1. San Francisco – Alex Smith, QB, Utah. . Word is the 49ers want Alex Smith, but signability concerns might send them back to Rodgers. The team denies that signability will be a factor, so we'll make the call that Smith is the pick. Smith has the smarts, field vision, and quick release necessary, and even though his arm isn't particularly strong, it's strong enough to be an NFL starter when you consider his intangibles.
2. Miami – Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn. The Dolphins, under new coach Nick Saban, know that they have to upgrade at running back, especially if they’re still serious about employing A.J. Feeley at quarterback. Brown's size and speed are outstanding, and he’ll be the workhorse back the Dolphins lacked last year after Ricky Williams left abruptly before training camp. Talk of a Williams comeback and a QB pick here is probably not more than a smokescreen coming from Saban.
3. Cleveland – Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan. The Browns will try to shed years of bad drafts with this pick. New GM Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennell are under a lot of pressure with this pick. Edwards is the safest pick on the board, as he is the top-rated player for many teams, and he is the playmaking wideout that the Browns are lacking. Expect them to go after a quarterback in the second round if they pass on Smith.
4. Chicago – Cedric Benson, RB, Texas. If Edwards were still available, the Bears would pounce. However, they don't need Mike Williams because he isn't the vertical threat they'd like to have opposite new starting wideout Muhsin Muhammad. The Bears can use this pick to upgrade their running attack, which is led by the inconsistent and injury-prone Thomas Jones. Benson is a workhorse back that would benefit from platoon duty early in his career after carrying the ball 600 or so times the past two years at Texas.
5. Tampa Bay – Aaron Rodgers, QB, California. Jon Gruden has been eyeing Carnell Williams since he coached the kid in the Senior Bowl. But he can't afford to pass on a chance to draft a franchise quarterback. The Buccaneers aren't particularly high on Brian Griese as the future of the franchise, but his presence would allow Rodgers to learn the system and adjust to the pro game before being thrust into the starting role. Rodgers has a strong arm, makes quick decisions, and is a good fit for the West Coast offense.
6. Tennessee – Adam Jones, CB, West Virginia. Like the quarterbacks at the top of the board, not much separates the top two cornerbacks. Both Jones and Miami’s Antrel Rolle have good speed, cover skills, and both can help immediately as dynamic return men. I’ll put Jones a bit higher because he’s less physical in coverage but still more than willing to help out against the run. Tennessee lost starting corner Samari Rolle and might lose Andre Dyson in free agency, so Jones could start immediately for the Titans opposite Andre Woolfolk. If Dyson re-signs, Jones can assume a role covering slot receivers in his rookie year.
7. Minnesota – Mike Williams, WR, Southern California. After trading Randy Moss to Oakland and acquiring this pick, speculation began to run rampant about the Vikings drafting Williams. Unless the Vikings have an inflated view of Travis Taylor, they haven’t acquired a number one receiver to replace Moss. Williams is the closest thing to that left on the board. His size (6’5”) and hands make him an attractive option for a team that just spent seven years throwing to the 6’4” Moss. He's a better downfield threat than many teams think, and the Vikings could be adding to a history of draft-day blunders if they pass up on him.
8. Arizona – Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn. This pick will change if the Cardinals are able to acquire Travis Henry from Buffalo. For now, though, they need a running back. Williams is the best back left on the board, and he might be more ready to start than college teammate Brown. He’s not as accomplished a receiver as the Brown, but he’s more than adequate in that area. If the Cardinals acquire Henry before the draft, look for them to pick up Antrel Rolle or Carlos Rogers with this pick.
9. Washington – Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami-FL. The Redskins will take either of the top two corners on the board. After losing Fred Smoot in free agency, the team knows they have to upgrade at that position. They need a guy who can excel in man coverage as well as run support, something that isn’t a strength for returning starter Shawn Springs. Rolle would start opposite Springs, and he will give the team a physical presence on the outside while also providing a dynamic kick-return threat.
10. Detroit – Alex Barron, OT, Florida State. The Lions need a new starting right tackle, as Stockar McDougle left for Miami in free agency. While the defense also has holes, the Lions need to shore up this position, and they haven’t gotten it done in free agency. Barron is the best lineman in this draft. He needs to be more physical and more consistent, but he has the potential to become a Pro Bowl player. Arguments can be made for the Lions to draft a pass-rush threat or LB Derrick Johnson, but tackle is the most immediate need this team has, and it's one of the weakest positions in the draft. Barron is good enough to start right away, but no one who will be available for Detroit later on is.
11. Dallas – Demarcus Ware, DE/OLB, Troy. The Cowboys crave a player who can get to the quarterback from the edge. Ware has flashed great speed and pass-rush instincts. His athleticism will be a welcome addition to the Cowboys' defense, and he has a chance to develop into an every-down linebacker. Ware has shot up draft boards recently, and should go in the first half of the first round.
12. San Diego – Shawne Merriman, DE/OLB, Maryland. The Chargers are in need of help with a pass rush that produced only 29 sacks last season. The 3-4 defense is a great fit for a player like Merriman. Merriman might not be an every-down defensive end, but he has the size to play from a down lineman position and still be productive, and he can also rush as a linebacker out of the 3-4.
13. Houston – Derrick Johnson, OLB, Texas. The Texans view outside linebacker as a pressing need, as they would like to move Kailee Wong inside after cutting Jamie Sharper. To do that, they have to upgrade on the outside, and Johnson is a perfect fit. He has the ability to get to the quarterback from the edge, and he can also drop back into coverage without looking lost. Johnson needs to improve as a tackler, and he sometimes has trouble when teams run right at him, but the Texans would love to add his speed and instincts to their defense.
14. Carolina – Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina. Wide receiver is a need, as is the running back position. However, Williamson is the best prospect on the board, and even though he's a bit of a project, Carolina will take the chance. Williamson is a great athlete who fits in as a vertical threat in Carolina's offense, and he has the upside to become a starter in a hurry if he develops his route-running skills.
15. Kansas City – Marcus Spears, DE. LSU. The Chiefs shouldn’t even be allowed to draft offensive players. They have too many needs on defense. One of those needs is an every-down defensive end. They traded for former Tennessee Titan Carlos Hall, but still need to get better. Spears is a bit of a 'tweener, but he is versatile enough to play every down, and he might be the best defensive end in the draft when it comes to his ability against the run.
16. New Orleans – Thomas Davis, S, Georgia. Davis is a perfect fit for the Saints' needs, which are primarily safety and outside linebacker. Davis can play both, and many teams have projected him as an outside linebacker because of his size and run-stuffing ability. Davis isn't a liability in coverage, so the Saints will have the luxury of playing him at the position where he fits the best at the NFL level.
17. Cincinnati – Carlos Rogers, CB, LSU. As the Bengals look up at Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North, they probably notice one huge discrepancy between the three teams. The Steelers and Ravens have top-notch defenses, while the Bengals were not a good defensive team in 2004. Rogers would be a gift here for Marvin Lewis, a defensive-minded coach who needs to improve the defense on a team that features emerging QB Carson Palmer.
18. Minnesota – David Pollack, DE, Georgia. Minnesota has done a great job in free agency, signing Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper to help in the secondary, Pat Williams at defensive tackle, and acquiring Napoleon Harris and Sam Cowart at linebacker. Kenechi Udeze was a bit of a disappointment last year as a pass-rusher, and Lance Johnstone isn’t durable enough to be counted on, so the Vikings still need a defensive end that can pressure from the outside. While there are better pure pass-rushers in the draft, the Vikings will stick with the best prospect available.
19. St. Louis – Jamaal Brown, OT, Oklahoma. Even if Kyle Turley (back problems) is healthy, it’s hard to imagine he’ll return to play for a coach that he allegedly threatened to kill. With that in mind, the Rams need to find a new starting right tackle. Brown is raw and there are questions about how quickly he will pick up the techniques he needs to learn. But he’s experienced as a right tackle, and he has excellent footwork in pass blocking. There is risk here, but Brown is the best prospect at a position of need for the Rams.
20. Dallas – Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin. The Cowboys need to continue upgrading their defense. James has fallen some on a few boards because of subpar workouts and durability concerns, but he is one of the top pass rushers in the draft. Ware and James would work as a great tandem in the Cowboys' front seven as they adjust to a 3-4 defense. James is big enough to sustain himself against the run, and he is impressive going upfield at the quarterback.
21. Jacksonville – Khalif Barnes, OT, Washington. The Jaguars have Mike Pearson, but his availability for 2005 is up in the air after he suffered a serious knee injury last season. Without him, the Jaguars’ lack of depth is exposed. Barnes has been rising on some draft boards despite some concerns over his durability and work ethic. He had a broken wrist in 2004, but was having a strong season until the injury. He has good fundamentals and is very light on his feet.
22. Baltimore – Travis Johnson, DT, Florida State. Defensive tackle isn't as big a need for the Ravens as other positions are, but Johnson is too good of a value to pass up. Despite character concerns, Johnson would be a steal for Baltimore with this pick. He's a big, disruptive defensive tackle who wouldn't have to start right away, but would be a key contributor in the Ravens' rotation.
23. Seattle – Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma. The team filled a major need at cornerback on Thursday, signing free-agent Andre Dyson to a five-year deal. Now, they can turn their attention to the defensive line. The Seahawks need to get younger and more athletic at this position, and Cody brings a lot of speed to the table. He is taking medication to deal with clinical depression, and that has turned some teams off on him, but he is a good value with this pick.
24. Green Bay – Matt Roth, DE, Iowa. The Packers are looking for another defensive end who can get upfield. Aaron Kampman is adequate against the run, but doesn’t give the Packers much of a pass-rush threat. New defensive coordinator Jim Bates wants athletic ends who can get to the quarterback. Roth is a good pass-rusher who has better overall skills than most people think, and he plays with a mean streak. His attitude would be a great fit on a Packers defensive line that played way too soft at times last year.
25. Washington – Roddy White, WR, UAB. In a pick acquired this week from Denver, Joe Gibbs will likely target his offense. The Redskins need a player who can be a threat vertically, and White can do that with his speed and jumping ability. A tandem of White and Santana Moss on the outside could make the Redskins' passing game much more lethal.
26. Oakland – Brodney Pool, S, Oklahoma. The Raiders got this pick in a pre-draft deal with the Jets. It's possible that they'll use this pick to add some depth to their defensive line, but Pool is a good value at another position of need. He has excellent ball skills and is solid in zone coverage. Pool is a smart player who can contribute immediately as a “center fielder” type of safety. He has underrated ability in run support, but isn’t overly physical or intimidating.
27. Atlanta – Luis Castillo, DT, Northwestern. The Falcons need a run-plugging tackle to add to their rotation, and Castillo is a good fit. He's hard to move around at the point of attack, and he flashes some upfield mobility. His steroid test was a turnoff for some, but not for others, as some teams appreciated his candidness in dealing with the issue. Many appear ready to write it off as a mistake made that won't be repeated. Castillo is a smart player who is a first-rounder on many teams' boards.
28. San Diego – Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma. The Chargers are a safe bet to go offense/defense with their two first rounders, assuming they keep both picks. They can't pass up on Merriman with the earlier pick if he's available, and they can't pass on Clayton here. Clayton is undersized, but is the most polished wideout in the draft. He possesses great route-running skills, great hands, and shows good burst and elusiveness after the catch.
29. Indianapolis – Heath Miller, TE, Virginia*. The Colts lost Marcus Pollard in free agency, putting the pressure on Dallas Clark to produce as the team’s top tight end. At this point, Clark is the only tight end on the roster with any significant experience. Miller is a player rated much higher on many draft boards, and the Colts won’t be able to pass him up here, despite their plethora of defensive needs. Miller has great hands and would be a perfect fit in the Colts’ wide-open offense.
30. Pittsburgh – Fabian Washington, CB, Nebraska. Thanks to free-agency losses and salary cap cuts, Pittsburgh has some holes to fill on defense. There is talk that they will sign Ty Law once he's healthy, but it's no guarantee that Law will sign, or that he could go for 16 games as an everydown player. Washington has great potential, and he would make a good nickel corner in his rookie season while he learns how to use his 4.29 speed to become an even better player.
31. Philadelphia – Shaun Cody, DE, Southern California. Cody has plenty of potential, and he certainly is the kind of nonstop-motor player teams like to have on the defensive line, but there is concern over his status as a 'tweener. Even with that in mind, it's hard to imagine a player of Cody's talents falling completely out of the first round. Matt Jones will be tempting here for Philly, but it's too much of a reach to take such a developmental prospect in the first round.
32. New England – Barrett Ruud, LB, Nebraska. New England is unpredictable. They have some needs, namely cornerback, linebacker, and offensive line depth. Ruud has the look of a Patriot. He's a heady player who has good character and leadership skills. And, by the way, he's one of the most efficient tacklers in this draft.