* = underclassman
2005 NFL draft, projected first round
1. San Francisco ***** (2-14)
Aaron Rodgers* | QB | California
Like most teams drafting in the top five, the ***** would like to trade down, stockpile picks and address more needs. More than likely, the *****' best bet will be to stay put and draft the player they deem to be the most valuable at a high position of need. In our opinion, that player is Rodgers. Neither Tim Rattay nor Ken Dorsey is a franchise quarterback and Rodgers would be a significant upgrade over both. Some feel that Alex Smith (Utah) has the same or better NFL potential, but we don't see it that way. Rodgers has just decent height (6-2) but he has terrific arm strength, good accuracy and above-average athleticism.
2. Miami Dolphins (4-12)
Ronnie Brown | RB | Auburn
The Dolphins' best bet would be trading down in order to acquire extra picks, but that scenario is unlikely. New head coach Nick Saban and his staff seem to be addressing needs along the defensive line in free agency, which leaves a lot of work left to be done on the other side of the ball. Saban must first decide if A.J. Feeley is his quarterback of the future. If not, drafting a quarterback would be the right move. If, however, Saban can live with Feeley as his franchise quarterback, drafting one of three top running backs in this class – Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams – becomes the next best move because there simply isn't an offensive tackle who warrants consideration with the second overall pick. Benson might be the more powerful runner and Williams might be the most elusive, but Brown is the best overall running back in this year's draft. Brown is big, strong and fast enough to carry a heavy load in the NFL and he also possesses considerably better skills in the passing game than Benson and Williams.
3. Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Alex Smith* | QB | Utah
Like the two teams ahead of them, the Browns would ideally like to trade down, acquire extra picks and get a better value on one of three mid-to-late round offensive tackle prospects in this draft class – Alex Barron, Jammal Brown and Khalif Barnes. Assuming, however, they get stuck at No. 3, new GM Phil Savage has to decide whether he wants to draft his quarterback of the future – Smith or Rodgers, depending on which is available – or go in a different direction. Judging by Savage's game plan when he was helping control things in Baltimore, Savage would like to build the rest of the team first and plug in the quarterback later. The problem, however, is that there just isn't an elite defensive prospect worth picking at No. 3. The Browns have most recently addressed needs along their offensive line (Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman) and at cornerback (Gary Baxter), which may signal Savage's realization that his best draft-day value will be at quarterback. Smith is one of the most intelligent and consistent quarterbacks to come out of the collegiate ranks in years. He will need time to develop physically and that may be the exact reason for acquiring veteran QB Trent Dilfer.
4. Chicago Bears (5-11)
Braylon Edwards | WR | Michigan
Don't be shocked if the Bears use this pick on a wide receiver, even after recently signing Muhsin Muhammad to a long-term deal. The team's biggest needs are along the offensive line and at tight end, but there isn't value at either of those positions at No. 4. The team might draft one of the top three running backs, but Edwards is the best available prospect at a position with similar need. The Bears have enough young talent on defense, but they desperately need more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Adding Muhammad and Edwards in one offseason could be just what QB Rex Grossman and RB Thomas Jones need. Some think the Bears will shy away from using another top pick on a Michigan wide receiver, but that theory is ridiculous. For starters, the current regime wasn't in place when the Bears drafted David Terrell. Secondly, Edwards is bigger and faster than Terrell and he made far more big plays at the collegiate level than Terrell did. Edwards is the best receiver in this year's draft and he has elite NFL potential.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Carnell Williams | RB | Auburn
The Buccaneers could go in several different directions with this pick, including RB, OT, OG, DT or DB. Looking at the probabilities regarding how the top of the draft board will unfold, RB is likely to be the position that the Bucs will get their best value with the fifth overall pick. While Benson is a better fit for an offense looking for a load-carrying power runner, Williams is a better fit for Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Williams still needs to improve as a blocker, but he's the shiftiest and most elusive of the top three backs (Brown and Benson) and has the hands to become a legitimate weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. It also won't hurt Williams' chances that Gruden fell in love with him while coaching him at the Senior Bowl.
6. Tennessee Titans (5-11)
Adam Jones* | CB | West Virginia
The needs keep piling up thanks to another free agency mass exodus. Considering both of last year's starting cornerbacks (Rolle and Andre Dyson) are gone, the rebuilding Titans could really use a playmaker like Jones on defense and special teams. Not only does Jones have the cover skills, speed and toughness to develop into a shutdown cornerback in the NFL, but he also has loads of upside as an NFL return specialist.
7. Minnesota Vikings (from Raiders) (8-8)
Mike Williams* | WR | USC
The Vikings have few needs to address and can really focus in on the ones they do have with two first-round picks thanks to the Randy Moss deal with the Raiders. The team is trying to improve the depth of its receiving corps by signing Rod Gardner in free agency, but Gardner is nothing more than a No. 3 receiver in the NFL. Williams might not possess Moss' freakish talents, but he's a dynamic weapon in his own right. Running in the 4.5's at the combine really solidified Williams as a top-10 selection and the trio of Williams, Nate Burleson and Gardner could make the transition a lot easier than expected for QB Daunte Culpepper.
8. Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
Cedric Benson | RB | Texas
If the board unraveled as such, Dennis Green and company would have a difficult decision to make between Benson, his teammate, Derrick Johnson, and Miami CB Antrel Rolle – all top players at positions of need. Running backs have a tendency to slip on draft day, but Benson is one of three outstanding prospects in this year's class at that position and Green is notorious for drafting offense ahead of defense. Benson doesn't have great speed or elusiveness, but he's a north-south runner with great vision, size and power. He would instantly solidify one of the team's most glaring weaknesses after Emmitt Smith's retirement.
9. Washington Redskins (6-10)
Antrel Rolle | CB | Miami-Fla.
Rolle has the size, instincts, toughness and athletic ability to quickly become a solid starter in the NFL. His biggest obstacle in solidifying a potential spot in the top 10 was proving that he was fast enough to turn and run with NFL receivers. His recent 4.49 in the 40-yard dash should ease those worries. Assuming free-agent CB Fred Smoot does not return, Rolle would be the best match for the Redskins at No. 9.
10. Detroit Lions (6-10)
Derrick Johnson | OLB | Texas
Linebackers have a tendency to slip on draft day, but Johnson is too athletic to slip very far. He still needs to become more physical and learn to take on blocks, but Johnson has Derrick Brooks-like potential. The Lions could use a playmaker at defensive end and a replacement for the departed Stockar McDougle at right tackle. However, Johnson would be too good to pass up here. If the Lions did use this pick on Johnson it would give them one of the league's best young linebacker corps, as Teddy Lehman would move to MLB and Boss Bailey to SLB.
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Shawne Merriman* | OLB/DE | Maryland
The Cowboys have been busy in free agency, addressing needs at defensive tackle (Jason Ferguson), quarterback (Drew Bledsoe) and cornerback (Anthony Henry). However, they are still in pursuit of upgrades at wide receiver, offensive tackle (ROT) and in terms of their perimeter pass rush. Merriman is a tweener DE/OLB who may need time before settling in as a full-time starter at one position in the NFL, but he has the speed, athleticism and pass-rushing skills to immediately upgrade the Cowboys' defense in that department.
12. San Diego Chargers (12-4)
Marcus Spears | DE | LSU
Despite their impressive turnaround in 2004, the Chargers still have several positions of need to address. With that in mind, expect the Chargers to stay put with their two picks in the first round (12 and 28). Spears would be a good fit, as he is a tweener DE/DT who could really make an impact as an interior pass rusher, which is a glaring weakness for San Diego right now. Spears is currently rehabilitating an ACL injury he suffered while training for the NFL combine, but he is expected to make a full recovery by early April. If he can run well (in the 4.8 range), Spears should land in the 10-20 range of the first round.
13. Houston Texans (7-9)
Alex Barron | OT | Florida State
The Texans need to get younger along the defensive line and they also could use another receiver to help complement Andre Johnson. However, failing to solidify their offensive line with this year's best tackle prospect would be a mistake. Barron needs to become more physical, but he has the size, strength and feet to develop into a starting right or left tackle in the NFL.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Heath Miller* | TE | Virginia
Upgrading the tight end position might not rank as high on the wish list, but Miller is the only surefire first-round tight end prospect this class has to offer. He would provide a significant upgrade over existing starter Kris Mangum. Miller lacks Todd Heap- and Tony Gonzalez-type speed, but he's just a notch below the elite in terms of playmaking ability. He has very good size, is a smooth athlete, has a terrific feel for the passing game and might have the best hands of any skill position player in this draft. There are some concerns right now about a lingering "sports hernia" injury that kept him from working out at the combine. However, if Miller proves healthy and runs well at his pro day in late March he should maintain his position in the middle of the first round.
15. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
Erasmus James | DE | Wisconsin
The Chiefs could use a vertical threat like Williams if he dropped to them here. Otherwise, it's defense, defense, defense again. A pass-rushing defensive end would help most, followed by a corner who can hold up in man-to-man coverage and then an upgrade in terms of athleticism at the linebacker position. In this scenario, the Chiefs would have a tough choice to make among James, DE Dan Cody and DT Travis Johnson. James' less-than-impressive workout at the combine and his history of injuries might have some teams concerned about his NFL playmaking ability. However, he's the best pure pass-rushing DE in this class and he's worth taking a chance on in the middle of the first round.
16. New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Thomas Davis* | DS | Georgia
The Saints are starving for an athletic upgrade at linebacker and Davis could be just the answer they are looking for. Davis played OLB early in his collegiate career but moved to DS and became an absolute terror as a sideline-to-sideline run stopper. Davis might not have the range and cover skills to develop into a safety in the NFL, but he has bulked up to 230 pounds and ran a 4.6 at this year's combine. In our opinion, Davis has a chance to develop into one of the great athletic WLBs in the league and the Saints are in desperate need of an impact playmaker just like him on their notoriously slow defense.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
Travis Johnson | DT | Florida State
The Bengals need to use this draft to upgrade the middle of their defense. If Johnson falls to them at No. 17, the Bengals would be elated. After struggling through some off-the-field issues that affected his play early in his career at FSU, Johnson had a breakout season as a full-time starter in 2004. In our opinion, he's the best defensive tackle in this year's draft class and has a chance to make a huge impact early in his NFL career as a one-gap penetrating DT.
18. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
Carlos Rogers | CB | Auburn
After using their first selection (No. 7) on a wide receiver to help overcome the loss of Moss, the Vikings will have some more options with this pick. The team erased its need at defensive tackle when it signed free agent Pat Williams, which means its secondary is the area that could use the most help. Ideally, the team could use this pick on a playmaking free safety, but a potential solid starter at cornerback would help this unit out almost as much. Rogers has good size and speed. Most importantly, he is a physical cover corner with the athletic ability and confidence to play both man-to-man and zone coverage in the NFL. The trio of Antoine Winfield, Rogers and Brian Williams would finally give the Vikings the playmakers and depth at cornerback that this organization has been devoid of for years.
19. St. Louis Rams (8-8)
Jammal Brown | OT | Oklahoma
The Rams could use upgrades at defensive end and offensive guard but, now that it is clear that Kyle Turley will not return, neither of those needs is as pressing as the one at right tackle. Brown needs to become more physical but he has the size and feet to develop into a solid starter in the NFL.
20. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Troy Williamson* | WR | South Carolina
After addressing their need for a pass rusher with the 11th pick, the Cowboys should turn their attention to finding a vertical threat at wide receiver. Williamson is finally beginning to get the credit that he deserves after running in the 4.3's at the combine. He has the size, long arms, hands and explosive speed to quickly develop into a deep threat in the NFL. If he slips all the way to No. 20, the Cowboys would immediately walk the card up to the commissioner's podium.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)
Justin Miller* | CB | Clemson
The Jaguars addressed their most glaring need (DE) with the free-agency addition of Reggie Hayward. Now, after releasing two of their top three cornerbacks from a year ago, the Jaguars' focus has shifted to cornerback. There are several late-first and early-second round cornerback prospects in this year's class and Miller is the best of that group. It may be a few picks higher than ideal, but he has the speed, confidence and playmaking skills – both as a cover corner and return specialist – to make an immediate impact at the pro level.
22. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
Khalif Barnes | OT | Washington
By adding WR Derrick Mason and CB Samari Rolle via free agency, the Ravens have given themselves a lot of draft-day flexibility. Barnes has had a huge postseason, as he has wowed NFL brass at both the Senior Bowl and combine. He clearly has the athleticism and size to develop into an above-average starter at the next level. All he needs is good coaching and motivation. He's certainly worth the risk late in the first round.
23. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
David Pollack | DE | Georgia
Pollack might lack ideal size and top-end speed, but he has the quickness, power and playmaking instincts to immediately contribute in the NFL. He might need to try a few different hats before finding a niche as an every-down player in the NFL, but he can certainly help to rest the aging Grant Wistrom and replace some of the production that was lost when the team elected to let Anthony Simmons go. Much like Tedy Bruschi, Pollack also has the instincts and power to possibly move from college DE to NFL ILB. One thing is for sure; nobody in this class works harder.
24. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Dan Cody | DE | Oklahoma
The Packers desperately need to draw some attention away from Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Cody has the athleticism, speed and pass-rushing instincts to step in as a rookie and immediately make an impact.
25. Denver Broncos (10-6)
Matt Roth | DE | Iowa
The Broncos need a young perimeter pass-rushing presence and Roth has the athleticism, quickness, instincts and tenacity to fit the bill. Roth also provides some versatility in that he can play defensive end and even move back to a rush linebacker as the team makes its transition from a primarily 4-3 defense to a hybrid of 4-3/3-4.
26. New York Jets (10-6)
Fabian Washington* | CB | Nebraska
The Jets' most glaring weakness on either side of the ball is at cornerback, and luckily for them this year's draft class is loaded with top candidates at that position. No player improved his stock at the combine more than Washington, who ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times (4.25) in the history of the event. Washington doesn't have great size, but he is tough and has the athleticism, speed and ball skills that the Jets are searching for.
27. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Shaun Cody | DE | USC
The Falcons could entertain the idea of drafting Oklahoma's Brodney Pool, the best true free safety prospect in this year's class. They also could pounce on one of the top three offensive tackles – Barron, Brown and Barnes – if one is still around at No. 27. In all reality, though, Cody is a very good value at an equal or greater position of need. Rod Coleman is a solid starter when he is fresh and Chad Lavalais is a good swingman, but the Falcons are thin at DT with the departure of Ed Jasper. Cody is a tweener DE/DT who would have to move outside to end in some NFL schemes, but he would be a good fit as a one-gap penetrating DT for the Falcons
28. San Diego Chargers (12-4)
Mark Clayton | WR | Oklahoma
If the Chargers go after a defensive lineman with the 12th overall selection, their attention should turn to the other side of the ball with pick No. 28. Roddy White is a possibility, but we still think Clayton is the superior talent. His lack of size is concerning, but he has very good speed, exceptional hands and is a threat after the catch.
29. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Anttaj Hawthorne | DT | Wisconsin
Hawthorne's effort was inconsistent at the collegiate level, but when he turns it on he has as much talent and explosiveness as any other player at his position in this year's class. He doesn't have great top-end speed and he lacks the base to properly fit in a two-gap scheme in the NFL. However, Hawthorne has the initial quickness, power and upfield explosiveness to upgrade the interior of the Colts' run defense, which remains the team's most glaring weakness.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1)
Roddy White | WR | Alabama-Birmingham
The Steelers have needs at cornerback, right tackle, tight end and free safety, but they need to add an impact wide receiver in the draft after losing QB Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target, Plaxico Burress, to free agency. White left the Senior Bowl early with a hamstring injury, but he proved during the first couple of days of practice that he has the speed and playmaking capability to make a difference in the vertical passing game at the next level. He doesn't have Burress' size but White has the speed to draw attention away from Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El just like Burress did when he was healthy.
31. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
Channing Crowder* | ILB | Florida
After re-signing DT Corey Simon and MLB Jeremiah Trotter, the Eagles' only needs in the draft are for depth. Look for them to add a guard/tackle, wide receiver, running back, defensive lineman, linebacker and safety if they keep all five of their Day 1 picks. Crowder, who is a tweener OLB/ILB prospect, would be a good fit because the team could try him at both positions to see which one best fits him and it could use him as a versatile backup in the meantime. Crowder is still raw but he's a good athlete with a mean streak.
32. New England Patriots (14-2)
Brandon Browner* | CB | Oregon State
The Patriots have needs at inside linebacker and along their offensive line, but cornerback is the most pressing with Ty Law's departure. Browner didn't run great 40-times at the combine (low 4.6's) but he is a physical specimen at 6-3, 215 pounds. He has great experience in press coverage and he also has the versatility to possibly play free safety in the NFL, which could allow Eugene Wilson to move back to cornerback if that's the route coach Bill Belichick wants to go. Either way, Browner has a lot of NFL upside and we think he'd be a good value and great fit at pick No. 32 for the Patriots.