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The best athlete | The top QB prospect | Impact defensive players
Impact offensive players | The decision makers | Scout.com
When I unveiled my first mock draft more than three weeks ago, I knew most teams were still eons away from polishing off their draft boards. But the amount of movement in player evaluations since the end of March has been staggering.
While the draft boards in NFL war rooms rarely mirror each other, this year's editions may look as if each one was simply drawn from a hat. If anything, it lends credence to the personnel people who have dubbed this one of the most trying drafts in their entire careers.
And the hair-tugging isn't even close to being over. With Miami and Cleveland mulling trade offers at the second and third picks, draft plans – not to mention predictions – are in serious danger of being absolutely pulverized in the first three picks. In an odd twist, the uncertainty will make this one of the most exciting first rounds in recent memory. It'll be one where even the most hardened analysts, coaches and personnel men are holding their breath to see how it all sifts out.
Here is our final mock draft …
1. San Francisco 49ers – Aaron Rodgers, QB, California
Kudos to 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who has kept everyone guessing right up to the draft. It seems a little convenient that San Francisco suddenly elevated its interest in Utah quarterback Alex Smith right when the Miami Dolphins were getting all the trade action from teams interested in trading up for the Ute. It's just a hunch, but it smells like a 49er ploy to draw a trade offer on Saturday morning. It was a pro move, but we think Nolan is stuck with the pick and goes with the guy he knows will sign a reasonable contract: Rodgers.
2. Miami Dolphins – Alex Smith, QB, Utah
All we've heard for weeks is chatter about Auburn running back Ronnie Brown, but the Dolphins haven't exactly kept a pipeline open to him lately. They have, however, paid plenty of attention to Alex Smith. Nick Saban said it wasn't a sure thing they'd take a running back at this spot. If Smith does get tabbed by the 49ers at No. 1, look for Miami to trade out of this pick, possibly for Minnesota's seventh and 18th overall choices, or to Washington for multiple picks.
3. Cleveland Browns – Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan
With Smith gone, general manager Phil Savage snags the guy many consider to be the best player in the draft. Wide receiver isn't as pressing a need as offensive tackle or quarterback, but Edwards provides the best value at this slot.
4. Chicago Bears – Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn
The Bears need more help at wide receiver, but Brown can just as easily help take a load off of maturing young quarterback, Rex Grossman. He's the most complete running back in the draft and can touch the football 25 times a game both running and catching. USC wide receiver Mike Williams will be tempting, but with the Bears' running attack lagging to 25th in the NFL last season, general manager Jerry Angelo goes with a dual threat.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn
Tampa's love of USC receiver Mike Williams is legitimate, but with Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway already on the depth chart, running back is a more pressing need. Cedric Benson will be considered, but head coach Jon Gruden got a closer look at Carnell Williams when he coached him at the Senior Bowl. Now Williams has packed on an additional 10 pounds of muscle to make himself an every-down player, and he's still retained his full range of speed and athleticism. He's also a better fit for Gruden's style of football than Benson. There's still a slim chance Gruden tries to move up to the No. 2 pick for a shot at Utah's Alex Smith.
6. Tennessee Titans – Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami
He showed off his speed at his pro day, and he's got better size than West Virginia cornerback Adam Jones, so Rolle slowly crept back atop the rankings at defensive back. At the owners' meetings, we asked coach Jeff Fisher if he was concerned Rolle would be too physical in coverage (considering the recent emphasis on penalizing illegal contact), and he didn't seemed fazed at all. He thinks Rolle can be a force in the first five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and have the speed to turn and cover receivers clean.
7. Minnesota Vikings – Mike Williams, WR, USC
We have a hard time believing South Carolina's Troy Williamson will be the pick here. Williamson is fast, but Minnesota could move down a couple of spots and still get him. Williams isn't a burner, but he has spectacular size, hands and body control. He's too talented to pass up at this spot. Playing in the Vikings' offense, he should have a good shot to be Offensive Rookie of the Year. Contrary to some reports, a deal to swap this and the 18th pick for Miami's No. 2 is still on the table. In that scenario, Minnesota would draft Braylon Edwards. But it does appear the Vikings are hesitating with such a pricey move.
8. Arizona Cardinals – Adam Jones, CB, West Virginia
We think a draft day deal for Buffalo running back Travis Henry is going to get done, so there will be no need for the Cardinals to grab Texas' Cedric Benson. Instead, Arizona goes to the next biggest need and grabs the guy who might be the best cover corner in the draft. Jones might be smaller than Rolle, but he's fearless and will support the run when needed.
9. Washington Redskins – Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina
It's not the biggest need in the world for the Redskins, but Williamson is held in high regard by a lot of teams. A few even think he's as good as Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams. While the Redskins would like to have one of those guys, Williamson will do at this slot. There has been talk of Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers being taken here, but Washington can still solve that problem at 25th overall.
10. Detroit Lions – Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas
Deep down in our gut, we think the Lions might pull the early surprise of the draft and select Georgia defensive end David Pollack – who team president Matt Millen really loves. But this really would be a tad too high for Pollack. Johnson, for all of the doubts about his ability to take on blockers, has great speed and playmaking skills. And we're not so sure that coach Steve Mariucci is sold on the health of outside linebacker Boss Bailey, so this might be a bigger need than anyone realizes.
11. Dallas Cowboys – DE/LB DeMarcus Ware, Troy
He's got amazing speed, and some think he could be the best pass rusher in the entire draft. The Cowboys will take a long hard look at Maryland defensive end/linebacker Shawne Merriman here, too, but let's go with Ware, who really blew people away at the combine. He'll fit perfectly into Dallas' move to the 3-4 defense.
12. San Diego Chargers – Marcus Spears, DE/DT, LSU
His draft stock has bounced back nicely from an ACL injury that hindered his pre-draft workouts. Spears' size (6-foot-4, 307 pounds) gives him a lot of flexibility as an end or tackle, and he would make a nice addition at defensive end opposite Igor Olshansky. A former star basketball player in high school, Spears isn't super fast, but he is quick and athletic – both valued traits along the defensive line. He saw time at tight end and fullback as a freshman for LSU. Maryland DE/LB Shawne Merriman should get some strong consideration here too.
13. Houston Texans – Cedric Benson, RB, Texas
Defensive end Shawne Merriman or Florida State offensive tackle Alex Barron might make more sense, but it would be hard for the Texans to pass up the value of a "local" kid like Benson. We think Benson is going to take a mighty slide come draft day, more due to circumstance than concerns by other teams. If he slips this far, don't be surprised if another team picking later in the first round (like Minnesota, perhaps) attempts to trade up a few spots to get him.
14. Carolina Panthers – Alex Barron, OT, Florida State
The Panthers need one more quality offensive tackle, and Barron fits the bill. Though there have been questions about his passion, he has all the physical tools needed at the position and he's got exponentially better every year in college. Some grumbled about his difficulties in the bench press, but Barron has the longest arms of anyone in the draft and good lower body strength. He's more likely to be a very good player (perhaps even Pro Bowl caliber) than a bust.
15. Kansas City Chiefs – Shawne Merriman, DE/LB, Maryland
We think the Chiefs are going to get the deal for Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain done, so they won't have to address cornerback at this spot. Merriman only really had one breakout season in college, and he still has to learn how to play in coverage as a linebacker. He'll fit in with Kansas City's need to get a better pass rush out of the front seven. He's got plenty of size and speed, and he impressed scouts in his positional drills. He could be a major hit, but his lack of long-term success makes him a risk for the "bust" category. If Kansas City can't get the deal for Surtain done before the draft, expect Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers to go here.
16. New Orleans Saints – Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn
Cornerback isn't necessarily a pressing need, but Rogers offers a ton of value at this spot and is a far safer pick than Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson. Rogers' stock has risen due to very impressive workouts leading up to the draft. Clearly the best defensive player for Auburn last season, Rogers could become a more complete cornerback down the road than West Virginia's Adam Jones and Miami's Antrel Rolle.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin
Word is that the Bengals want to move down out of this pick. If they can't, James will be the choice. His 40-yard dash times disappointed some people, leading to the belief that he's going to have a harder time beating tackles in the NFL with a speed rush. James had some health issues in college, but he has good size and athleticism. Plus the Bengals need someone on the other side of Justin Smith and James will improve the pass rush for Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati could also take a look at Virginia tight end Heath Miller at this spot.
18. Minnesota Vikings – David Pollack, DE, Georgia
Pollack would be another good piece to add to an improving defense, and he would be another young complement that can eventually start opposite Kenechi Udeze. For all of the questions swirling around Pollack, he put up fantastic numbers in college and has the flattering labels of "high motor" and "playmaker." Oklahoma offensive tackle Jammal Brown should get a look here as well.
19. St. Louis Rams – Jammal Brown, OT, Oklahoma
After the nuclear meltdown with Kyle Turley, the Rams need to address their situation at tackle. Brown was a three-year starter for the Sooners and made steady improvements along the way, especially physically. He has enough size to play in the NFL (6-6, 316), though he could easily add another 10 to 15 pounds in the NFL. Like Florida State's Alex Barron, some question his intensity. Overall, most think he can be a good tackle but not develop into a Pro Bowl-level talent.
20. Dallas Cowboys – Thomas Davis, S/OLB, Georgia
Dallas could use help at either safety or linebacker, and that gives the hard-hitting Davis even better value at this pick. He divided his time at Georgia as a starter at either safety or linebacker, and he was a big-time playmaker at both positions. His 40 times left something to be desired and there is a debate whether Davis is best suited to be a linebacker or safety in the NFL. At either position, he'll be a major-league hitter.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars – Marlin Jackson, CB, Michigan
Jacksonville has to have the best corner available at this spot, and Jackson fits the description. The concerns about speed were alleviated at his pro day, when Jackson showcased a good package of size and athleticism for the position. While he's not as fast as Nebraska's Fabian Washington, Jackson was one of the nation's best defenders in the secondary for four years. He also made a temporary switch to safety to help Michigan strengthen the position, showing he's got a willingness to do whatever it takes to win games. He fared very well against an impressive number of elite receivers during his career with the Wolverines.
22. Baltimore Ravens – Travis Johnson, DT, Florida State
The Ravens could go wide receiver at this pick, but that position is deep enough to address it later. Johnson is simply too good to pass up. He's another player who has really only had one "star" season, when he became a full time starter in 2004 for Florida State. That, along with some injury and off-the-field concerns, makes him a risky pick. But he has great speed and quickness for a player his size, and he would add some quality depth and bite to Baltimore's front seven.
23. Seattle Seahawks – Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma
Cody has really taken a tumble down some draft boards over the last three weeks. Some teams don't even have him in the first round. There are concerns about his lack of bulk, but a few comments we've heard from personnel ranks include "too high-strung" and "too emotional." That's essentially a diplomatic way a team says teams are concerned about his bout with depression midway through his college career. Whatever the case, Seattle needs a pass-rushing defensive end, and Cody is a high-energy player who was very productive for one of the best teams in the country. He hasn't had issues with depression in two years.
24. Green Bay Packers – Matt Roth, DE, Iowa
They need a defensive end, and he's the last true one left on the board. USC defensive end/tackle Shaun Cody will get a look, but there's concern over whether he's more of a defensive tackle in the NFL. The Packers will go with Roth, who gets by on energy and non-stop hustle. He's not oozing with talent like some of the other ends in this draft, but unlike some of those guys, Roth maximizes what he has. With the rumbling about Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell moving up on draft boards, there's a slim chance Green Bay grabs a quarterback like Akron's Charlie Frye with this pick, thinking he won't be available in the second round.
25. Washington Redskins – Fabian Washington, CB, Nebraska
The Redskins would have to be delighted if they could get South Carolina's Troy Williamson at No. 9 and Washington at this spot. That would give them two of the fastest players in the draft, and both at need positions. Washington is easily the fastest cornerback in the draft, running sub-4.3 times in the 40. He has some issues, especially his size (5-10, 188), which hurts against bigger receivers and in run support, but he has a lot of talent and would be a great pick this low.
26. Oakland Raiders – Brodney Pool, S, Oklahoma
The Raiders need help at safety, and Pool would be the best defensive player on the board at this point. He has the skill and enough speed to play in coverage. He's also very good in run support and makes big plays. In terms of a pure safety, most teams think he's the cream of the crop. There is a chance Oakland could take a leap on a linebacker like Georgia's Odell Thurman or Florida's Channing Crowder at this pick, too.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Roddy White, WR, UAB
There may be more pressing needs, but Atlanta has to find more passing options to complement Michael Vick. White is a major vertical threat, with great speed and good playmaking skills down the field. White impressed a lot of people while showing off his skills at the combine and Senior Bowl. He hasn't played a ton of major competition, but that might not matter given his set of skills. This pick might help maximize Peerless Price by stretching the field.
28. San Diego Chargers – Khalif Barnes, OT, Washington
A big offensive tackle who impressed a lot of people after the college season ended. Some think Barnes could bulk up to 320 pounds on his 6-6 frame. Physically, he's top-notch. But the major concern is his commitment and the belief that Barnes will need a taskmaster as a coach to keep him motivated. He has a lot of raw skill, and getting a quality left tackle this low fills a big need for the Chargers.
29. Indianapolis Colts – Shaun Cody, DE/DT, USC
The Colts need some talented beef at defensive tackle, and Cody is prepared to be a starter right now. One of the most coveted high school players in the country, Cody was a four-year starter for the Trojans. Though he doesn't have the speed to be a pure pass-rushing defensive end, he has the skills to attack the quarterback from the interior line. Some teams think he could get bigger and play permanently on the inside in the NFL, while others think he's going to have to be rotated back and forth between defensive end and tackle.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Matt Jones, QB/WR, Arkansas
The Steelers are more familiar with the positional transition Jones has to make than any other team in the league, having gone through the process with Kordell Stewart, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. What's scary is that Jones might have more raw talent than all of those players. Clemson cornerback Justin Miller will be a possibility here, but the upside of Jones, and the ability to wean him along, will be too tempting to pass up.
31. Philadelphia Eagles – Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma
It's insane to think Clayton could fall this far, but with so many teams needing defensive help in the middle to late portions of the draft – and the speed and size of UAB's Roddy White – Clayton could take a little tumble down the draft board. Other than size, he's got everything you would want in a wideout. He would be fantastic value for Philadelphia at this point, allowing the team to rid itself of ever-jabbering Freddie Mitchell and replace him with a productive player.
32. New England Patriots – Odell Thurman, ILB, Georgia
The signing of linebacker Monty Beisel actually facilitates the selection of Thurman, giving Bill Belichick the insurance to take a little risk. Clemson cornerback Justin Miller will undoubtedly get a hard look, but cornerback depth is far better in this draft than the collection of inside linebackers. Thurman's 40-yard dash times aren't great, but scouts say he attacks the line of scrimmage like a wrecking ball. Physically, he looks great, but he has a lot of refining to do. He's a top-notch tackler and can shed blocks, but he has had some off-the-field issues and was punished a handful of times while at Georgia for violating team and academic standards.