||03-29-2005 02:25 PM
the players in the bottom of the first round
The second half of the first round
By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
The top half of the first round
(March 29, 2005) -- Last week, I put together my 'Sweet 16' or the top half of the first round. And as I sat down today with all my information -- combine results, Pro Day results, bowl games -- and lots of conversations with coaches and scouts, what rings true is that from the middle of the first round straight through to the bottom of the second round, there appears to be a lot of athletes with very similar grades. What a good year it's appearing to be for those teams that have multiple draft selections between slots 25 and 95. I know one team that is going to come out of this draft with at least three of my top 50 players.
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It seems like the absolute right time for a team like the Philadelphia Eagles to have five picks in the top 94 and 13 overall selections in the draft. Last year, the Eagles sent QB A.J. Feeley to Miami for this year's 35th pick; OG John Welbourn to Kansas City for the 77th pick; WR James Thrash to Washington for the 146th selection; and finally, four compensatory picks for the loss of Marco Coleman, Carlos Emmons, Duce Staley, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, and Bobbie Williams to free agency. They can't trade selections 172, 211, 247, or 252 because those are the compensatory picks. But they can bundle up the other nine picks any way they want and in this draft they are capable of moving down as well as moving up and collect extra picks for next year.
It's going to be tough on NFC opponents to watch the Eagles move freely up and down in the draft with all that firepower they have. Or they can just sit there and make their selections at 31, 35, 63, 77 and 94 before Saturday's drafting is done. Philadelphia's selections will cost much less than the picks in the 'Sweet 16'. And from the looks of things, if they stay with those choices, they might be just as good.
Here's a look at the 16 players that I think will close out the first round and a quick glimpse at the men that should start off the second round.
17. David Pollack, DE, Georgia: I spoke with Pollack last week and his enthusiasm and love of the game is contagious. He may go higher than this, but whoever takes the Georgia pass rusher is getting another Patrick Kerney type player who can drop in coverage as well as get upfield after the quarterback.
18. Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina: If pure speed and explosive leaping ability is what your team needs at the wide receiver position, then Williamson will look like the top receiver on your board. A consistent sub-4.4 40 time and an off-the-chart 41ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½-inch vertical makes up for his average route running. One NFL coordinator has already told me he would take him over any other receiver in the draft. We'll see if this coodinator's team takes him if he's still available when it's the team's turn. Williamson could do for an offense what Lee Evans did for the Bills last year -- open up all the underneath stuff by pressing the field.
19. Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma: Any team looking for an excellent route runner and a polished product who should step right into the lineup as a slot receiver and also looks like he's been in the league for years will select Clayton. He understands coverages, has been well coached and could have a career somewhere between Derrick Mason, Troy Brown and Wayne Chrebet, which is pretty good company.
20. Marcus Spears, DE, Louisiana State: It will not shock me if Spears goes earlier in the draft. There just aren't many big men in this draft class who can move like him. It will be harder to pass on him in the draft than to take him. He fits no matter what front you play and the league history suggests you better have some big, mobile athletes up front if you want to win. He may never be a Richard Seymour, but he could be a Shaun Ellis.
21. Daryl Blackstock, OLB, Virginia: It is very hard to evaluate defensive players in a college 3-4 defense. Not many teams play that scheme, but it is on the rise in the NFL with six of the top 13 teams in the draft using it or have converted to it. Blackstock played it in college and he can get after the passer right now while he learns the rest of what he has to do in pro football. He was well coached in college by former NFL defensive coach Al Groh and his 4.52 time in the 40 at his Pro Day moved him up the draft board.
22. Justin Miller, CB, Clemson: When in doubt in the bottom half of the first round, take a corner who is tough and can return kicks. Miller may get passed on by some teams who want their corners taller. But with the good teams at the bottom of the draft because they win more than the teams up top, they realize they need a nickel and dime corner, one that forces opponents to punt, more so than average teams. Miller could see 40 percent of the defensive plays next year on the right team.
23. DeMarcus Ware, DE, Troy State: Here's an interesting man from a small school with pass rush skills, speed and height. A 6-foot-4 pass rusher doesn't last long on draft boards, especially when he comes back from the Senior Bowl and answers the question about playing with all the 'big school' players.
Georgia's Thomas Davis could be the only safety taken in the first round.
24. Thomas Davis, S, Georgia: He should be the first safety taken off the board. And any time a linebacker/safety type runs a 3.97 short shuttle and a 4.43 40 at 227 pounds, we have a first-round player on our hands. He doesn't play like Ed Reed, but he may be able to remind some of Rodney Harrison or Roy Williams.
25. Justin Tuck, DE. Notre Dame: Another in the late first-round run on 'tweener' type defensive players like Pollack and Ware. At 6-5, 265 pounds, it will be easy to justify taking him and playing him in pass rush situations next year. He still needs work on the other parts of his game, but the NFL needs pass rushers and if he picks up six sacks as a rookie he'll look like a good pick. He could slip out of the first round for sure, but right now he makes the grade.
26. Chris Spencer, C, Mississippi: People always say centers don't go in the first round. That's because offensive line coaches don't run the draft. One offensive line coach called Spencer a better prospect than Damien Woody was and he was a first-round selection. He's not only a safe pick, but also a smart pick. You may not remember a play in his rookie year, but he may play every snap for the team that takes him. I know one team that loves the guy and it has a pick in the bottom half of the first round.
27. Fabian Washington, CB, Nebraska: Corners are a popular pick in this area of the draft and here's a guy with speed.
28. Roddy White, WR, Alabama-Birmingham: Like corners, fast receivers are popular very late in the first round or early second round. If West Virginia WR Chris Henry didn't have some issues with his emotions and inconsistent history, this would be the spot for him. It may very well be by draft time, but for now, White has a better chance of going late in the first round.
29. Heath Miller, TE, Virginia: The tight end has become too important in the NFL game and free agency was weak this season for every team in the first round to pass on the guy. Some team with an early second round pick may jump a few teams to grab this guy. He is the type of tight end that could come in and catch 40 passes as a rookie if he's with the right QB. The Jets lead a group of five teams that need a player like Miller.
30. Khalif Barnes, OT, Washington: Now we are into the potential business. Barnes intrigues personnel people with his size and athletic ability and some line coaches have the yellow caution flag up. Any time a 6-5, 305 pound left offensive tackle runs a sub-5.0 40, he gets attention. But as one line coach said to me, 'I'm concerned that a guy with as many starts as Barnes is that raw.' This is a risky pick, but some teams appear ready to pass on a solid player available for a shot at a guy who may develop. It happens every year and sometimes it works out.
31. Jamaal Brown, OT, Oklahoma: Once again mixed reviews on an offensive tackle, except this time it's a right tackle, which is never held in as high esteem as the left side players, unless of course your QB is left handed.
32. Barrett Ruud, LB, Nebraska: There are people who believe there is a lot more potential in Channing Crowder (Florida) and Odell Thurman (Georgia), but somewhere between now and the draft a head coach has to explain to his owner why he will take a certain player if he's on the board. With Ruud, there's nothing to worry about and he has the numbers to back up a late first-round selection. Actually, when you compare the measurables, he's as athletic as the others and he impressed a number of teams during the interview process at the combine. Coaches don't want to hear the 'potential' speech, they want a 'now' player in the first round.
The following players will be early second-round picks or some of them may even go in the first round. The point is, there seems to be more of a blur when you consider how close the talent pool is this season. For example, how much difference is there between Matt Roth and Justin Tuck when it comes to playing football? Mississippi guard Marcus Johnson may actually be a better prospect and more pro football ready than Khalif Barnes. I could make a case for DT Anttaj Hawthorne from Wisconsin over most of the defensive tackles if you are looking for a bulk type. He's 25 pounds heavier than Florida State's Travis Johnson and he plays well on tape.
And when it's all said and done, taking a guy like Arkansas QB/WR/TE Matt Jones may justify going before all the players in this article. This may be the year to look at an 'X' QB who is 6-6, 242 pounds with a sub-4.4 40 and practically a 40-inch vertical, which he developed by playing basketball for the Razorbacks and say he's the best prospect after the top 16 players.