very possible that there won't be an offensive or defensive lineman even to go in the top 10 picks this year. In the end, a player or two from one or both of the lines could ultimately move up, however, its difficult at this time to see any one from these areas going in the first 5 picks. For now, here's a quick rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of the 2005 draft: Strengths to ... well not strengths! Cornerback... The deepest position at the 2005 draft looks like it could be at CB. There is a strong core group of seniors at the position including Antrel Rolle of Miami. Marlin Jackson of Michigan, Carlos Rogers of Auburn and LSU's Corey Webster, augmented by several top underclassmen including juniors Adam Jones of West Virginia and Clemson's Justin Miller and rangy Oregon State sophomore Brandon Browner. None of the four seniors, though, is a blazer, indeed, none is expected to run much under 4.5 in the 40, if at all. That could open the door for the abrasive Jones or the athletic 6-4 Browner to claim the top grade among the CBs, and possibly a spot in the top 10, if they can post some solid times this off-season. There is also plenty of depth at CB this year, with as many as a couple of dozen players at the position with sub-4.5 speed, although, there isn't necessarily a lot of size across the board. Second-tier CBs to watch include Bryant McFadden of Florida State and Eric Green of Virginia Tech, both of whom could sneak into the latter part of the first round with some solid off-season workouts, along with feisty Darrent Williams of Oklahoma State and Abraham Elimimian of Hawaii, while Nick Collins of Bethune-Cookman and Ronald Bartell of Howard are sleepers at the position. Defensive line... The defensive line has consistently been one of the top positions come draft day in the past 3-4 years. That likely won't change this year; what will change, though, is the fact that the DEs should lead the way this year, whereas the DTs has generally been the position of choice in recent years. In fact, there could be as many as 6 DEs taken in the first round this year, led by 300-pound Marcus Spears of LSU, Dan Cody of Oklahoma and Erasmus James of Wisconsin. And the DEs will get even better if Maryland tweener Shawne Merriman ends up being a considered a DE rather than a LB. The DE class is so deep that very talented players like Matt Roth of Iowa and David Pollack of Georgia could be pushed deep into the opening round. NFL teams looking for that dominating pass-rushing DE at the 2005 draft, though, may want to act quickly as there isn't much depth at the position, although, 6-7, 280-pound Chris Canty of Virginia - if he's healthy, Bill Swancutt of Oregon State, who starred at the Senior Bowl, Notre Dame junior Justin Tuck, and Troy State tweener DeMarcus Ware are interesting second-tier prospects. Defensive tackle,which has been the position of choice on draft day in the 2000s, won't have quite that impact; however, it won't be a shutout at the position either. Travis Johnson of Florida State, one of the biggest risers in the 2005 draft class, along with Southern Califonia's Shaun Cody are pretty much locks to be taken in the first round this year. The strength at DT, though, could come later in the first day when players like Cody's stumpy USC teammate Mike Patterson and Anttaj Hawthorne of Wisconsin, along with emerging stars Luis Castillo of Northwestern and the Missouri duo of Atiyyah Ellison and junior C.J. Mosley, should be available, that is, if they haven't worked their way into the opening round. Runningback... The 2005 draft should represent something of a comeback year at RB, once a draft-day glamor position, however, a RB hasn't been taken with a top 10 pick since San Diego selected LaDainian Tomlinson with the 5th pick overall in 2001. That should change this year with as many as three RBs - Cedric Benson of Texas and the Auburn pair of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown - all expected to go in the first ten selections this year. There is something of a drop-off to the next grouping of RBs, but there is a big group of solid second-round type RBs such as juniors Vernand Morency of Oklahoma State, Ciatrick Fason of Florida, Marion Barber of Minnesota and Eric Shelton of Louisville, along with verearns Cedric Houston of Tennessee and J.J. Arrington of California. Indeed, is some outstanding depth at the position, such that teams could pick up a quality back right through the first day of the 2005 draft, and even possibly into the second day. The RB corps also includes three of the 2005 drafts biggest wild cards. For starters, there is former Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett. Clarett looked like a potential top pick overall when he led the Buckeyes to the 2002 national collegiate title, but hasn't played since because of a series of off-field misadventures including last year's ill-fated court challenge to the NFL's draft entry rules. Then there is Miami's Frank Gore, another player who had all the look of a top pick as a freshman back in 2001 when he averaged 9 yards per carry, however, Gore has since suffered two serious knee injuries, although he appeared to be getting closer to 100% as the past season progressed. Finally, if the draft was only about measurables, then diminuitive 5-5 Kansas State RB Darren Sproles, who didn't even reach the bottom of the height chart might at last month's Senior Bowl, might not have a chance. In the end, though, it is about a lot more things that pure measurables as the lightning quick Sproles showed when he stole the show in Mobile. Wide receivers... The 2004 draft was justifiably called the year of the WR when 5 receivers were taken in the first 15 selections last April, while another two went later in the opening round. Nobody is expecting that kind of production repeated this, however, the 2005 is a long way from receiver poor. Indeed, Braylon Edwards of Michigan is a potential lottery pick, while Southern Cal's Mike Williams and Oklahoma's Mark Clayton shouldn't be far behind. While each is very talented, all three also some questions to answer, though. With Edwards, a big-play waiting to happen, its a question of concentration and consistency, while with Williams, who didn't play this fall after getting caught up in the Clarett legal fiasco, its a possible lack of pure foot speed. Clayton, on the other hand, doesn't have the size of the other two; in fact, he's downright diminutive at barely 5-9, although no one is quicker with the ball in his hands. And there's plenty of depth at WR starting with speedy Roddy White of UAB and South Carolina junior Troy Williamson, both of whom are currently rated as late first round prospects, while emerging Georgia star Reggie Brown heads a decent group of second-tier prospects at the position. The WR corps also has its share of wild cards including 6-6 Matt Jones of Arkansas, a 242-pound former QB who has played little as a receiver but looks like an immediate match-up problem when he does. Same story for 6-4, 238-pound Vincent Jackson of Northern Colorado, while angular, athletic Fred Gibson of Georgia may have as much physical talent as any one in this year's draft class, but he was wildly inconsistent in his college career. Quarterbacks... The QBs may be the toughest group of any position for the 2005 draft to rate at this time. On the one hand, there is a very good chance that junior Alex Smith of Utah and Aaron Rodgers of California will be among the first 2-3 players selected at this year's draft, while Jason Campbell of Auburn came from nowhere, at least draft-wise, this year to establish himself as a potential late first rounder. Arizona State's Andrew Walter, would also grade out very well if he weren't currently on the sidelines after undergoing late-season shoulder surgery. Overall, however, there may be more questions than answers among this year's QB class, which includes highly productive college passers like Kyle Orton of Purdue, NCAA career record holder Timmy Chang of Hawaii, Derek Anderson of Oregon State, Jason White of Oklahoma and Stefon Lefors of Louisville, among others, as pro teams wonder - for a variety of reasons - whether they'll be able to translate those numbers at the next level. Linebackers... The LB class for the 2005 draft is this year's 'tale of two positions' story. On the one hand, there are some very athletic players in this year's LB corps, starting with OLB Derrick Johnson of Texas, a potential top 10 pick, along with Georgia junior MLB Odell Thurman and Kevin Burnett of Tennessee, both of whom are early second-day prospects. However, while most of this year's LBs can run, there isn't a lot of size at the position across the board. What that means is that some very productive former college LBs like Lance Mitchell of Oklahoma, Kirk Morrison of San Diego State and Barrett Ruud, along with small school stars Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State, Liam Ezekial of Northeastern and Roger Cooper of Montana State, could stay on the board a little longer than expected, in the process opening the door to a potential steal for a team willing to be patient. The wild card at LB, in this year of wild cards, is Florida sophomore Channing Crowder, who might very well have been a top 15 pick had he entered the 2004 draft after a great freshman year; Crowder, though, struggled with injuries - he's also had some off-field anger management problems in the past - this past season and could literally go anywhere from 5th to 25th depending on how he works out this off-season as well as the personal impression he creates with teams around the league. Offensive line... At one time, it looked like the 2005 draft would be the 'year of the offensive linemen', however, that has changed dramatically in recent months. On the way hand, a ton - both literally and figuratively - of junior OTs including Eric Winston of Miami, Winston Justice of Southern Cal, Marcus McNeill of Auburn, Andrew Whitworth of LSU, D'Brickshaw Ferguson of Virginia, Daryn Colledge of Boise State, Max Jean-Gilles of Georgia, Jon Brown of Texas, and Zach Strief of Northwestern ALL opted to return to school. And it didn't help that much of the cream of what was left of this year's potential offensive line class got steam rolled at last month's Senior Bowl. That said, there are some quality offensive line prospects this year including OTs Alex Barron of Florida State and Jammal Brown of Oklahoma, along with OG Elton Brown of Virginia and C-G David Baas of Michigan, although only Barron looks like a guaranteed first rounder at this time. As well, the OG class, which includes rugged Chris Kemoeatu of Utah, Marcus Johnson of Mississippi, Logan Mankins of Fresno State, Justin Geisinger of Vanderbilt, Claude Terrell of New Mexico and Dan Buenning of Wisconsin may actually be stronger than their OT counterparts. The offensive line could get a boost, though, if Wesley Britt of Alabama and Michael Munoz of Tennessee are considered to be healthy come draft day. Both are proven LT tackle prospects, however, both have battled the injury bug of late, particularly Munoz. If healthy, though, they would vastly improve a second-tier group of OTs that already includes athletic Khalif Barnes of Washington and massive Adam Terry of Syracuse. For the most part, though, this year's OT class has a lot of big, but not terribly athletic players. Indeed, of the OGs mentioned above, Mankins, Geisinger, and Terrell were college OTs. Tight ends... The pickings may be thin for team's looking to add a young pass-catching phenom TE to their receiving corps, as the 2005 draft isn't particularly deep at the position. That said, junior Heath Miller of Virginia has the potential to be a top 10 pick this year, while smooth Alex Smith of Stanford is a rising star after a very good Senior Bowl week. There are some other potentially useful players at the position, but they could all ultimately be more second-day types this year. Safeties... Figure there may be a bit of a problem at the position when many teams around the NFL are looking at the top safety prospects - juniors Thomas Davis of Georgia and Ernest Shazor of Michigan, a pair of 220-pound plus DBs - as potential LBs. And in one of those anomalies that seem to characterize this draft year, SS, usually one of the drafts poorest boys, has a better crop than at FS, although neither represents much of a bonanza. The top SS prospects, other than Michigan's Shazor include Donte Nicholson of Oklahoma, Jamaal Brimmer of UNLV and Andre Maddox of North Carolina State, all of whom should be gone by the end of the first day of the draft. Meanwhile, the leading FSs other than UGA's Davis are juniors Brodney Pool of Oklahoma and ball-hawking Josh Bullocks of Nebraska. Teams looking to upgrade at safety, particularly at FS, though, may be wise to wait until later rounds and grab a player like Marviel Underwood of San Diego State or Sean Considine of Iowa, both of whom have decent size and good speed, or Aaron Francisco of BYU who lacks sprinter speed, but is a big hitter. Converted CBs Travis Daniels of LSU and Dustin Fox of Ohio State could also turn out to be later round steals.