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Old 04-13-2005, 07:11 AM  
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KFFL Draft Grapevine, The Top Ten

NFL Draft Grapevine: The Top Ten
By Cory J. Bonini, Edited by Ryan R. Bonini
Welcome back, fellow draftniks! This week in KFFL's NFL Draft Grapevine we will take a look at who we feel could be your top-10 selections in the upcoming draft. We will look at each pick in-depth, ranging from team needs to whether the player is worthy of such a selection and the ever-troubling question: "who will be the No. 1 overall selection?"

The Top Ten
1) San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers may find themselves in a bit of a quandary come Draft Day, and here is why. With the talent level of the players likely to be selected in the top-five selections being so similar, San Francisco may be very hard pressed to find a team willing to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick. The Niners may simply be forced, through circumstances outside of their control, to draft one of the two quarterback prospects that are vying for the right to call themselves the best of the class. Of course, these two players are California QB Aaron Rodgers - widely viewed as the better of the two options - and Utah QB Alex Smith.

So, let's say the 49ers do stay put and draft one of the quarterbacks. Who should they take? The general consensus right now, through national reports, appears to be Rodgers. The team reportedly feels he is the better option to be their next franchise quarterback, something San Francisco fans have grown rather accustom to having over the last 20 years.

Is Rodgers the right choice? KFFL doesn't think so. While Rodgers may turn out to be a quality pro - or perhaps even a star - we feel Smith is the better of the two talents to take that multi-million dollar (approximately $19 million in guaranteed money) gamble on.

Rodgers, coming from the tutelage of Jeff Tedford, could very well be the next in line of first-round busts (or at least a player that hasn't lived up to his potential) from Tedford's "school of quarterbacks." For those of you who are not familiar with the history we're referring to, Detroit Lions QB Joey Harrington and Baltimore Ravens QB Kyle Boller - each former first-round picks - are products Tedford. While the jury is still out on both players, the same cannot be said for players like current Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL Europe attendee, QB Akili Smith.

Per national reports, Tedford's method of development for quarterbacks is the downfall when they make the transition to the pros. Doing all of the work, pulling the long hours and watching the film for the player is all part of Tedford's development of his quarterback.

"He does the thinking for the quarterback ahead of time, so all the quarterback has to do is carry out the plan," an NFC general manager noted in a national report. "He narrows the quarterback's options, so all he has to do is throw the ball to the right spot."

Currently, the Niners have been in contract negotiations with Rodgers, Smith, Miami Hurricanes CB Antrel Rolle and Michigan Wolverines WR Braylon Edwards.

2) Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins will likely have their choice of the top-three running backs available, Auburn's Ronnie Brown or Carnell Williams, as well as RB Cedric Benson of Texas. The San Francisco 49ers are not expected to select one of the three aforementioned players, leaving Miami in the driver's seat when it comes to rookie backs.

While it is entirely possible the team trades down, acquires more picks and drafts a tailback in the middle rounds, we feel the talents of Brown will simply be too tough to pass up. The Dolphins do have many holes to fill, but as shown by last season's dismal - and we're being kind - season, Miami absolutely needs a running game to get the passing game working when you have an inexperienced starting signal caller.

The Dolphins have reportedly shopped the No. 2 overall selection to several undisclosed NFL teams. The have also scheduled meetings with Utah QB Alex Smith and are looking to setup a meeting with Cal QB Aaron Rodgers, though nothing has been officially worked out yet.

Miami has held meetings with UAB WR Roddy White, Northern Colorado WR Vincent Jackson, Oklahoma S Brodney Pool, North Carolina State OT Chris Colmer and Virginia LB Darryl Blackstock.

3) Cleveland Browns

The Browns, much like the Dolphins, may be better off trading down and acquiring more draft picks than they would be standing pat at No. 3 overall. However, when the team acquired QB Trent Dilfer earlier during this offseason, the message was sent that the team may indeed draft a quarterback for the future to learn behind Dilfer for a year or so. It is unlikely the team believes QB Luke McCown is the long-term answer, as he is more of a work-in-progress.

Cleveland has scheduled an undisclosed meeting with Utah QB Alex Smith. Also, WR Braylon Edwards (Michigan) was in town for a pre-draft visit recently. What is most interesting about this visit is the notion the team may actually be set in their eyes with Dilfer and are willing to give him a premier prospect to work with at the wide receiver position.

Cleveland recently added restricted free agent S Brian Russell (Minnesota Vikings), by inking him to a two-year, $1.5 million offer sheet that Minnesota elected not to match. While Russell is not a marquee signing, he does allow the team to shift some focus away from the safety position during the draft. The Browns also acquired RB Reuben Droughns from the Denver Broncos via trade, and he is going to battle RB Lee Suggs for the starting tailback duties during training camp.

In the end, Cleveland could really go a number of ways and it is very difficult to pin them to one player. The most likely scenario at this point seems to be the Browns drafting Edwards to give them a legitimate threat as a game-breaking wideout.

4) Chicago Bears

If you haven't noticed, there was a common theme for the previously mentioned three picks... and that was the potential of trading down. The Chicago Bears also fall in that boat. Bears head coach Lovie Smith stated recently that the team is not opposed to moving down the draft board if the right opportunity presents itself.

Chicago has been very active with pre-draft meetings, with the following players either scheduled to have an upcoming meeting or they have already been in town recently: Georgia LB Odell Thurman, Texas RB Cedric Benson, Nebraska C Richie Incognito, Maryland PK Nick Novak and Michigan WR Braylon Edwards.

What does this year's Bears team need the most? Offensive playmakers! Whether or not they elect to draft one of the top-three running backs available, or they opt to go with a wide receiver, Chicago needs desperately to take some pressure off QB Rex Grossman, who is effectively still a rookie after only starting six games in his two years in the professional ranks.

The team has praised USC WR Mike Williams as well. By drafting him, they could have an impressive receiving tandem with Williams and WR Muhsin Muhammad. Whether or not their praise for Williams translates into a draft-day selection or not has yet to be seen, but the fact remains that Chicago is still in the hunt for a playmaker at the No. 4 overall spot.

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers are in a precarious situation. Do they draft a running back at the No. 5 spot that could be their franchise tailback, or does the team grab a playmaker at the wide receiver position? With a million and one players reportedly on their draft radar, the Bucs have been blowing smoke in every different direction in hopes of not tipping off any teams that could affect who Tampa Bay drafts.

Utah QB Alex Smith visited with the team Friday, April 8. Texas RB Cedric Benson visited with the Buccaneers April 6, and unrestricted free agent RB Anthony Thomas (Chicago Bears) - a former 1,000-yard rusher - was in town for a meeting April 4. Two additional running backs visited April 7, as RB J.J. Arrington (California) and RB Ryan Moats (Louisiana Tech) were both in town.

Reportedly, the following players are on the Buccaneers' radar: QB Alex Smith (Utah), QB Aaron Rodgers (California), WR Braylon Edwards (Michigan), RB Carnell Williams (Auburn), RB Ronnie Brown (Auburn) and WR Mike Williams (USC).

As it stands, we feel the team will go with a wide receiver, based off of which receiver is still available between Edwards or Williams. Judging by our feelings on Edwards, look for Williams to be their guy. By drafting a receiver at No. 5, Tampa Bay will be practically ensured a playmaker and will have the ability to follow up in the second round (fourth pick) to draft a running back like Moats or Arrington.

6) Tennessee Titans

The Titans have arguably the most holes for any one franchise in the league. If you look at how busy they have been with pre-draft visits, you would completely understand how desperate this team is to find a diamond in the rough. With little money to work with, the Titans will likely only have one high-priced draftee to sign.

Seeing the Titans have visited with every player in the nation that doesn't figure to be the No. 6 overall pick, one would think the team is looking to trade down. However, this may not be the case at all, as Tennessee owns 10 picks already in this year's draft.

At the end of the day, we feel the team drafts Miami Hurricanes CB Antrel Rolle. General manager Floyd Reese publicly stated the cornerback and wide receiver positions were of most concern, and the receivers in this year's draft class are very abundant, with similar talent levels, after the top two at the position (USC's Mike Williams and Michigan's Braylon Edwards). The Titans can come back in the second round and select a formidable wide receiver to play along side of WRs Drew Bennett and Tyrone Calico - given he actually stays healthy - to form a solid, but unspectacular receiving corps.

7) Minnesota Vikings (Acquired from the Oakland Raiders)

Well, well, well... how many options do the Vikings have at the seventh overall spot? One. Why just one? The Vikings desperately need to add a wide receiver that has Randy Moss-esque capabilities. While we feel a player like Moss, talent-wise, comes along once every three or four blue moons, there is potential in South Carolina WR Troy Williamson to develop the game-breaking play that Moss was so familiar for exhibiting in the Twin Cites.

Williamson is on par with Moss for size at 6-2, 200 pounds, but Williamson is F-A-S-T!!! He is 4.25 40 fast; that's how fast! So, why do you not hear about Williamson as much as some of the other prominent receivers? He played for a Lou Holtz-led Gamecocks team that knew one thing... run the football. Williamson recorded only 43 receptions during the 2004 season, but his quarterback play was poor at best.

Williamson will be a high draft pick in the 2005 draft, as he possesses the hands, the mind, the body control and speed that can kill defenders in the open field. It is just a matter of how high he will go at this point.

Do keep in mind the Williamson selection is solely based off the notion that both WR Braylon Edwards (Michigan) and WR Mike Williams (USC) will be off the board by No. 7.

8) Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals head coach Dennis Green wants to win and he wants to win now. Since he has brought in QB Kurt Warner, who hopes to resurrect his career with the impressive receiving corps Arizona boasts, Green knows the team needs a consistent running game.

Here is where you should insert the name of RB Cedric Benson (Texas). The best running back left on the board, as well as being the best running back in the eyes of many experts, Benson could prove to be a steal for the Cardinals as the eighth overall selection.

A four-year, 1,000-yard back at Texas, Benson has a low center of gravity, showing both finesse and power in his running. Standing 5-11, 222 pounds, Benson offers a tremendous amount of versatility to the field.

This selection, however, is purely contingent upon the Cardinals not acquiring RB Travis Henry from the Buffalo Bills via trade. If this deal doesn't happen, you very well could hear Benson's name called for the Cardinals come Draft Day.

9) Washington Redskins

The Redskins appear to have no market to work with when it comes to trading WR Rod Gardner, so it appears he may stay put for now. If the team doesn't have to focus on Gardner's expected absence during the draft, look for the team to have a multitude of directions to take.

Some potential avenues would be that of drafting Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton, LB Shawne Merriman (Maryland), CB Adam Jones (West Virginia) or LB Derrick Johnson (Texas). The chance of the team drafting a wide receiver seems more than likely the route the Redskins go should Gardner be dealt, even though they have signed free agent WR David Patten (New England Patriots) and traded for WR Santana Moss (New York Jets).

Patten is not far from getting long in the tooth and hasn't proven to be more than a quality role player during his career. Moss gives head coach Joe Gibbs the speedy deep threat he covets, but the need for a wide receiver to step in as a complimentary No. 3, with the hopes of becoming the No. 2 by the season's end, could be solved with Clayton.

If the team has a shot at drafting Miami (Fla.) CB Antrel Rolle - something we don't expect to happen - he is most certainly a player they would like to have on defense. The major snag is this: last year the Washington defense was what kept them in games, not their horrifically mundane offense. Thus, if Gardner stays, the team may invest their first-round selection in one of the aforementioned defensive prospects.

10) Detroit Lions

The Lions have a variety of options they can take at the 10th overall pick. They are set for now at quarterback and running back, but Detroit could surely stand to add another wide receiver to the mix. The team has made no secret their desire to continue upgrading their receivers, this coming despite the fact that they have invested first-round selections in WR Charles Rogers (2003) and WR Roy Williams (2004).

The team met with both WR Mark Clayton (Oklahoma) and WR Troy Williamson (South Carolina) April 6, potentially tipping their hand in the process. While pro teams often meet with prospects they do not have any interest in drafting, nor are in position to draft, some attention should be paid to the fact the Lions met with two players, the same day, from the position they need to fill.

The team also met with Stanford TE Alex Smith, who could be a possibility, too. Michigan WR Braylon Edwards is set to meet with the Lions Friday, April 8.

Detroit may not be opposed to drafting a player like CB Antrel Rolle (Miami, Fla.) to pair with CB Dre' Bly. If Rolle is indeed available at the No. 10 overall selection, look for the Detroit front office to spend some considerable time contemplating this move. Due to the team already having a diminutive cornerback in Bly, we don't see them taking another player of similar stature at cornerback. Then again, WR Randy Moss is no longer a division rival!
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