Top 25 Senior Prospects (Kiper)
1. Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss (6-4, 210) | previous ranking: same
Manning began the season at the No. 4 spot on my Big Board, and now he's up to No. 1. Why? It's due to the cumulative effect of his fantastic season. He makes plays at crunch time. He has an outstanding arm and possesses tremendous pocket awareness. He has stepped up his intensity in the huddle as well as his leadership on and off the field. He's accurate, poised and intelligent. After adding weight and strength last offseason, Manning has Ole Miss on the verge of accomplishing a first in school football history ... winning the SEC West and going to the SEC championship game.
Manning's situation this year is comparable to Carson Palmer's last year. Palmer rose up the draft board and wound up becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft (to the Bengals). If Manning had declared for the draft last year, he could have been a late first-rounder. Now he's looking like a sure-fire early first-rounder come April. He's the younger brother of Colts QB Peyton Manning.
2. Roy Williams, WR, Texas (6-4, 213) | previous ranking: same
Williams was the clear No 1 when I launched my 2004 draft board, but he dropped to No. 2 on Nov. 11 -- not because of any slip-up on his part but due to the meteoric rise of QB Eli Manning. In a way, it's a matter of splitting hairs, but Manning gets the nod right now. Depending on the juniors who declare early for the draft, Williams might drop a bit more, but he'll likely remain in the top three overall. Williams is a brilliant talent who has excelled this season despite a lack of consistent quarterback play. Texas runs a conservative offense that isn't especially sophisticated in its passing schemes.
A superb athlete with great size, he averaged 17.8 yards per catch with 12 TDs in 2002, when he returned to the all-world form he displayed as a freshman after slipping somewhat as a sophomore (when he averaged just 12.5 yards per catch). If Williams had declared for the 2003 draft, he likely would have been an overall top 10-15 pick and the third receiver off the board, behind Michigan State's Charles Rogers and Miami's Andre Johnson.
3. Robert Gallery, OT, Iowa (6-7, 318) | previous ranking: same
His size and physical skills make him ideally suited for pass protection. Over the past two years, Gallery has developed into one of the nation's premier left tackles. Intelligent and a good athlete, he started his college career as a tight end. He is key for the Hawkeyes in 2003, because he's the only returning starter on the O-line. He's gotten bigger and stronger throughout his college career.
4. Will Smith, DE, Ohio State (6-3Â½, 255) | previous ranking: same
Smith is an excellent natural pass rusher with great closing speed. He was the headliner on the Buckeyes' stellar defensive front seven last season (recording 10Â½ tackles for loss and 4Â½ sacks). Had he declared for the 2003 draft, he probably would have been a late first-rounder. In '04 he's a likely early first-round pick.
5. D.J. Williams, OLB, Miami (6-2, 240) | previous ranking: 6
A superb physical specimen, Williams has developed into a tremendous player, with great athleticism and excellent range from sideline to sideline. He's also a good form tackler. He began his career as a fullback and was considered a great prospect coming out of De LaSalle High School in California. Had he declared for the '03 draft, he probably would have gone in the mid-to-late first round. Next April, he could be a top 5-10 pick.
6. Jonathan Vilma, LB, Miami (6-2, 230) | previous ranking: 7
A middle linebacker who will shift to the outside in the NFL, Vilma is the latest in a long line of top-flight middle linebackers produced by the Hurricanes (including Ray Lewis, Nate Webster and Dan Morgan). He took over for Morgan, the Butkus award-winner after the 2000 season as the nation's top college linebacker. Vilma, who had outstanding 2001 and 2002 seasons, is an underrated standout for a strong team. He's smart, instinctive and fast (in the 4.5-4.6 range in the 40).
7. Karlos Dansby, OLB, Auburn (6-4, 225) | previous ranking: 8
With range and athleticism, Dansby can create difference-making plays in a variety of ways. He's posted some impressive performances this season. Dansby led the Tigers with 10 tackles for loss and four sacks in '02. He's an excellent pass rusher, and his best football is ahead of him. He's having a strong senior campaign.
8. Ben Troupe, TE, Florida (6-4Â¼, 260) | previous ranking: 9
Troupe is an imposing figure and a gifted athlete. He caught only 15 passes last season while sharing time with current NFL tight end Aaron Walker. As he maximizes his ability and becomes more of a pass-catching option, Troupe should be a first- or second-round draft choice.
9. Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas (6-4Â¼, 325) | previous ranking: 10
Tubbs has been a consistently dominant performer in the Big 12. It's unusual for someone his size to have such quickness and up-field explosion. With great stamina and physical ability, Tubbs doesn't wear down in the fourth quarter. He has tremendous potential.
10. J.P. Losman, QB, Tulane (6-2Â½, 220) | previous ranking: 5
Losman is a pure passer who can thread the needle or feather the ball when he has to. He's also one of the toughest quarterbacks in the country -- he'll hang in the pocket and take abuse in order to make throws. Losman has a passion for the game and studies endlessly, and he's an honors student in the classroom. With the skills and intangibles the NFL looks for, he has a chance to be a solid first-round draft pick.
11. Jake Grove, C, Virginia Tech (6-3, 300) | previous ranking: same
It's rare to see a first-round-caliber center. It happened last year, with Notre Dame's Jeff Faine being drafted by the Browns in the first round. It could happen this year with Grove, an outstanding anchor who controls the interior of the Hokies' offensive line. Grove has the ability to fire out at the middle linebacker while also handling collapse-the-pocket defensive tackles extremely well. As the QB of the O-line, he's a great leader. A rugged competitor, Grove is tough as nails and has played in lots of big games at perennial power Virginia Tech.
12. Dunta Robinson, CB, South Carolina (5-11, 188) | previous ranking: same
An underrated SEC standout, Robinson has excellent feet and great ball skills. There aren't many wide receivers who can accelerate past Robinson on deep routes. He consistently runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.40-4.45 range. Robinson is the kind of shutdown corner who can match up against the opponent's best receiver and maintain excellent coverage the entire game. Definitely a player on the rise.
13. Stuart Schweigert, S, Purdue (6-2, 209) | previous ranking: 14
Schweigert is a true center fielder for the Boilermakers. His savvy and speed enable him to consistently show up in the middle of the action -- he runs a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash. Schweigert is closing in on 20 career interceptions.
14. Lee Evans, WR, Wisconsin (5-10Â½, 193) | previous ranking: 15
Evans had a magnificent junior year in 2001, establishing a new Big Ten receiving record with 1,545 yards. Then, in 2002 spring practice, he suffered a serious knee injury that required further surgery in November 2002, causing him to miss the entire 2002 season. He's playing well now but isn't quite back to his pre-injury level yet. Evans possesses good leaping ability and outstanding pass-receiving skills. When he's healthy, he can be as good a wide receiver as Charles Rogers or Andre Johnson, who both declared early for the 2003 draft.
15. Will Poole, CB, USC (5-11, 190) | previous ranking: 18
Originally a nickel back, Poole was not a starter until replacing the injured Kevin Arbet in the third game this season. He started 10 games as a redshirt freshman at Boston College in 2000, was suspended for the '01 season and transferred to Ventura Junior College in 2002 (where he intercepted seven passes). Poole is an instinctive player and an excellent tackler with good ball skills.
16. Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma State (6-2, 192) | previous ranking: 13
One of the most polished wide receivers in the nation, Woods runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. But because he has quick feet and runs disciplined routes, he plays even faster than his 40 time indicates. He's good with his body in traffic, using it to shield the ball from defenders. In 2002, Woods caught 107 passes for 15.8 yards per catch (and 17 TDs).
17. Vernon Carey, OL, Miami (6-4, 355) | previous ranking: 16
Carey has starting experience at both tackle spots as well as right guard. His experience makes him a proven All-American-caliber lineman. He also has incredible athletic ability and the necessary mean streak. Carey is one of the nation's best offensive lineman.
18. Derrick Strait, CB, Oklahoma (5-11, 193) | previous ranking: 17
Since redshirting in 1999, Strait has been on the field, so he'll finish his career as a four-year starter in the tough Big 12. With excellent size for a cornerback, he isn't satisfied to be just a cover guy -- he's also strong against the run. He tied for the team lead with six interceptions in '02 and returned them 175 yards (an impressive average of 29.2 yards per return). He also led the team with 13 pass breakups and was as good as (or better than) teammate Andre Woolfolk, a first-round pick in the '03 draft.
19. Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum (5-11, 186) | previous ranking: NEW to Big Board
Colclough is the best player in Tusculum history, and he would be a star at any major college. Before transferring to Tusculum, a Division II school, Colclough played at Kilgore Junior College, where he was a juco All-American. Besides being an outstanding cornerback, he's a brilliant punt and kickoff returner. At Kilgore, he averaged 40 yards per kickoff return.
This season at Tusculum, Colclough's stats are impressive: nine interceptions (one returned for a TD); 10 pass breakups; 17 punt returns for a 13.9-yard average; and 18 kickoff returns for 29.4-yard average and two TDs (97 and 92 yards). Colclough has a great vertical leap and has made some highlight-film interceptions. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.43. He needs to get stronger so he won't be pushed around by bigger NFL receivers, but I expect him to be a late first-round pick.
20. Nathan Vasher, CB, Texas (5-9Â½, 181) | previous ranking: 19
Vasher has a chance to be the kind of prospect that current Chargers CB Quentin Jammer was coming out of college -- an excellent cover guy and a standout punt returner. Vasher has returned punts for his entire college career. With his size, Vasher fits the mold of former Texas A&M corner Aaron Glenn, now with the Houston Texans. Vasher has had some injury problems in the past, but if he stays healthy he'll likely be one of the first cornerbacks drafted in April.
21. Rodney Leslie, DT, UCLA (6-3, 297) | previous ranking: 20
Leslie suffered a broken foot midway through last season, but he's healthy now. He's a hard worker with excellent strength in both his upper and lower body. He has the versatility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, giving defensive coordinators plenty of flexibility. He's been a destructive force for the Bruins all season.
22. Will Allen, S, Ohio State (6-1, 193) | previous ranking: 21
Ohio State lost exceptional safety Mike Doss to the NFL, and Allen has stepped in admirably. Allen had a key interception against Michigan in the final regular-season game last year as the Buckeyes marched to the national championship. He also made the devastating hit that sidelined then-Miami RB Willis McGahee in the national-title game. Allen has been a standout performer all season in Ohio State's secondary.
23. Jacob Rogers, OT, USC (6-5Â½, 305) | previous ranking: 22
Rogers has become one of the nation's top left tackles. He began his career as a tight end but was moved to left tackle as a redshirt freshman, and over the past two years he's developed nicely. He still needs time to master the techniques required to play the position, but he's made great strides and can effectively neutralize speedy pass rushers. Rogers is also light on his feet, and his experience in offensive coordinator Norm Chow's pro-style attack should allow him to have an immediate impact in the NFL.
24. Keith Smith, CB, McNeese State (5-11Â½, 183) | previous ranking: 25
An intriguing I-AA prospect in the strong Southland Conference, Smith has recorded 64 career pass breakups (26 in 2002 alone). Those pass-breakup numbers are impressive. By comparison, Dallas Cowboys rookie DB Terence Newman (the No. 5 overall pick in 2003) had 14 pass breakups last year at Kansas State. This year, Smith has 13 pass breakups, four interceptions and two blocked kicks. Keep in mind that most teams avoid throwing his way because of his impressive resumÃ©. Smith was a multidimensional high-school athlete, playing running back and wide receiver as well as cornerback. He also ran track in high school on a state-championship relay team. At McNeese State, Smith ran on a school-record 4x400 relay team. He's been timed at 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, and he's already been invited to the Senior Bowl.
25. Philip Rivers, QB, N.C. State (6-4Â½, 230) | previous ranking: NEW to Big Board
Rivers has been a constant on my top-five Heisman list all season because of his phenomenal '03 performance. Look at his numbers: He's completing 72.3 percent of his passes, with 3,740 yards, 29 TDs and just six interceptions. Rivers has great size and a good arm, though his lower release point could be a question mark and his footwork is not polished. But he makes up for that low release with an incredibly quick, hair-trigger release.
Rivers is accurate, smart and an excellent leader with great instincts. And keep in mind, he's achieved his success this season with three key offensive components in and out of the lineup with injuries (LT Chris Colmer, WR Sterling Hicks and featured RB T.A. McClendon). Rivers is reminding people of Bernie Kosar, who had an awkward release and lacked great footwork but found success in the NFL.