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Top 20 Junior Prospects
These were Mel Kiper ranked players
The top prospects in this group of juniors are Arkansas OT Shawn Andrews, Oklahoma DT Tommie Harris, Miami-Florida TE Kellen Winslow and Miami-Ohio QB Ben Roethlisberger. Also, at the end of this list, I evaluate two sophomores who might end up being eligible to declare for the draft.
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Miami-Ohio | early-to-mid first round
Roethlisberger (6-5, 240) has an excellent arm, but his release is not super-quick. He's mobile for a passer his size, though, and he bounced back well after throwing four interceptions against Iowa in the season opener. Roethlisberger is also smart with great enthusiasm for the game, much like New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington.
2. Andrew Walter, Arizona State | second or third round
Walter could be the top quarterback in the 2005 draft if he comes back for his senior year (which would be a good idea). He needs to improve his decision-making and display better consistency after making some poor decisions and questionable throws this season. There are too many other good quarterbacks in the draft for him to go much higher at this point.
1. Cedric Benson, Texas | first round
A case could be made that Benson was the nation's best running back over the last half of this season. He averaged better than 183 yards per game over his final five games (Benson did not play against Baylor). Benson is playing the best football of his career right now.
2. Steven Jackson, Oregon State | first round
Reports are that Jackson, a big back at 6-2 and 230 pounds, runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range. Jackson is a great receiving option out of the backfield, but he needs to be more decisive hitting the hole. Part of the problem might be a mediocre offensive line, though, so that won't hurt his stock.
3. Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech | first round
A 210-pounder with game-breaking speed, Jones is a tremendous natural athlete with great feet and the ability to stop on a dime and change direction. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and also offers strong blocking ability, making him a complete player. On Wednesday, Jones officially declared for the 2004 draft.
4. Carnell Williams, Auburn | first round
Williams has good size (5-11, 200) and is a tremendous pure runner. His feet, balance, vision and natural instincts are outstanding. Williams is tough and a tremendous runner between the tackles. But he isn't a very good receiver out of the backfield. Williams needs to improve his hands but still looks like a first-rounder.
1. Michael Clayton, LSU | first round
Angular at 6-3Â½ and 190 pounds, Clayton is tough and has great natural pass-receiving skills. He shows tremendous burst out of his break. He doesn't always gain lots of separation, but he shields the defender well and can turn it on in the open field after the catch. Speed is a question with any receiver until he runs the 40-yard dash for scouts, but I see Clayton as a solid first-rounder.
2. Braylon Edwards, Michigan | second round
On the College GameDay radio show after Michigan's big win over Ohio State, Edwards (6-2Â½, 208) told me he would stay in Ann Arbor for his senior year. He finished the season strong. Against the Buckeyes, Edwards had the best performance of his career -- he blocked, made catches, ran after the catch and played with intensity. If he plays next year as well as he played vs. Ohio State, he'll be the top receiver in the '05 draft and a high first-rounder. If he declared for this draft, he'd be a likely second-rounder (he should stay in school, though). Edwards' father, Stanley Edwards, was an outstanding fullback at Michigan.
3. Fred Gibson, Georgia | second or third round
Gibson (6-4, 190) had some injury problems this season that prevented him from putting up the numbers he's capable of. If he returns for his senior year, he could be the first or second wide receiver off the board in the 2005 draft. In the '04 draft, he would probably be a second- or third-rounder. In my opinion, he needs to stay in school.
4. Reggie Williams, Washington | first round
A big receiver at 6-3Â½ and 218 pounds, Williams presents matchup problems for many Pac-10 cornerbacks. While his size and athleticism are impressive, he would need to prove his speed during workouts. He must run a good 40-yard time in order to be drafted as high as his collegiate production indicates. If his 40 time is good, I would expect him to be a first-rounder.
1. Kellen Winslow, Miami-Florida | early first round
Winslow is one of college football's elite players, though his numbers don't reflect that this year due to issues with Miami's QB and passing game. At 6-4Â¼ and 245 pounds, he runs and catches like a wide receiver. Winslow will be a dynamic performer whenever he goes to the NFL -- he'll give creative offensive coordinators lots of options. With the success of Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap and Jeremy Shockey, the tight end is back in vogue in the NFL. If Winslow declares early, he clearly would be drafted in the top 5-10.
1. Shawn Andrews, OT, Arkansas | early-to-mid first round
At 6-5 and 365 pounds, Andrews is the ultimate right tackle. He's an explosive and dominant run-blocker with decent feet in pass protection. He'll tremendously upgrade an NFL running game (he needs to keep his weight at a reasonable level, though). Andrews could be a Pro Bowl tackle.
1. Tommie Harris, DT, Oklahoma | early first round
You could make a case that Harris is the best defensive player in college football this year. He played through some minor injuries last season yet still demanded double- and triple-teaming. That extra attention has continued this year. He frees up linebackers and opens up sack opportunities for DEs.
2. David Pollack, DL, Georgia | late first round or second round
Pollack could use another year, but it's a tough call because his computer numbers will never be off the charts and he probably won't have an eye-catching 40 time (this year or next year). He's productive with a great motor and presents a challenge for offensive linemen because of his passion for the game and intensity level. If he improved his 40-yard time next year, he might be drafted higher than the late-first or second-round area.
3. Randy Starks, DT, Maryland | early-to-mid second round
At 6-4 and 305 pounds, Starks is athletic and gifted, but he needs another year with the Terps. Next season, he could be one of the nation's best defensive players. If he declared early, he'd probably be a late first-rounder or early-to-mid second-rounder. If he stays, he'd be a likely early first-rounder.
4. Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami-Florida | late first round or second round
At 6-1 and in the 350-pound range, Wilfork needs to drop some weight. He's an athletic and powerful pass-rusher, though he doesn't have long arms. He's a late-first-round possibility.
1. Derrick Johnson, Texas | first round
Word has it that that Johnson (6-3, 225) will return for his senior year. He has tremendous speed and athleticism and has been productive in his college career.
1. Chris Gamble, CB, Ohio State | late first round or second round
Gamble has also played WR for the Buckeyes, but he needs to focus exclusively on CB. Because he isn't seasoned yet, his secondary game needs work technically and fundamentally. He isn't a finished product, but he could develop into a great pro CB. Gamble has a ton of potential.
2. Marlin Jackson, CB, Michigan | late first round or second round
Jackson (6-1, 188) has had a great college career, but there are questions about his recovery speed. This has led to speculation that he might play safety in the NFL. Depending on his 40-yard time, I expect him to be drafted in the first or second round.
3. DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech | late first round or second round
Hall is a multipurpose player, also serving as a kick/punt returner. He's also played WR. He's a shut-down cover corner who next year could emerge as the nation's top CB. He lacks ideal height (estimated in the 5-10Â½ range) but has lots of ability. He would likely be a late first-rounder or early-to-mid second-rounder.
Two Sophomores of Note
1. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pitt | first round
There is some talk that Fitzgerald could become eligible for the draft because of a technicality concerning his high-school graduation date. NCAA rules stipulate that a player must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the NFL draft. Since Fitzgerald attended prep school for a year after leaving his original high school, there is talk that he may be the exception to the rule. If he does become eligible and declares, Fitzgerald is a sure first-round pick with his size, hands and body control. With a solid 40-yard time, he's looking like a top-5 pick if he gets into the draft.
2. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State | second round
Clarett is also hoping to enter the draft as a sophomore, but without the benefit of a prep-school year to help his case. Clarett has only one season of college football under his belt, though, and it was not even a full season due to injury. Add to that the fact that Clarett will be a year removed from competitive football -- remember, he isn't playing this season -- and his outlook is not as good as Fitzgerald's. Still, Clarett showcased his abilities by stepping up in big games and was very productive when healthy. But without the benefit of a full season at 100 percent, he looks like a second-round pick.
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