*Legion*'s Draft Guide

OK, so, I was planning on recording a nice draft preview special for Forward Progress Radio. Then the school week came and leveled all of my free time. So I'll just be doing a draft review show. But to get everyone ready to go for draft day, I'll share some of my notes about prospects in this draft, my rankings of the guys at the top of each position, and some of the lower guys of interest.

(I'm doing some off-the-top-of-my-head writing along with copy and pasting from notes, so if there's a fragmented sentence here or there, I may have struggled with the basics of the idea of copy and paste)

OFFENSE

OFFENSIVE TACKLES (yes, we start with the linemen, the most important players on the field):

1. D'Brickashaw Ferguson (6-6, 305, Virginia): Despite the fact that anywhere from 1-4 players will be taken ahead of him, Ferguson is probably the best prospect in the draft. He has close to the most upside, and he has the least downside by far. He's an elite athlete made for the left tackle spot - one of the best LT prospects in the last decade. He's a dominant pass blocker who finishes his blocks - he's not done until the pass rusher is buried. He's also strong in run blocking but needs to bulk up a bit to excel at run blocking at the NFL level. He also still needs work in the mental game - occasionally gets beaten inside by a player with no business squeezing in there.

2. Winston Justice (6-6, 319, USC)
Justice played right tackle at USC, which made him the blindside protection for the left-handed Matt Leinart. At the pro level, Justice projects well to the left tackle spot for teams run by right-handed QBs. He has tremendous athleticism. He put on a real show at USC's pro day, which led to his stock rising into potentially the first half of round 1. Off-the-field issues led to Justice being suspended for the whole 2004 season. However, he's built up a reputation of having been a so-called model citizen since then, and scouts don't seem overly concerned by it. Justice is still a raw talent who has a bit of a learning curve still ahead of him, but he has the athletic ability that makes teams want to be the one to coach him up.

3. Eric Winston (6-6, 310, Miami)
Winston is an athletic, agile left tackle with great footwork and mobility. He's one of the fastest tackles in the draft, and the couple of guys that are faster don't weigh 310. Winston came to Miami as a tight end and was converted to left tackle, where he became a star fast. But Winston lost the 2004 season to a knee injury and wasn't 100% recovered last year. That's caused his stock to drop to probably an early 2nd round choice. I think, if he has a clean bill of health, Eric Winston potentially belongs above Winston Justice. I think he's a better package right now and I think his quickness is more likely to stay intact as these players get up to 320-330 pounds. But the risk is in assuming that his slight letdown of a senior season was due completely to his knee recovery and not other factors. Such knee tears take up to 2 years to come back 100% from, but the question mark still lingers. In terms of where he is likely to be drafted, Winston is a fantastic value.

4. Daryn Colledge (6-4, 299, Boise State)
This is one of my favorite players of the draft. Colledge is a lean, highly agile and athletic left tackle who hasn't gotten the attention he deserves as a Boise State prospect. Colledge is a technician who is easily the second best pure pass blocker in the draft, after D'Brickashaw Ferguson. If he was 6-6 and 310 pounds, he would be a top-15 pick. However, at 6-4 and 300, teams see him as slightly undersized and wonder how well he can hold up at the NFL level. Some scouts project him as a guard at the NFL level, and no doubt he could excel there. But I believe in him as a left tackle at the next level, particularly if he is drafted to a team that relies on the Denver-style zone blocking schemes. He would be a great fit for Houston at the top of round 2, but if Eric Winston is still on the board, they would have a hard time passing on him. Many mock drafts project Colledge anywhere from the middle of round 2 down into round 3, and anyone that gets him that low is getting away with robbery if you ask me.

5. Jonathan Scott (6-6, 316, Texas)
Here's another solid 1st day tackle prospect. Scott has the side and wingspan scouts like to see out of a guy coming out of college. He's an intelligent player with good physical tools. However, he doesn't seem to have a killer instinct and has not shown himself to be as dominant as he should. He needs work on keeping his base and not reaching at defenders. He lacks polish but scouts like his attitude and intelligence, and seem to feel he'll be coachable and improve at the next level.

6. Ryan O'Callaghan (6-7, 345, Cal)
Here we have our a right tackle, a large pile mover. O'Callaghan is a mauler who swallows defenders whole. He's a dominant run blocker who led the way for one of college football's best rushing attacks. He may be a guard at the NFL level, as he lacks quickness and may struggle against speed rushers. He did play guard for the 2003 season at Cal. So it will be interesting to see what position the team he's drafted by lists him at.

7. Marcus McNeil (6-7, 336, Auburn)
Off the charts athleticism and measurables - a 6'7" guy who can run. Where McNeil comes apart is as a pass protector. He has the agility, but he has very poor technique. He's been labeled a "waist bender" because he does tend to bend forward at the waist and reach at defenders, which is horrible technique that sacrifices all of your leverage and can get you beat. For a big guy, McNeil doesn't play big. He doesn't dominate like he should. Scouts and coaches have opinions all over the chart on McNeil. Some see him as too flawed to take early, while others think they can be the ones to teach McNeil good technique and break all of his old habits. It's definitely true that none of McNeil's flaws are physical, and he deserves to be drafted as a project, but there's a sense that some team is going to come along and draft him too early, thinking that they can make McNeil's turnaround happen very fast. Some boards have him as high as the 4th overall tackle, but I've got him down around #7. I won't be surprised if he's drafted higher though.

Other guys to watch:
Andrew Whitworth (6-7, 334, LSU) and Jeremy Trueblood (6-8, 316, Boston College). Both are good college players who don't quite have the athleticism to play left tackle at the NFL level. Don't be shocked if either guy goes ahead of McNeil or O'Callaghan.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS:

1. Max Jean-Gilles (Gene - Gil-les) (6-3, 355, Georgia)
Easily my #1 guard, though I have seen him slide to #2 or $3 on a lot of boards. Jean-Gilles is a massive body at 355 but he has surprisingly good feet for such a big pile-mover. He shoved around Broderick Bunkley in Senior Bowl 1-on-1 drills like Bunkley was nothing, and Bunkley's one of the best DT prospects in the draft.
His footwork is good but his mobility is limited, he may not be great at getting downfield and taking on linebackers. It's essential that he keep himself in good shape, as his weight needs to not balloon beyond about where he's at.

2. Taitusi 'Deuce' Latui (6-3, 334, USC)
Deuce is another big body that doesn't give defenders anywhere to go. He's a force as a blocker with great strength and plays with excellent leverage. He transfered to USC from Snow Junior College in Utah. He played right tackle as a junior, but moved inside to guard in his senior year. As a guard, Deuce excelled, and he's likely to just get better with more experience on the inside. He's agile and reasonably good on his feet. He could use some work on his technique but he has pretty good technique instinctually, and the rest will come with coaching. His weight and conditioning is a constant concern. Deuce has been compared to Toniu Fonoti, and there's something to that, though Deuce moves better than Fonoti. But as we saw with Fonoti this year, a player like that who lets his weight and conditioning slip can go downhill fast. The team that drafts Deuce will need to be on him to stay in shape.

3. Charles Spencer (6-4, 352, Pitt)
Spencer is a lot like Deuce Latui. While not a junior college transfer, Spencer was a defensive tackle in his first two seasons at college. He moved to the O-line as a junior, where he quickly made a name for himself at guard. He played tackle as a senior but is unquestionably being moved back to guard at the NFL level. Spencer is a massive body who has outstanding mobility for his size. Unlike some of the other big bodies, Spencer has the ability to move and take on linebackers at the 2nd level. With only 2 years experience on the O-line, and only one at guard, however, Spencer is very raw and is perhaps a bit of a project. That said, don't be surprised if he ends up outshining all of the other guards in the long run.

4. Davin Joseph (6-2, 311, Georgia)
A LOT of boards have Davin Joseph as the top guard in the draft. I have him down at #4. Scouts like all of his measurables, his athleticism, his long reach, and his good work ethic. What bothered me was watching him in Senior Bowl practices and seeing him get pushed around by Gabe Watson and Johnathan Lewis. I don't know if he's got the size or strength to hold up at the point of attack against NFL level 1-gap tackles. He played left tackle as a senior and maybe has some adjusting to do to play guard at the NFL level. Everyone loves his attitude and how he works on the field, but I'm not convinced that he can move people off the ball. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go to a zone-blocking team, where he would have a lot of learning to do but would probably find his skill set best suited. This will be an interesting one to watch, with him rated so highly by so many, I'm extremely curious to see who does pull the trigger on Joseph.

Others of note:
Fred Matua (6-2, 306, USC) was outshined at Southern Cal by Deuce Latui, but was a great college player in his own right. His lack of size and the depth of talent around him at SC leave a lot of questions unanswered. He's coming out as a junior and should have stayed for his senior season.

Jason Spitz (6-4, 313, Louisville) is a guy where opinions are all over the board on. I see him ranked anywhere from the #5 to #10 overall guard. He played all three positions on the interior line at college, making him an ideal backup if he doesn't develop into a reliable starter. His physical tools aren't the best, but his strong work ethic and versatility will be what gets him drafted.

Last, there's Rob Sims (6-4, 310, Ohio State). He's another college tackle who will project to guard at the NFL level. He's inexperienced as a guard and he doesn't wow you with his athletic gifts, but teams looking for someone to develop into a dependable starter may find on here in Sims. He may not become well known in the NFL (as if guards ever do anyway) but he has a good career outlook.

CENTERS

Nick Mangold (6-3, 300, Ohio State)
Top center in the draft, with experience in both zone and man-blocking schemes. A bit light - teams like the guy in the middle to be heavier than 300 pounds. Some think he can add more weight but he looks to me like a guy that's close to his limit. He was only 270 pounds as a freshman, and 280 entering his senior year. He's had to bulk up a lot just to get to 300 and I don't know if he can carry much more without losing some of the athleticism that makes him worth drafting. The real question is whether he needs to get much heavier or not. The way he held his ground against a 340 pound Gabe Watson at the Senior Bowl workouts makes me think that his strength and technique will let him hang in there against big defensive tackles. Some call him the best center prospect in years, but I think he would've been the #2 center had Kyle Young chosen to come out as a junior. But that aside, Mangold is a strong center prospect who will go off the board in late round 1 or early round 2.

Other guys to watch:
After Mangold, the center well pretty much dries up. Greg Eslinger (6-3, 292, Minnesota) is the consensus #2 center, and he's even lighter than Mangold. He's a technical blocker who wound the Outland Trophy but will be limited by his lack of size at the NFL level.

Chris Chester (6-3, 303, Oklahoma) is a superb athlete, a former tight end, who moved to interior lineman late and basically didn't play until last year. He's also coming off a knee injury. He's extremely raw but shows ability and athleticism enough to make a team grab him as a project, though some seem to think he can contribute more quickly than others do.

Some other names include big 6-6 318 pound Ryna Cook from New Mexico and 6-3 300 pound Patrick Ross from Boston College. There's a lot of disagreement on how the centers after Mangold stack up, and frankly most of them are projects.

QUARTERBACKS (did you scroll past the linemen and go right to here? If so, you should be ashamed of yourself!)

1 (maybe). Matt Leinart (6-5, 225, USC)
I put Matt Leinart as #1 on my QB board with extreme reluctance. To be sure, Leinart is one of college football's most decorated quarterbacks ever. But great college quarterbacks don't automatically make great NFL quarterbacks. Matt Leinart has a lot of question marks in terms of becoming an NFL quarterback. First, though, the good. Leinart is the most polished QB in the draft, someone who is ready to begin taking on the challenge of the mental game at the next level. He's pretty athletic and he has nice mobility. He's made quite a few clutch throws in his college career. He's a proven leader and has played under such a high profile at USC that the added attention of the NFL probably won't feel much different. He comes from a Pete Carroll pro-style offense and will have as low of an adjustment to make in that area as a QB coming out of college can have.

But there are downsides that people seem eager to ignore. Unlike Carson Palmer, the last USC quarterback to become a star at the next level, Leinart does not have a strong arm. He has good accuracy but he doesn't have the power to stick balls into small spots. He will be limited in how well he throws passes over the middle of the field, because those slow floaters will get intercepted at the next level. Also, those who flaunt Leinart's college resume are quick to ignore how much of it was done by other people. At USC, Leinart had a massive talent advantage over every one of his opponents. And guys like Reggie Bush bailed Leinart out of bad games. Leinart struggled against Notre Dame, with a couple of big throws but was intercepted twice and was TERRIBLE on 3rd down, killing drives left and right. But Reggie Bush ran for 160 yards and 3 TDs. Leinart was completely shut down by Fresno State. But Reggie Bush ran for 294 yards and accounted for 554 of USC's 651 total yards. It was a 50-42 shootout and Bush covered up the fact that Leinart was shooting blanks.

At the pro level, Leinart won't have a team full of guys that are better than all the guys on the other side of the field. He won't have a Reggie Bush that can play a whole game by himself, even Reggie Bush himself won't be able to completely dominate like that in the NFL. I think he will be able to adjust, but people need to step back and realize just how much the other USC stars made Leinart look good.

In the end, what concerns me most are his slow, light throws. The consensus on Leinart's Pro Day passing workout was good, not great. That's the same thing people who saw Leinart's private workout for the Jets are saying. I'm looking for an NFL level arm and I don't see one.

That said, I think there are enough good things in Leinart's corner to still merit a 1st round grade. My problem with Leinart is that I see him as being WAY too high on a lot of draft boards. His lack of a strong arm is something he can overcome and be successful at the NFL level, but it presents a real question mark as to how much upside Leinart has. Can he ever become a Carson Palmer or Peyton Manning without that kind of arm? People want to compare him to Tom Brady but I don't see even that much of an arm in Leinart. Can he build up the extra strength the way Brady did when he got into the NFL? You'd hope so, and it's certainly a possibility. Which is why I'd still be willing to spend a first round pick on him. But a mid first round pick. Not a top 5 pick, maybe not a top 10 pick. I'd like him somewhere in the 8-15 range. But Leinart's not lasting to pick 8, let alone beyond that. He will be taken in the top 5, and I don't think he should be taken that high.

2. Jay Cutler (6-3, 233, Vanderbilt)
Cutler is the real question mark of the round 1 quarterbacks. I wanted very badly to rate him as my #1 quarterback, but a couple of things stopped me. First, though, Cutler has a cannon for an arm. He can be pinpoint and thread the needle in a way no other QB in this draft can. He sets up even under the pressure of the rush and he gets the ball out of his hand quickly. Physically, he is everything you want and more. He even did the bench press at the NFL combine - something most QBs don't do - and out-benched some good linemen and linebacker prospects. But unlike some workout warriors, he is most exciting as a football player.

What's the problem, then? The problem is consistancy. At the Senior Bowl workouts, he threw the ball better than any other QB in any other workout MOST of the time. He struggled with some slight overthrows that turned into INTs though. And during the Senior Bowl game, he went 6-19 with an INT, but wasn't nearly as bad as that sounds. He had 5 great throws that were dropped, as in slap-your-forehead drops. And the INT was somewhat ill-advised of a deep throw, but the receiver gave up on the play and let the corner undercut him for the pick. It probably should have been incomplete, but I think the WR had a play on the ball too. But even still, there's consistancy problems that Cutler shows that give me just enough pause to not make the bold move to put him #1. And I'm questioning that as I type this.

If he's not #1, he's #2 in stone. Cutler's being treated by some like a small school prospect, but Vanderbilt plays in the SEC. We're not talking about Bethune-Cookman or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Cutler played in one of college football's elite conferences (some would say THE elite conference). Cutler had the opposite situation of Matt Leinart - instead of being surrounded with talent overwhelmingly better than the other team's, Cutler was surrounded by much less talent than most of his opponents. Stepping into the NFL will probably be refreshing, not having to deal with the kind of gaps between teams like he had when Vanderbilt played on the same field as LSU. Still, what Leinart has that keeps him just barely above Cutler is the fact that he's so well polished that you know the guy won't be a complete bust. And that's comforting when you're taking a player so high.

3. Vince Young (6-5, 229, Texas)
As someone that cheers for the burnt orange, it pains me to be as down on Vince Young as I am. Let's get one thing out of the way - Vince Young needed to stay at Texas for his senior year. Vince Young has many of the ingrediants for a successful NFL quarterback, but they are still in the process of being put together.

Scouts love what Young brings to the table. He's highly athletic. He's an accurate passer on short throws. He has good enough arm strength for the NFL and throws with nice touch. He is a leader who relishes in taking a team on his back. And given another year in college, he would easily leapfrog Matt Leinart on my draft board. OK, if he DID stay another year, he wouldn't be in the same draft as Leinart, but you know what I mean.

What bothers me is that Young was clearly in the middle of his big upswing at the end of his junior year, and now he will have to try and complete that upswing under the pressure of the NFL spotlight. His head will be swimming in so much just to be able to get on the field and play, that I worry about a possible lack of focus on his continued development in the fundamentals.

Not only is Young the most raw and least polished of the 1st round quarterbacks, but he also faces the most drastic adjustment to the pro game on top of that. Young comes from a spread offense at Texas that allowed him to take snaps out of the shotgun and take off running half the time. In the NFL, he will need to adjust to a pro-style offense, and that's something much further from what he's used to than it is for Cutler or Leinart.

Some scouts want to make a big deal out of his throwing mechanics. Those don't bother me. He has a sort of sidearm delivery that leads to a low release point, but the fact that he's 6-5 helps. The fact that Young is mobile also means he'll be making plenty of throws from outside the pocket and away from tall pass-slapping defensive linemen. That's something Houston has done with David Carr, who has a bit of a low release point too.

4. Brodie Croyle (6-3, 205, Alabama)
Croyle is a solid QB prospect that emerged as the #4 QB thanks to great postseason performances and workouts. Croyle lost his junior season to a knee injury but came back strong and became an NFL level prospect as a senior. He's also coming off shoulder surgery this offseason, and that kind of injury history has teams nervous, especially given his skinny build. On the field, he's a polished passer, if not a spectacular playmaker. He throws the deep out pattern well, with more arm strength than his skinny arms look like they can muster. He has a bit too much air underneath his deep balls for my liking, but he's a great football player and a great leader. He doesn't have the physical tools to make you believe he can be a game-changing star, but he has the skills to hang in the NFL. He looks like a guy who will be more impressive a couple of years from now. No doubt teams will want him to be like Tom Brady, who was a skinny little stick-boy himself before he got into the NFL and packed on some muscle.

Other guys to watch:
I like Bruce Gradkowski (6-2, 222, Toledo). He's a great athlete with a fantastic arm. He had a great junior season and slipped a bit as a senior, in part due to missing some games early to injury. He has awesome mobility and will not hesitate to take off running and takes what defenses give him. He's a bit short for scouts' tastes at 6-2, and he's not someone you want to stick in the game right away. But he is an ideal project player that could come on strong in a couple of years.

Charlie Whitehurst (6-5, 225, Clemson) is physically a 1st round talent, with 1st round skills, but he has major consistancy issues. He looks fantastic one moment and then makes a bad mistake the next. Whitehurst's problems are mental, and may be something he can overcome with good coaching. He's another exciting project QB that will be interesting to watch.

Omar Jacobs (6-4, 232, Bowling Green) was the consensus #4 QB for a while, but failed to impress in post-season workouts. He has a "shot put" throwing motion, and scouts don't think he has the mental game down.

Darrell Hackney (6-0, 239, UAB) would be on a lot more radars if he weren't only 6-foot-flat. He reminds me of Senaca Wallace. He has a REAL live arm and he's quick. You can't say enough good things about how he throws the ball. He's a long-term project and overcoming his size will be a factor, but hey, Mark Brunell's only 6-1 and it's not like he's Doug Flutie.

(rest of offense in next post)

Awesome, a post-draft show will be just as good a pre-draft show. I'm going to pour over these notes before it kicks off tomorrow, thanks!

RUNNING BACKS

1. Reggie Bush (5-11", 201, 4.33 (pro day), USC)
Houston just announced that they have made a deal with Mario Williams to take him #1 overall. This comes as a shock, as Reggie Bush was expected to be the #1 pick for certain. There's a lot of questions around Bush based on his contract demands and a potential scandal involving his family's living situation while Bush was in college. I'm not concerned about that stuff, that will all go away eventually. I want to talk about Reggie Bush as a prospect. There's no question Reggie Bush deserves to be taken at the top of this draft. Yes, he didn't carry the load by himself at USC. Yes, he's only 201 pounds and could have a tough time between the tackles at the NFL level. He's also the most explosive player to come along since, geez, maybe Bo Jackson. Or at least Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. He brings such an incredibly high potential reward that accepting the risk in making the pick is a no-brainer.

Everyone that watches football knows what Bush can do, I'm not going to waste any breath repeating to you what you already know. I will point out a few things. Bush confirmed his speed by running a 4.33 40 at the USC Pro Day, putting most of the draft's wide receivers to shame. He can easily line up at wide receiver and run routes downfield, not just short patterns. He's also a dynamite return man, and yes, you do stick him out there to return punts. Teams are afraid to use their best players as returners for fear of injury. But if you're worried about the fact that Bush isn't going to get 20-25 carries per game like a traditional back, you make up for it by giving him 10 carries, a handful of catches, and a few punt return touches too. He might not be able to grind out all of the runs of your typical NFL running back, but you can get the ball in his hands just as much by using him as a receiver and returner, and not being afraid of doing it regularly.

Bush is tougher than he gets credit for. He may not have been used to grind out yardage, but when he ran into traffic, he didn't shy away from contact. He's willing to take the hit, and he's willing to step in front of a defender and throw what body weight he has into a block.

No matter what, you're not going to end up empty-handed with Bush. He might not end up being All-World as a running back, but you can be creative with him and get production out of him as a 3rd down back, slot receiver, and kick & punt returner. Bush does have some things to overcome to achieve his peak in the NFL. He was not a patient runner in college, and it's easy to understand that - when you're so much faster than everyone else on the field, you naturally feel compelled to turn on the jets and beat defenders with your pure speed. It's like being a 6th grader playing ball with a bunch of 3rd graders. You find it hard to be patient and wait for things to set up when you know damn well that you can just blast right by the little rugrats and take it to the hole. But at the NFL level, Bush will need to break that habit, as the linebackers are a whole lot faster than in college and they'll take the right pursuit angles to cut him off, and he won't be able to just run a bit curve around them. But if Bush can develop the patience to allow blocks to set up and give him a lane, he could be incredibly dangerous.

2. DeAngelo Williams (5-9, 214, 4.40 (pro day), Memphis)
My #2 running back, DeAngelo Williams is the best pure runner out of all the running backs. By that, I mean he's a very patient runner who lets his blocks set up, and he explodes through small holes when they're there. He's small at 5'9" and 214 pounds, but he's built very well and packs an unusual amount of strength in his frame. He runs very low to the ground, and defenders don't tend to get clean shots on him. He reminds me so much of Emmitt Smith it's uncanny. Smith was 5'9" and about 210 pounds, was considered undersized, but he was very strong for his size and his compact and low-to-the-ground running style made him hard to tackle, which let him get through small holes and helped keep him relatively healthy for a long time because nobody ever got a solid lick in on him. DeAngelo has those same characteristics, but while Emmitt had 4.6 speed, DeAngelo runs a 4.40 40. Emmitt was drafted in the #19 spot of his draft, and DeAngelo will likely slide down into that range because of his small stature too. He has to develop into a better pass protector - that's one thing Emmitt was fantastic at that DeAngelo hasn't developed yet, but he has shown that he's a very willing blocker. On one play in the Senior Bowl workouts, linebacker Travis Williams basically threw him aside and down to his knees, and DeAngelo recovered quickly and threw his body back into Travis Williams's path and held his ground for the block. He has to learn to use leverage better and try and turn his size disadvantage into an asset, but at the very least he has shown that his heart is in it and that he will put in the work, and that's often the one thing that's missing. Everything else can come with coaching. So even with some struggles in pass protection at the Senior Bowl, I'm encouraged by the way he's going about improving, and I think it can come in time.

One last concern is that DeAngelo had a ton of carries in college and had some injuries in his junior and senior seasons, so there's concerns that he might not hold up physically the way that a guy like Emmitt did.

3. Laurence Maroney (6-0, 215, 4.48 (pro day), Minnesota)
Maroney is a fast, big-play threat who came on with a big senior year at Minnesota after sharing the load his junior year with Marion Barber III, who is now a backup for the Dallas Cowboys. Maroney has the wheels to take it to the house, and he too is a patient runner who will set up his blocks, although I don't think he operates as well between the tackles as DeAngelo Williams does. He was very light, below 210 pounds, and has built himself up to 215 pounds following the end of the season.

The biggest concern with Maroney right now is a bad hamstring. The hamstring caused Maroney to not run at the Combine. Then, at his Pro Day, he ran one 40 - and a pretty quick one at 4.48, but he strained his hammy again and did not run his second 40 attempt.

Maroney is a quick, downhill, 1-cut runner that belongs in a zone blocking scheme like Denver's. His Minnesota Golden Gophers team runs a similar zone blocking scheme, and that's where Maroney excelled. He doesn't belong on a ground-pounding, hat-on-a-hat power running game, though I don't want to sell the guy short and say that he definitely wouldn't do well on such a team. But from the looks of things, that's not the kind of scheme he would belong in.

He's one of the more iffy 1st round prospects. I think it's important that he get in the right situation. Scouts have long memories and Minnesota running backs are known for being big in college and not so big in the NFL. The guy Maroney split time with in his junior year, Marion Barber III, is just a run-of-the-mill player in the NFL - of course, Dallas doesn't run the kind of scheme the Golden Gophers do. Maroney could end up just like Barber in the wrong system, and that and his hamstring problems give him a high potential bust factor. He'll be much more valuable of a prospect for certain teams than he will for others.

4. LenDale White (6-0, 238, no 40 time, USC)
LenDale White captured the hearts and imaginations of fans and scouts as the "thunder" to Reggie Bush's "lightning" during USC's run of dominance. And despite the fact that the Trojans lost the Rose Bowl, White did his job, with 124 yards on 20 carries and 3 touchdowns.

His draft stock was as high as knocking on the door of the top 10 at the end of the season on some draft boards, but it's been all downhill since then. LenDale White was 238 pounds at the Rose Bowl, and told scouts he would drop some more weight. He was as much as 250 pounds during the regular season, and he would be a lot more preferable to scouts at around 225 or 230. Well, he was still 238 at the Combine, which to be fair was only a month after the Rose Bowl - but he ballooned up to 244 pounds for his Pro Day on April 2nd. Worse, not only did he not run a 40 at the Combine, due to a hamstring injury, he didn't run one at his Pro Day either. And he doesn't have a single 40 time on record, as USC doesn't time their players.

Why is the 40 so important, you ask? Sure, we see him run on game tape. But the 40 is important because scouts time and time again guess wrong as to exactly how fast a player is from judging game tape, and get surprised every year at the Combine when certain players show themselves to be much slower or faster than previously believed. On game tape, they're running against college players, and sometimes against very different levels of college talent. Other times, a guy might be a lot faster than he appears on game tape because he runs with some hesitation, something that can be fixed with coaching. So one guy might appear a lot faster than another guy, when in reality the other guy just needs some tweaking. The 40 is a benchmark that shows you how much raw speed a player has. And running backs with slow 40 times do not have a great history in the NFL. For every one guy that runs a slow 40 that became a great back, there's a boatload of great college players who ran slow 40s and failed in the NFL due to lack of speed. Ron Dayne, anyone? Scouts want to see LenDale run a 40 so that they know they're not drafting Ron Dayne. Ron Dayne looked like he could run on game tape too. He ran a 4.65 40 and the New York Giants ignored that number in favor of his game tape. And we know what happened there. People like to say things about the Combine like "football isn't played in shorts", but there's a reason every single head coach and important scouting person is there. A big part of it is the 1-on-1 interviews, but it's the workouts too.

Anyway, back on the topic of LenDale White, the fact that he hasn't run a 40 is only part of the problem. His increase in weight and the fact that he was only able to do 15 reps of 225 (less than quarterback Jay Cutler, less than a lot of small guys for that matter) leads everyone to question his work ethic. It's very apparent that he has not been spending time in the weight room. Nobody thinks he's weak per se, but he hasn't been putting in the work. He has a hamstring problem which he and his agent have tried to keep as quiet as possible, but the fact is that he should have been doing everything physically possible to get himself into the best shape possible. He might have a bad hammy but there's plenty of other things he could to do get in shape.

So there's a bunch of big fat red flags on LenDale White. He will run the 40 before the draft, but it will be done in private workouts and the results will likely be kept very hush hush. So you and I probably won't have all the facts on LenDale White come draft. So if he goes earlier than expected, or if he slides later than expected, we'll be able to infer that someone saw something in private workouts that made the difference in the decision.

5. Joseph Addai (5-11, 214, 4.40 (combine), LSU)
There is some disagreement on the order of the top 4 backs, but Joseph Addai is #5 on everyone's board. There's a definite step down from the top four to Addai, but after Addai, there's a big step down to the rest of the group. Addai is, in my opinion, the last RB in the draft that you take with the expectation of getting a featured back. Other guys lower down the list could step up more than expected, but in terms of what's likely versus what's not, Addai is where the featured backs in this draft ends.

Addai isn't an explosive or dominant player. He took over the LSU starting job after Domanick Davis left for the NFL, and the hope for Addai is that he can be like Davis in the NFL - not a star, but a productive back that's capable of 1000 yards and some impact as a pass receiver.

Addai is fast - he ran an official 4.4 flat at the Combine - which was the best time of the Combine until Maurice Drew broke it by a hair. He doesn't always show the same speed on the field, which is something that maybe can be changed as he develops. Scouts feel that Addai isn't done developing yet. There's plenty of potential. His biggest issue is size - he's gotten up to 214 pounds, and might not have a lot more room for growth in that area. He tore his ACL in 2001 and had other injuries throughout his career at LSU. Worse, he's never been the workhorse back at LSU. In his junior year, he was the #2 back behind Alley Broussard. Last year, he was the #1, but #2 back Justin Vincent had 121 carries compared to Addai's 187. Addai has been just a part-time player and it's hard to imagine him being able to step in and be a team's every-down back. He wasn't even expected to be the starter last year, but he got the job after Alley Broussard lost the season to injury.

Addai has value in the passing game, both as a receiver and as a pass protector. He's very adept at pass protection, and that trait will serve him well in the NFL. He also has good pass catching ability, but has been seen dropping passes he should catch, probably just concentration issues. During Senior Bowl workouts, after dropping a sure TD, Addai did some push-ups once he got back to the group.

For me, the biggest question mark is why Addai's production hasn't been at the level of his physical skills. LSU seems to always prefer a two-headed RB approach, so perhaps Addai just needs more touches to get in a groove and move up to the next level. Still, I think the fact that nobody - and I mean nobody - has Addai above any of the top 4 guys on any board or mock draft tells you what you need to know. OK, maybe someone out there somewhere has a board that puts Addai ahead of one of the top 4 backs, maybe someone really slid LenDale White down for his problems. But regardless, Addai's value is right there as the #5 back, no more and no less.

6. Maurice Drew (5-6, 207, 4.39 (combine), UCLA)
Maurice Drew is an impressive college back that many feel doesn't have the size to be the every-down back in the NFL. At 5-6, 207, he's like Darren Sproles in last year's draft, but he's got more power than Sproles. He's very thick, and some think that being an every-down back isn't as out of the question as others do.

What scouts can agree on, though, is that Drew has a future in the NFL as a 3rd down back, a change of pace back, and a return man. Whomever drafts Drew is hoping he can be Brian Westbrook - a guy you can use all over the field but isn't going to grind out the tough yards. He has a chance to be a better inside runner than Westbrook though. But there's no guarantee that he can match everything else Westbrook does.

7. Brian Calhoun (5-9, 201, 4.60 (combine) 4.38 (pro day), Wisconsin)
Wisconsin running back who transferred from Colorado, and put up huge numbers in his one season with the Badgers - 1600 yards and 22 touchdowns. Colorado wanted to make him a receiver, and he ran track at Wisconsin, which led scouts to expect him to run fast in shorts. But he only ran a 4.6 at the combine, which caused him to slide down draft boards. He rebounded a bit by running a 4.38 at his Pro Day workouts, which is more in line with what he was expected to run.

Calhoun isn't an inside runner at the NFL level. He had a tendency to break runs to the outside at Wisconsin, and his speed allowed him to do that. At the NFL level, he'll be used primarily on 3rd downs, and he can be used at receiver like Colorado wanted to. His hands are perhaps his best asset, and they are what will get Calhoun a job at the pro level.

Deep sleeper:
Wendell Mathis (5-11, 210, 4.51 (combine), Fresno State)
UCLA transfer who became the featured back at Fresno State in his senior year. At 210, he's a little heavier than some of the other backs down in the depths of the draft, and he's big enough to put on some additional weight and maybe get up to 220. Mathis was thought by scouts to be too slow for the NFL, until he came to the Combine and ran a 4.51 40. He's quietly slid up draft boards after his Combine performance. Coming from a WAC team, he played a lot of weak competition in-conference, but of course Fresno State chases after college football's best teams in their out-of-conference schedule, and against USC, Mathis ran for 109 yards and a TD on 23 carries. Only one other RB posted 100 yards against SC all year - another mid-round draft pick to watch, Washington State's Jerome Harrison. Mathis is missing from a lot of peoples' draft boards, but don't be surprised to see him taken a lot earlier than many draftniks predict.

WIDE RECEIVERS
1. Santonio Holmes (5-11, 190, 4.3 (run on a fast surface at Pro Day, estimated around 4.45 in Combine numbers), Ohio State)
Holmes is the top of a crop of WRs with no stars. He's the only receiver I have with a 1st round grade (though at least one more will be taken in round 1, maybe 2 more). Holmes is a playmaker. Very polished, great route runner, great hands. He comes back to the ball like a lot of receivers fresh out of college fail to do.
The main concerns on Holmes are: he's a little undersized. Reminds me of Mark Clayton from Oklahoma last year, who was drafted by the Ravens at #22.
He's a bit lighter than Mark Clayton though, and he played in a run-first Buckeye offense, as opposed to the prolific passing game Clayton came from with Jason White and Oklahoma. Holmes also doesn't have mind-blowing speed. (see 40 time)

2. Chad Jackson (6-1, 213, 4.32 (combine), Florida)
Jackson is EXTREMELY blazing fast. But he's very raw, didn't have an impressive senior year. He shows great quickness and straight-ahead speed but Urban Meyer's spread offense in Florida didn't send him on vertical routes much. The nagging thing that bothers me is that, with the catch-and-run opportunities Florida's spread offense gave him, he didn't show much in terms of running after the catch. In the past 2 drafts, Jackson would carry a late 2nd round grade from me, but there's barely any 1st round talent at WR in this draft. I still mark him as belonging in the early 2nd round, but make no mistake, he'll go in round 1.

3. Demetrius Williams (6-2, 197, 4.46, Oregon)
Most boards have a couple of receivers ahead of Williams after Holmes and Jackson, but he's my #3. Williams is a natural receiver who doesn't have elite speed but is best running the vertical routes. He has fantastic hands and body control, wins the jump-ball catches and adjusts to poorly thrown balls better than any of the other prospects.
The thing that people drag Williams down on is that he doesn't have the explosion to be a star. He looks like a possession receiver at the NFL level, so some boards slide him down below a couple other players we'll talk about. But I like Williams if I'm a team with a #1 receiver already and am in the draft hunting for a #2.

4. Sinorice Moss (5-8, 183, 4.38 (combine), Miami)
The first thing you need to know about Moss is that he's Santana Moss's little brother. The second thing you need to know is that he's short, light, and fast like his brother. That tells you almost all you need to know, except Sinorice isn't quite the prospect Santana was when he came out of college.
That said, Sinorice Moss was a star in the Senior Bowl, after being a star during the week of practice. He's quick, has good hands, and runs well. I loved him in the Senior Bowl, and if he had shown more in his college career, I might rate him higher. If he were a proven return man, I would rate him higher, but he hasn't shown the instincts for kick returning.
The success of older brother Santana Moss paved the way for him this year. If not for the big years by him and other little man Steve Smith, Sinorice would probably be a 3rd or 4th round pick. But the rule changes regarding downfield contact has allowed smaller receivers to play well. You're not necessarily getting Santana Moss when you draft Sinorice though. He's a guy who could be fantastic from day 1, or he could sputter for a few years. He's hard to grade and I'm too chicken to rate him any higher or any lower.

5. Maurice Stovall (6-4, 217, 4.58 (combine), Notre Dame)
Stovall is #5 on my board, but if I were a braver man, he would be higher. Stovall was a complete unknown until last year. Then came Charlie Weis, who turned Notre Dame from a dinosaur and ghetto into a modern, powerful program again overnight. Weis completely overhauled the passing game. Stovall weighted 240 pounds when Weis arrived. By the time the 2005 season started, Weis had gotten him to knock off 15 pounds, and he played at about 225 all year. Between that and the magic Weis worked with quarterback Brady Quinn, Stovall went from nobody to a 1st-day draft pick in the span of a few months. Since the end of the season, Stovall has dropped even more weight, coming in at about 217 now. He ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine, which helped improve his draft stock greatly. He sure wasn't running a 4.58 at 240 pounds.

Other guys to watch:
Derek Hagan (6-1, 208, 4.42 (combine), Arizona State)
Hagan is in the top 5 receivers on a lot of boards, but not mine. He's a player with a highly productive college career who hasn't looked like the same player in postseason activities. He didn't show great hands at the Senior Bowl workouts, and his footwork on the out routes looked poor - did not make a sharp, fast cut. He has good stopwatch time but not quite so much on the field, projects to be a possession receiver at the NFL level. His college career can't be completely ignored. His 258 career receptions is a Pac-10 record. Someone will love his college game reel and take him in the 2nd or 3rd round, quite possibly ahead of one or two guys in my top 5.

Martin Nance (6-4, 213, 4.54-4.58 (combine) 4.56 (pro day), Miami (OH)
Nance was Ben Roethlisberger's #1 target in Big Ben's senior year at Miami of Ohio, and now Nance's draft has come. Nance was a sophomore in Roethlisberger's senior season, and he caught 90 balls for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns - outstanding numbers. In his junior year, he started well but lost most of the season to a knee tear. He came back with a strong senior year, with 81 catches for 1100 yards and 14 TDs. He's still recovering from that knee injury, which takes a couple of years to fully come back from.

Nance's college reel makes him look like a star. He's tall, has great athleticism, will outjump corners and haul down acrobatic catches. Last year he showed that his production wasn't just due to Roethlisberger. However, as a MAC player, he wasn't posting the big numbers against top competition.

The postseason hasn't been good to him. At the Senior Bowl, Nance ran good routes but dropped passes after beating defenders. Scouts aren't happy with his 40 time, after running a 4.54 and 4.58 at the Combine, and a 4.56 later at his Pro Day, during which he pulled a hamstring and didn't do any other drills.

I'm actually not extremely concerned about his speed. I saw him beat the speedy cornerback prospect Tye Hill with good footwork on his routes. The real red flag are the dropped balls. On one play at the Senior Bowl workouts, he gave Tye Hill a great double move and got a good step behind him, but dropped the sure TD pass. I think he plays faster than he times in shorts, and I'd be a lot more confident in him if he showed reliable hands.

The lack of enough WRs in this draft will make Nance go in the first day. If he were in last year's draft, I think he'd definitely be a 2nd day pick.

Brandon Marshall (6-4, 229, 4.55 (combine), UCF)
A big receiver with good hands out of Central Florida. Limited by his speed, ran a 4.55 40 at the combine, and his big frame doesn't make for a quick burst off the line. Was low on the NFL radar until a huge performance at UCF's bowl game, the Hawaii Bowl followed with a big game in the all-star game, the Hula Bowl. Heh. Very late bloomer who has scouts interested, but his big-time performance just started at the very end of his senior year. Could be the start of a guy blossoming into a next-level player, or it could be an anomoly of a guy that just plays well when he's playing football out in the Pacific Ocean. Maybe he should have played for June Jones at U of Hawaii. He's gotten the nickname "Baby TO" for his muscular build and his ability to play physical.

Mike Hass (6-0, 208, 4.63 (combine), Oregon State)
I love Mike Hass. I feel like Hass will easily outproduce the position that he is drafted at. Hass is a physically limited receiver who just doesn't have the kind of athletic ability to be an NFL star. His 4.63 40 time tells you a lot of what you need to know. He's just not fast. He'll always be limited by his lack of top-end speed. Nor is he a big guy that can win 1-on-1s with size. However, he's the best route runner in the draft, and the best hands too. He was a walk-on at Oregon State, and he became a star at the college level thanks to his incredible work ethic.

Many compare him to Hines Ward, and he does have that same lack of elite athleticism that he overcomes with hard work, good strength and great hands. I think he can be even a better route runner than Ward, but Ward is faster. It would be optimistic to expect Hines Ward level production out of him. But I think he can produce on the level of a guy like Ernest Wilford in Jacksonville. He's not tall like Wilford, but he's about as slow. I think he'll be an early 2nd day pick like Wilford was, and like Wilford, he'll just catch everything that comes near him and he'll be impossible to keep off the field despite his lack of foot speed. Hass will run the short routes in traffic and won't hesitate to go for a catch that will end up with him getting his head knocked off.

Hass's limitations mean you can't spend an early pick on him. I don't think he comes into the picture until round 3, and even that might be early until the later part of the round. But any team that takes Hass hoping for a productive possession receiver will be highly rewarded for their pick. He has a chance to be a career productive #3 guy, with potential to be a #2 in a perfect situation.

Jason Avant (6-1, 212, 4.80 (pro day), 4.65 (second workout), Michigan)
Avant is another slow player who showed great hands in college. At Michigan, he didn't play in the same kind of pass-happy offense that Hass did at Oregon State. He did catch 74 balls for 8 TDs and 930 yards in his senior season. Last year, he showed an ability to catch anything he could get his hands on. He's another guy who will go for the tough catch and take the big hit. He's also got more in terms of size than Hass did. He looks more like an NFL receiver.

However, Avant has been free-falling down draft boards. Scouts knew he was slow, but they didn't know HOW slow until he ran the 40 in 4.8 seconds at his Pro Day, on both tries. Teams consider 4.6 to be too slow for an NFL receiver, and a guy like Mike Hass has to be perfect in all other aspects of his game to get a shot with a 4.6 40 time. 4.8 is slower than the majority of the linebackers in the draft, let alone wide receivers. Avant may have had an excuse though, as he had a cast on his hand at the Pro Day, which probably didn't help his sprinting. At a later workout for coaches and scouts, Avant ran 4.65 and 4.69 on a FieldTurf surface. That's a bit better, but if we're generous and only take the fastest time we have on record, it's still 4.65, which is still too damn slow.At the Senior Bowl, Avant looked - surprise - slow! He struggled to get separation on any of the corners. He did, however, make one of the biggest catches in the Senior Bowl workouts with a diving TD catch against Will Blackmon on an overthrown ball.

Avant was considered a late 1st day pick before, but he's almost certainly to be a 2nd day pick now. The one thing working in his favor, and in Mike Hass's favor for that matter, is the fact that this draft is so thin on receiver that we're talking about these guys. It's not like the last couple of years, where 6-7 receivers went in the first round alone.

Travis Wilson (6-2, 215, 4.47 (combine), Oklahoma)
Oklahoma receiver who had a great junior year in '04, when Mark Clayton and Mark Bradley were still there. Didn't step up in his own in '05, but the QB situation wasn't what it was in past years after Jason White graduated. Wilson showed good speed and separation in Senior Bowl workouts. Has good enough measurables and might be able to take the next step in the NFL that he was expected to in his senior year.

Hank Baskett (6-3, 220, 4.50 (combine), New Mexico)
Overlooked senior receiver from New Mexico. Highly athletic, was a Mountain West Conference high jump champion, and ran a 4.5 flat at the Combine. Also has size at 6'3" and 220 pounds to go with that speed. The NFL rule tweaks have made bigger receivers less of an absolute necessity, but some teams still prefer them for the schemes they run. Baskett needs polish but has more physical tools than many of the other WRs outside of round 1, and could turn into a #1 receiver if his development goes right.

Greg Jennings (5-11, 197, 4.42 (combine), Western Michigan)
Highly productive receiver out of Western Michigan, with high character and a reputation for a great work ethic. Developed late in his college career and didn't burst onto the scene until his senior year. Was originally thought to be a bit too slow for his small size, but a 4.42 40 at the combine changed some minds. Would be a lock for the 1st day if he were bigger or had more of a history of production, but he could still slip in and surprise people in the NFL.

Guys that will be kick returners:
Devin Aromashodu (6-2, 201, 4.35 (combine), Auburn)
Blazing fast kick returner who wasn't very accomplished as a receiver. He had only two 100 yard games in college, only caught 26 balls for 494 yards in his senior year. Has fantastic speed and was productive in kick returns, but didn't return punts. Unlike some of the other return man prospects, he has enough size that someone will take a real stab at turning him into an NFL receiver. He's very raw as a receiver, but he has the physical tools for a coach's ideal pet project.

Cory Rodgers (6-0, 188, 4.66 (combine) 4.65 (pro day), TCU)
Rodgers was an amazing return man in 2005, and looked good on film as a receiver. But he ran a 4.66 at the Combine, and followed it up with a 4.65 and 4.71 at his Pro Day.
Teams thought he could be a home-run return man with potential at wide receiver, but his 40 times take him from a long-shot 1st day pick to a no-shot on day 1, probably a middle of day 2 pick. Someone will like his return instincts and give him a shot.

Adam Jennings (5-9, 181, 4.42 (combine), Fresno State)
Was one of the NCAA's top kick returners last year. Wasn't a home run threat so much as a consistantly long returner. Teams looking for a return man will have to consider spending a 2nd day pick on Jennings. He has a limited future as a wide receiver, though he could be a guy that steps into the slot WR spot a few plays a game. Jennings, unlike Rodgers, ran a very legitimate NFL 40 time with a 4.42 at the Combine, and a 4.40 at the Pro Day. He'll get his shot at a returner.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Vernon Davis (6-3, 254, 4.38 (combine), Maryland)
People are calling him "the freak". He shattered the 40 yard dash record for tight ends at the combine with a 4.38, which at 254 pounds is unthinkable. He's not just a straight-line runner though. He is absolutely explosive, and made a lot of believers out of scouts at the Combine when he ran the gauntlet. He is very smooth, and he moves his 250 pounds around like it's nothing. He's fast on game tape too, not just in shorts. He's easily the best TE prospect since Todd Heap, and he's easily a better prospect than Kellen Winslow Jr. was, whom the Browns took with pick #6 in the 2004 draft. Davis won't go at pick #6, because this draft has a lot more talent at the top than 2004 did. But he will likely go in the top 10, and will unquestionably be gone within the top 15.

2. Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 261, 4.79 (combine), UCLA)
Lewis is a Shannon Sharpe or Tony Gonzalez style of tight end. In some ways, he's an oversized receiver. He has good speed on the field, and has great body control and makes adjustments to balls in the air. He's got the kind of hands you want a tight end to have. He's a bit of a narrow and lanky build, but scouts think he can add more weight to his frame. As a blocker, he's not world-class, but he gives good effort and can make improvements in that realm. His athleticism allows him to line up as a slot receiver, and he creates mismatches. He's a natural pass receiver and will impact someone's offense in a positive way very quickly.

3. Joe Klopfenstein (6-6, 255, 4.63 (combine) 4.56 (pro day), Colorado)
One of my favorite players in the draft! Klopfenstein ranks higher on my board than on most others - he's usually #4-6 everywhere else. The knock on Klopfenstein is that he doesn't have the elite playmaker ability and quickness of some of the other tight ends in the draft. What he does have, though, is less downside than a lot of other guys. He's another pass catching tight end who needs to improve as a blocker, and could gain a little weight to help in that area. What puts him at #3 on my board is his reputation for high work ethic and reliability - so many of these other athletic tight ends have question marks as to how hard they'll work on their shortcomings, but Klopfenstein I know will respond well to NFL coaches applying his nose to a grindstone. He's an intelligent player who seems to be a very low risk pick. He impressed me when he ran the gauntlet at the Combine, just caught everything that came near him and seemed very smooth and sure of himself.

4. Leonard Pope (6-8, 258, 4.62 (combine), Georgia)
Leonard Pope is a traditional tight end in that he's big, not like the lankier and faster guys that have been playing the position lately. But Pope is really big, at 6-8, he's a tower. And he is a real joy to watch. At a 4.62 40 time, he's no stick in the mud. In fact, the guy moves and catches the ball so effortlessly that it's just weird but fun to watch. He's almost laxadasical in his movement. He catches the ball away from his body, and he'll make someone's red zone offense very happy someday. He's quicker than you'd ever expect a body that big to be, and his hands are very reliable. Where Pope needs work is in the rest of his game. He's got the size to be a great blocker, but his technique needs work. Most importantly, he'll need to take a step up in the mental game, as concentration wasn't his strong suit at Georgia.

5. Anthony Fasano (6-4, 259, 4.72 (pro day), Notre Dame)
Fasano isn't one of the new breed of athlete tight ends. He's a throwback to the big hard-nosed tight ends of old. Everyone likes to compare him to Mark Bavaro. He's got size, grit, and pass-catching ability. What he doesn't have is the athleticism of these other tight ends. He won't be lined out in the slot. Though he runs a faster 40 than Marcedes Lewis, he doesn't have that kind of agility. He's strightly a next-to-the-tackle TE. But while all these athlete tight ends have question marks as blockers, Fasano is an excellent blocker. He's a hard working, what you see is what you get kind of player. He burst onto the scene with a big 2005 season at Notre Dame thanks to Charlie Weis's reimagining of the Notre Dame program, especially on offense. Fasano is branded a classic overachiever, and he projects well as an NFL tight end that provides in the blocking game and gives you a good pair of hands. He just isn't going to be a game changer.

6. Dominique Byrd (6-3, 255, 4.79 (pro day), USC)
Byrd is as high as #3 on a lot of boards, but I have him at 6. Byrd made a name for himself as a playmaker at SC, where he was highly productive as a favored target of Matt Leinart's. He's another athletic tight end who provides matchup problems for defenses. He's got a thick build and good quickness off the line of scrimmage.

The problems for Byrd lie in his injury history and his footwork. Byrd tore his ACL and MCL in 2003, had a non-football-related kneecap injury in '04, and had turf toe surgery last year. At the Senior Bowl, Byrd's route running really bothered me. He made slow, rounding cuts, which gave defenders a chance to jump on his routes and close any separation he had gained. He also did not produce touchdowns for SC - he had 0 in '05, and only 4 total over his three year career. Compare that to Klopfenstein's 13 TDs over the past 3 years, or Marcedes Lewis's 10 TDs in 2005 alone! Tight ends are desired as red zone threats in the NFL, and Byrd wasn't productive there at SC.

Byrd had academic problems at SC too, and might not be the sharpest tool in the shed. Nobody questions his work ethic though, as he came back from injury after injury. He's got plenty of desire and he'll put in the work that is asked of him. But it remains to be seen how reliable he can be over a 16-week NFL season, given how much he was injured just in college.

Other guys - pass catching specialists:
David Thomas (6-3, 252, 4.67 (combine), Texas)
Caught 10 passes in the Rose Bowl victory over SC. Is a reliable pair of hands and a good red zone target. He's an intelligent player who finds holes in zone defenses and is a quarterback's best friend. He isn't a great blocker, and will probably be a pass-catching specialist in the NFL.

Tim Day (6-3, 256, 4.78 (combine), Oregon)
A real head scratcher. Day caught 8 TDs in 2004 and looked like a top TE prospect, but struggled in Oregon's new offense as a senior, and saw hiw TDs drop down to zero and his yardage slashed in half. At the Combine, he showed himself to have a good pair of hands. He's not a bulky guy and won't be a blocker at the next level. Oregon went to a spread offense when Gary Crowton took over as offensive coordinator for Day's senior year, while he was more prolific in a pro-style offense that previous coordinator Andy Ludwig ran. The fact that he performed best in a pro-style offense bodes well for his NFL prospects.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

1. Haloti Ngata (6-4, 338, Oregon)
Ngata is a massive body to clog up the middle of the field. He's a 2-gap tackle that probably fits best as the nose tackle of a 3-4 team, though he'll fit in as a 1-technique on a 2-gap 4-3 team as well. Some scouts think he can penetrate well enough to play in a 1-gap scheme, but I'm not yet convinced. He is as physically blessed as defensive tackles come - this kind of physical ability doesn't come along in a big man very often. His potential is off the charts. Where he has problems is keeping his motor running and playing hard every play. He can become a dominant NT/DT in this league any time he chooses to be.

2. Broderick Bunkley (6-2, 306, Florida State)
The draft's best 1-gap tackle. Bunkley is a disruptor, a penetrator that wrecks havok in a backfield. He's a playmaker who can hold up at the point of attack as well. His biggest concerns are injury history and character questions. He was slowed in his junior year with lingering ankle problems. He has a reputation for being lazy at times. He flirted with academic disqualification and has an arrest on his record. I don't know how bad these things were first-hand, but his outstanding performance in postseason activities quieted all the discussion about that stuff. He also is said to have impressed coaches in interviews with a good attitude, giving hope that his laziness doesn't stem from being a "bad attitude" player. He's moved up on a lot of boards, and if his character questions are indeed answered, then he deserves it.

3. Gabe Watson (6-3, 340, Michigan)
I hate to put Gabe Watson all the way up to #3, but it's a thin DT draft. Watson is a big, strong, powerful player who has physical skills you should drool over. But at Michigan, he was an underproductive player who didn't make the kind of name for himself that he should of. In Senior Bowl practices, he looked really good, though he had trouble against some of the top interior linemen. He could be a huge star but it will take an attitude adjustment for it to happen. Could be a fantastic reclamation project, or he could flop.

4. Orien Harris (6-3, 301, Miami)
Harris is a good DT with no real standout areas or weaknesses. He was a productive player at Miami for 4 years, and is someone that may go higher than listed because he can step in and play immediately. Harris has good quickness and penetration but won't wow you, and he's decently stout at the point of attack but won't shock you with his might. He's just an all-around decently good player who does have the potential to exceed the sum of his parts. Will be valuable to teams that don't want low-effort guys like Gabe Watson.

Other guys to watch:
Jonathan Lewis (6-1, 309, Virginia Tech)
Now here's a guy I wish I could rate higher. Lewis is a tough, hard-working tackle who plays every down 100%. If he had Gabe Watson's physical gifts, he'd be a top 5 pick. But with his own body, he's still a good talent that could emerge as a great player. His lack of size is his biggest problem, as he has a tendency to get pushed off the line by strong interior linemen. If he can pack on some extra muscle, he could become a good player. His value is all over the charts - anywhere from 2nd round to middle of day 2.

Claude Wroten (6-3, 300, LSU)
Wroten should be the #3 guy on this list. Maybe even the #2 guy. He's an incredible penetrator who should be a star in the NFL. BUT, he has a marijuana possession (with intent to distribute) arrest on his rap sheet. He tested positive for marijuana in his junior year too. Those alone wasn't enough to drop him too much... until it was recently revealed that he had a positive drug test at the NFL Combine. Now, we don't know if it was marijuana. We don't even know if it was a true positive test or just a positive triggered by an over-diluted urine sample. But it's b-a-d news. He's #6 on this list on the off chance that he's telling the truth this time and the test was a false positive. If not, he slides waay down.

Rodrique Wright (6-5, 315, Texas)
Wright is Gabe Watson 2.0. He's a gifted player who could be a dominant player based on his physical skills. But he too is an underachiever who hasn't lived up to his potential. He could be a dominant 1-gap penetrator that also holds his own against the run, but he takes plays off and just has a reputation of being lazy. He's another guy that could be fantastic if the right coach coaxes him into growing up and becoming the player he should be.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

1. Mario Williams (6-7, 295, 4.66 (combine), NC State)
Williams is a 295 pound DE that rushes the passer like a 260 pound DE. He's extremely lean for 295 and moves with great agility. Some want to compare him to Julius Peppers, and though he's in a similar mold and faster, I don't know if he has the same intangibles. Williams should have produced more than he did in college. His senior year production was very low early on, and I don't know if he is definitely an every-game great player. But he has every physical tool on the defensive end checklist, and if you think coaching can get him to produce every game, he could be worth his high billing.

2. Tamba Hali (6-3, 275, 4.87 (pro day), Penn State)
Hali is a pure pass rusher in a draft with too few pass rushers that have the size to be an every-down DE. He's a bit short but he's a hard worker that gets after the quarterback. He looked OK in Senior Bowl practices but played like a star in the actual game with 2 sacks and 1 pass deflection, on his way to the game's defensive MVP. He would be higher on boards if he was quicker, but his 40 time has dropped as he has packed on the extra weight, and his bench press was pathetic. I think he's a better player than his measurables show, though.

3. Mathias Kiawanuka (6-6, 266, 4.70 (combine), Boston College)
Kiawanuka is a quick speed rusher who was EXTREMELY productive in college. He was on track to be an easy 1st round pick until the end of the season. In the MPC Computers Bowl, he was dominated by OT prospect Daryn Colledge. At the Senior Bowl, he was thrown around like a rag doll by D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Kiawanuka is a physical talent who has not shown himself to be able to play against NFL level competition. Kiawanuka did struggle with a lingering knee injury in his senior year, but I don't know if I can write off everything I saw just on that. I think Kiawanuka will be one of the most overrated players of the draft, and he should not be taken anywhere before the last half of round 2.

THE TWEENERS

1. Kamerion Wimbley (6-4, 248, 4.61 (combine), Florida State)
Wimbley is a gifted pass rusher who may fit best as a 3-4 OLB. Wimbley has incredible burst off the line and he shows a lot more power than he looks like he has. His value (as with all of the tweeners) varies greatly from team to team based on defensive scheme.

2. Manny Lawson (6-6, 241, 4.43 (combine), NC State)
Mario Williams' teammate, Lawson is a hell of a pass rusher in his own right. He's tall and BLAZING fast. His physical tools have OLB written all over them, but his experience at college was all at DE. At 241, he's way too light to be an every-down DE in a 4-3. He could be a situational pass rusher, and a 4-3 team would have to look at him for that if he slides, or even look at him as a conversion project to 4-3 OLB. But he most naturally fits in a 3-4 OLB.

3. Darryl Tapp (6-2, 252, 4.87 (combine), Virginia Tech)
Like his teammate Jonathan Lewis, Tapp is a hard worker who plays as well as his physical tools will let him. He's not big and he's not especially quick. He does, however, have a lot of strength, and more hustle than anyone else. His strength helps him overcome the lack of bulk, and he makes plays happen by sheer hustle. He was a playmaker in college, but he's been dropping weight in the offseason, when teams don't want to see a DE all the way down to 250 pounds. He may project to linebacker at that weight.

4. Mark Anderson (6-4, 255, 4.61 (combine), Alabama)
Of the tweeners, Anderson probably has the best shot of staying at DE. He's a natural pass rusher with a quick first step. He's a very experienced and polished player, and looks like a guy that can step into the NFL and perform immediately. But like the rest of the tweeners, it's a question as to where he goes. He holds up against the run better than the other tweeners, so he may stay put at DE, especially if he can put on a little more weight.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

1. A.J. Hawk (6-1, 245, 4.59 (combine), Ohio State)
In a draft loaded with 1st round OLBs, it says something when there's no argument as to who the #1 OLB is. A.J. Hawk is a special player who, along with D'Brickashaw Ferguson, is the best "can't miss" prospect of the draft. Hawk is fierce, smart, and can play any of the 3 linebacker positions. He's a disruptor who will wreck havok against opponents. The only knock on him is less than ideal height, but everything else is A+.

2. Ernie Sims (5-11, 231, 4.50 (combine), Florida State)
Very fast and athletic, Sims is a weakside linebacker that blows stuff up. He's a high motor player that flies like a rocket and disrupts everything in sight. He's a bit smallish and would benefit from playing behind a big defensive line (to keep linemen off of him). In the right situation, he can be a star.

3. Chad Greenway (6-3, 242, 4.76 (combine), Iowa)
Greenway is thought to be the #2 OLB, and he may get drafted second, but I don't know if he is a good value there. He's a physical prototype for the OLB position. He's a decent pass rusher and has a great work ethic. In his senior year, though, he didn't produce as much as he should have. He's got physical skills to spare, and he's a good prospect, but I think he's slightly overrated and doesn't stand out enough from the guys just a bit under him.

4. Thomas Howard (6-3, 239, 4.42 (combine), UTEP)
Here's another of my favorite players! Howard is a crazy fast linebacker with all kinds of upside. Howard was originally a strong safety in college, and he's a guy who can play strong safety, linebacker, and even line up as a rush end and rush the passer. Howard's biggest knock is inexperience. He is still developing the instincts of a linebacker, and would benefit from going to a good defensive minded coach. Howard is unusually good at pass coverage for an OLB - at the Senior Bowl workouts, his background as a strong safety showed. He has the kind of speed and quickness to make plays outside of his assigned area. He's not as polished as the other 1st round OLBs, and he could very easily end up in round 2 - some boards even slide him to late round 2! - but I think Howard will outplay his draft slot by a large margin.

5. DeMeco Ryans (6-1, 236, 4.62 (combine), Alabama)
Ryans is a smart, instinctive, well-polished OLB prospect. You could easily swap him into the #3 or #4 spot based on his production. Ryans is a great tackler and has the ability to play any of the linebacker positions. Where Ryans comes up a bit short is in physical ability. He's not outstandingly strong or quick, but he gets the most out of what he has. He belongs only in certain defensive systems, but he could excel.

6. Bobby Carpenter (6-2, 256, 4.66 (combine), Ohio State)
Carpenter was A.J. Hawk's teammate at Ohio State, and was naturally overshadowed by the fantastic Hawk. Carpenter's a solid player in his own right. Though he lacks the physical gifts of Hawk, Carpenter plays smart and has great quickness in his own right. He plays hard every down and he flies all over the place. Of course, playing next to A.J. Hawk allowed Carpenter to play a little loose, and scouts wonder how much of Carpenter's performances have Hawk and other Ohio State defensive talent to thank.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

There's no 1st round talent at the ILB position, though one or two of the OLB prospects could move inside.

1. Abdul Hodge (6-1, 236, 4.76 (combine) 4.67 (pro day), Iowa)
Hodge is considered the #2 inside linebacker by most, but I like him better than the consensus #1, D'Qwell Jackson. He's got a tad more size and than Jackson, and was highly productive in college. He's good in pass coverage and will not back down from a beating. He'll take on players much larger than him and will stick his nose in anywhere to make a play. He's got good toughness, and running a 4.67 40 at his pro day after a 4.76 at the Combine helped his stock.

2. D'Qwell Jackson (6-0, 230, 4.70, Maryland) is the top rated inside linebacker, and should go in round 2, though I like Hodge a tad better. Jackson is a good all-around player who doesn't have superstar physical skills. He's got good range and he plays extremely hard. He's not a real strong hitter though, and he may struggle if guards are allowed to get to his level and get in his way. He wasn't great in pass coverage at the Senior Bowl. He's small and not necessarily a playmaker, but he can become a solid starter.

Other names to watch:

CORNERBACKS

1. Tye Hill (5-9, 188, 4.30 (combine), Clemson)
Tye Hill is short. But that's about all that's wrong with him. A short cornerback always has an uphill battle, and one or two other CBs may be taken ahead of Hill because of it. But no other corner has shown the kind of coverage instincts of Hill. He has a great knack for staying right in receivers' hip pockets. He's INCREDIBLY fast and doesn't get beaten easily - and if he does get beat, he usually recovers quickly. He is fantastic at using his body positioning to keep receivers from using their height to expoit his shortness.

2. Antonio Cromartie (6-2, 208, 4.41 (combine), Florida State)
There's only one think keeping Cromartie out of the #1 spot - it's been a year since he's played football. A knee injury cost him his junior season, but he chose to come out for the NFL draft anyway. Cromartie was dominant as a sophomore and looked like he was becoming a great NFL corner. After his knee injury, Cromartie slid down boards. But with fantastic workouts at the Combine and in private workouts, he's shot back up the boards. Cromartie may be a bit rusty, and he's not a great tackler, but there's not much bad to say about him. Teams are willing to overlook a little rust and inexperience and Cromartie will become an impact player in the next few years, if not right away.

3. Johnathan Joseph (5-11, 193, 4.31 (combine), South Carolina)
Joseph is a raw prospect whose speed and physical ability made him a terror for opposing QBs as a senior. Joseph is a junior college transfer who missed most of 2004 to injury, and is still developing after only 1 year of real experience. He has awesome potential but is the least proven player among the top corners.

4. Richard Marshall (5-11, 189, 4.42 (combine), Fresno State)
Marshall is a very good athlete who doesn't have the elite speed of the guys ahead of him (or the size of Cromartie). However, he might be the most polished and immediately NFL ready of the top corners. Marshall is a sound player who is a playmaker without being a gambler. He could benefit from a little more bulk, and has flown under the radar a bit thanks to his playing at Fresno State. He could be drafted anywhere from the last half of round 1 to the end of round 2. Might have been a better prospect if he had stayed for his senior season and come out next year.

5. Ashton Youboty (5-11, 189, 4.44 (pro day), Ohio State)
Youboty is a solid player who, like Marshall, has the same not-quite-elite size or speed. He's raw and unpolished, but has flashed shutdown ability. He gambles and makes some mental mistakes, and will need a lot of coaching. However, with cornerback being such a premium position, it's not often you get a guy with this raw ability down this far on the list. He will be good value at his draft slot.

SAFETIES

1. Michael Huff (6-1, 205, 4.34 (combine), Texas)
If he's drafted at safety, he'll be the #1 safety. If he's drafted at cornerback, he'll be #1 there too. Huff is the kind of fast & tall DB that you're lucky to ever get a chance to get. Huff unquestionably has the man cover skills to be a cornerback, but his smarts and leadership may make him hard to play away from safety. Safety is usually not a premium position like corner, but Huff's ability to be a field general can help a defense more than just individual play alone.

2. Jimmy Williams (6-2, 213, 4.44 (pro day), Virginia Tech)
Williams was a star at corner in college, but his great size as well as his not-quite-elite speed may make Williams a safety at the next level. He played free safety as a sophomore and was a star, but he played cornerback as a junior and senior. NFL teams seem to want to move him back to safety, though don't be shocked if he's drafted as a corner. Williams is big, doesn't have 4.3 speed but is fast for his size. He appears to have more potential as a safety.

3. Jason Allen (6-1, 209, 4.39 (combine), Tennessee)
Allen may be a safety or he may be a corner. He's not as fast on the field as he is in shorts, though he's got speed to spare for the safety position. He had a great junior year as a safety but lost much of his senior year to a hip injury. Allen's a sure tackler and a smart player, and he's got more than enough speed and coverage skill to line up man-to-man. So much so that someone might still try to take him as a cornerback.

Other guys to watch for:

Darnell Bing (6-2, 227, 4.53 (pro day), USC) has been overshadowed by other USC stars. Bing is a nice big safety with sound ball skills. He hasn't run as well as scouts would like - he didn't run at the combine, and his 4.53 pro day time was paired with a slower 4.63 run too. He plays better than he times, though, as he even returned kicks at SC. He brings a lot of power into his hits and would be creating a lot more buzz if he ran faster.

Ko Simpson (6-1, 201, 4.45 (combine), South Carolina) is a guy who has been all over draft boards. He's only a sophomore (though he's 23), and the lack of experience leaves some scouts cold. He excelled in his freshman and sophomore years though, and is an INT machine. He's also good in run support. He's not an amazing athlete though, so there's a little question as to how well he projects in the NFL.

Very nice legion. There are a few guys on your list from teams I follow and I thought what you said about them was pretty dead on ... so that should mean I can trust your analysis on everyone else.

I'm still pissed about the Texan's taking Mario. I'm just a fan but, damn, I think I know enough about football to know that was a bad pick. Casserly has made some bad decisions in his 4 years and if this goes bad he won't just get fired, he won't even be welcome in Texas anymore.

Copingsaw wrote:
Very nice legion. There are a few guys on your list from teams I follow and I thought what you said about them was pretty dead on ... so that should mean I can trust your analysis on everyone else.

Great to hear. Out of curiosity, which teams do you follow?

The Badgers and the Longhorns.

So should we start sending our draft questions into Forward Progress now? Or leave them here? Although, I suspect everyone's going to ask something like "How well will my team's pick fit into their system, what kind of play time should he expect?" etc...

I think we'll get the usual Draft day Grades. I think Legion did one last year as well. Just give him a few days and he'll have it up. (he better, anyway!)

So how messed up is it that I oh-so-briefly considered not leaving Katrinatown just so I can get my season tickets to see Reggie Bush?

Is there anything like ESPN GamePlan for the NFL?

I'll be going in depth in my draft grades and stuff on Forward Progress. Sometime later in the week, as everything on earth is due tomorrow for me (and that's part of what kept me from getting a draft preview show out like I wanted to late last week).

As for asking questions... if you ask a question here, you'll get the short answer. Ask it in an email for the show, and you'll get the long answer.

Grump: NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV. How else do ya think I watch the Jaguars here in sunny Californy?

I remember a couple months back that some moron commentator on ESPN Radio stated that he thought the Houston Texans should pass on Matt Leinhart because he deserved to go to a better team. The guy went on and on about how Leinhart was the greatest thing since sliced bread and that of course he was going to be a tempting first overall pick.

I laughed my ass off when he barely made it in the top ten.

How can you listen to that stuff? It's like a prerequisite for being a sports talk radio host is knowing NOTHING about sports above and beyond what the drunk in the nosebleed seats does, so long as you can YELL your opinion and hang up on callers that know more than you.

*Legion* wrote:
How can you listen to that stuff? It's like a prerequisite for being a sports talk radio host is knowing NOTHING about sports above and beyond what the drunk in the nosebleed seats does, so long as you can YELL your opinion and hang up on callers that know more than you.

Forgive me. I had a rental car in Kansas City. Ever try listening to the radio in THAT city?

They don't have satellite radio in their rental cars in KC? How obscene!

*Legion* wrote:
They don't have satellite radio in their rental cars in KC? How obscene!

They do, but it was, unfortunately, XM and was stuck on ESPN Radio.