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saint5221 12-08-2003 08:58 PM

Kipers top 25 draft prospects
Time to start thinking about next years draft. One of these guy will proably be wearing black and Gold next year... Poor bastard.

Friday, December 5, 2003
By Mel Kiper Jr.
Special to ESPN Insider

BIG BOARD: Kiper's Top 25 NFL prospects | Dec. 5
The big news on my Big Board this week is the addition of Virginia Tech junior RB Kevin Jones. As those who follow my senior draft board know, I don't include juniors unless they declare for the NFL draft. This week, Jones did just that, and he enters my Top 25 at No. 8 (he's the first junior on this year's board).

The other brand-new member of my Big Board is Iowa safety Bob Sanders, one of the nation's best defenders pound-for-pound. Sanders debuts at No. 23.

Two seniors re-enter my board this week after dropping off earlier this season: Oregon State DT Dwan Edwards (at No. 12) and Michigan RB Chris Perry (No. 16). Two other seniors are not on my board right now but are right on the cusp of the Top 25: Florida OT Max Starks (6-7, 344) and Oregon State WR James Newson.

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. Williams still averaged 16.1 yards per catch on 61 receptions with eight TDs this season.

A superb athlete with great size, Williams averaged 17.8 yards per catch with 12 TDs as a junior in '02, when he returned to the all-world form he displayed as a freshman after slipping some 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 (6-3½, 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 during last season's national-championship run (recording 10½ tackles for loss and 4½ 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. Jonathan Vilma, LB, Miami (6-2, 230) | previous ranking: 6
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 on a strong team. He's smart, instinctive and fast (in the 4.5-4.6 range in the 40).

6. Ben Troupe, TE, Florida (6-4¼, 260) | previous ranking: 8
Troupe is an imposing figure and a gifted athlete. This season, he hauled in 39 receptions, averaging 16.4 yards per catch with five TDs. Last season, he caught just 15 passes while sharing time with current NFL tight end Aaron Walker. As Troupe maximizes his ability and refines his pass-catching game, he will become a high-quality NFL tight end. Coming into the season, I envisioned him as a first- or second-round draft choice. Now, I expect him to be a solid first-rounder.

7. D.J. Williams, OLB, Miami (6-2, 240) | previous ranking: 5
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.

8. Kevin Jones (JR.), RB, Virginia Tech (5-11½, 210) | previous ranking: NEW to Big Board
Jones is an explosive runner with game-breaking speed. In the open field, few cornerbacks can catch him. He has the ability to stop on a dime and change direction. Plus, he's a good pass-receiver out of the backfield and is a strong blocker, making him a complete player. A tremendous natural athlete, Jones was highly recruited out of high school. In fact, he was seen by most as the nation's best high-school running back in his class. The only concern is that his running style is a bit upright, but he's excelled despite an average offensive line (except for center Jake Grove, who is outstanding).

9. Karlos Dansby, OLB, Auburn (6-4, 225) | previous ranking: 7
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.

10. J.P. Losman, QB, Tulane (6-2½, 220) | previous ranking: same
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. Dwan Edwards, DT, Oregon State (6-2½, 308) | previous ranking: unranked (was ranked earlier)
Edwards was arguably the Pac-10's best defensive lineman this season. He's quick, explosive and disruptive behind the line of scrimmage despite being consistently double-teamed. He creates a steady inside push and is effective against the run as well as the pass. His tremendous athletic ability enabled him to quietly have a great year in the Pac-10.

13. Will Poole, CB, USC (5-11, 190) | previous ranking: 15
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.

14. Stuart Schweigert, S, Purdue (6-2, 209) | previous ranking: 13
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 Purdue's career interceptions leader (with 17).

15. Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum (5-11, 186) | previous ranking: 19
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 were 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 a 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.

16. Chris Perry, RB, Michigan (6-0½, 225) | previous ranking: unranked (was ranked earlier)
Perry is one of the nation's best running backs and a strong Heisman candidate (on my list, No. 2 behind Oklahoma QB Jason White). Perry isn't a game-breaker, but he's tough in short-yardage and red-zone situations. He's also a good pass-receiver and blocker -- you could make a case that he's the most complete back in this draft. He's a better prospect than former Michigan RB Anthony Thomas, who was a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2001 draft.

17. Dunta Robinson, CB, South Carolina (5-11, 188) | previous ranking: 12
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.

18. Lee Evans, WR, Wisconsin (5-10½, 193) | previous ranking: 14
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. This season, Evans had 60 receptions for a 19.4-yard average (1,162 yards) and 12 TDs. He possesses good leaping ability and outstanding pass-receiving skills. At full strength, he can be as good a wide receiver as Charles Rogers or Andre Johnson, who both declared early and became first-round picks in the the 2003 draft.

19. Philip Rivers, QB, N.C. State (6-4½, 230) | previous ranking: 25
Rivers has been a constant on my top-five Heisman list all season because of his phenomenal '03 performance. Look at his numbers this season: He completed 71 percent of his passes, with 4,016 yards, 29 TDs and just seven 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.

20. Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas (6-4¼, 325) | previous ranking: 9
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.

21. Vernon Carey, OL, Miami (6-4, 355) | previous ranking: 17
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.

22. Rodney Leslie, DT, UCLA (6-3, 297) | previous ranking: 21
Leslie is 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 defensive force for the Bruins all season. Last year, Leslie suffered a broken foot midway through the campaign, but he rebounded well this year.

23. Bob Sanders, S, Iowa ( 5-8½, 205) | previous ranking: NEW to Big Board
You could make a case that, pound-for-pound, Sanders has been the best defensive player in college football during his tremendous career. The lack of ideal height is the only real concern for Sanders. If he were two inches taller, he'd be an early-to-mid first-round draft choice and would probably be one of the top five seniors on my Big Board right now. Sanders is a lights-out hitter who runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.35 range. Ultimately, he probably will be drafted in the second round, but he'll be tremendous in workouts.

24. Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma State (6-2, 192) | previous ranking: 16
One of the most polished wide receivers in the nation, Woods runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. 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. This season, Woods caught 66 passes for a 17.3-yard average and 14 TDs. In 2002, Woods caught an amazing 107 passes for a 15.8-yard average and 17 TDs.

25. Keith Smith, CB, McNeese State (5-11½, 183) | previous ranking: 24
An intriguing I-AA prospect in the strong Southland Conference, Smith 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 had 13 pass breakups, four interceptions and two blocked kicks. Keep in mind that most teams avoid throwing his way because of his impressive resumé. 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.

DROPPED -- Dropped out of Top 25 (since last ranking):
Derrick Strait, CB, Oklahoma (5-11, 193) | previous ranking: 18
Since redshirting in 1999, Strait has been on the field, so he was 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's as good as (or better than) teammate Andre Woolfolk, a first-round pick in the '03 draft.

Nathan Vasher, CB, Texas (5-9½, 181) | previous ranking: 20
Vasher could 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.

Will Allen, S, Ohio State (6-1, 193) | previous ranking: 22
Ohio State lost exceptional safety Mike Doss to the NFL from last year's national-championship squad, and Allen stepped in admirably. Allen has been a standout performer all season in Ohio State's secondary.

Jacob Rogers, OT, USC (6-5½, 305) | previous ranking: 23
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.

D_it_up 12-09-2003 09:49 AM

Kipers top 25 draft prospects
Notice that there aren\'t any Georgia Bulldogs or Kansas St. players on that list? The only Ohio St. player that WAS on the list dropped off. Odds are that the Saints will STILL pick someone from one of these schools, because it seems like they\'re the only ones that draft from. :casstet:

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