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Kiper's latest mock
Barnes, Roth make first-round debutBy Mel Kiper Jr., Special to ESPN Insider
Mel Kiper Archive
The NFL draft is less than a month away and draft boards all over the NFL are starting to take a clearer shape.
The battle for the No. 1 spot has taken another turn in my latest first-round projection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers trading on his California connection to get into the top spot, while Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle is back in the top 10 after falling slightly during his senior season.
In all, 23 schools are represented among the first 32 selections, including two apiece for Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Texas and USC, while Auburn and Oklahoma each places three players in the first round. Nine defensive linemen, five defensive backs and five wide receivers are on the list, while three running backs, three offensive linemen, two quarterbacks, two linebackers and one tight end complete the positional breakdown.
And two new players make their debuts this week in my first-round projection: Washington offensive tackle Khalif Barnes and Iowa defensive end Matt Roth, who happened to have some tremendous one-on-one battles at the Senior Bowl
1. San Francisco 49ers: Aaron Rodgers (jr.), QB, California
Virtually nothing separates Rodgers and Utah quarterback Alex Smith, but Rodgers gets the nod because of his local roots and the fact that he conducted an outdoor workout for the 49ers while Smith threw the ball indoors in Salt Lake City. A trade down is still possible, but with no consensus No. 1 player it remains to be seen whether San Francisco will receive an offer equal to the normal value of the No. 1 overall pick.
2. Miami Dolphins: Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn
A complete back with power, speed and size, Brown is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. New Dolphins coach Nick Saban is very familiar with Brown after spending the last few seasons in the SEC West and Brown would be a great addition for a team whose running game was sorely lacking last season.
3. Cleveland Browns: Alex Smith (jr.), QB, Utah
New coach Romeo Crennel needs a quarterback,and Smith has the smarts, accuracy and mobility teams look for. Smith is only 20 years old and would be a nice place to start as the Browns look to rebuild.
4. Chicago Bears: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan
Edwards has the size and athletic ability to make defensive backs sweat. He would be a terrific addition opposite Muhsin Muhammad, who signed as a free agent, and allow quarterback Rex Grossman to open things up a bit.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn
Williams gets tough yards inside despite lacking ideal size thanks to deceptive speed and tremendous feel for running in traffic. He scored 29 rushing TDs over the last two years, and Tampa coach Jon Gruden is very familiar with him after coaching Williams in the Senior Bowl.
6. Tennessee Titans: Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami
Rolle ran a 4.49 in the 40 during his individual workout and his size gives him an advantage over Pac-Man Jones of West Virginia, who was projected in this spot in my last mock draft. Cornerback is a major need position for the Titans and Rolle brings plenty of experience against big-time competition to the table.
7. Minnesota Vikings (from Oakland): Mike Williams (jr.), WR, USC
Williams has the size, strength and hands to be a perfect replacement for Randy Moss, who was traded for a package that included this pick. The Vikings have needs on defense as well but Williams will immediately address Minnesota's biggest loss of the offseason.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Cedric Benson, RB, Texas
Benson is basically equal to the two running backs projected ahead or him and is a little better as a blocker, which is key to NFL teams. Getting a player of his caliber at No. 8 would be a major victory for a team that needs a big-time back. This could change, though, if the Cardinals work out a trade for disgruntled Buffalo running back Travis Henry.
9. Washington Redskins: Adam "Pac-Man" Jones (jr.), CB, West Virginia
The Redskins would not only get a tough, aggressive corner who is good in run support but also a dynamic return man, someone in the mold of former Washington standout Darrell Green. Jones has tremendous speed and instincts.
10. Detroit Lions: Derrick Johnson, OLB, Texas
The first pick that falls under the "best available player" category. The Lions don't have a pressing need at outside linebacker but Johnson would be an upgrade at that position and allow Detroit some flexibility at linebacker with players such as Teddy Lehman and Boss Bailey already there.
11. Dallas Cowboys: Shawne Merriman (jr.), DE/OLB, Maryland
A workout warrior with incredible physical skills, Merriman would be an ideal end/linebacker combo in a 3-4 scheme. Not many players have the ability to start from a three-point stance or play on their feet at 274 pounds. Merriman is reminiscent of Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest, who was the first draft pick of the Patriots when current Cowboys coach Bill Parcells began his tenure in New England.
12. San Diego Chargers: Marcus Spears, DE, LSU
The Chargers need more playmakers on the front seven and Spears would be a good option for providing pressure along the defensive front. He fits perfectly into San Diego's 3-4 scheme with his ability to play both the run and the pass, and at over 300 pounds he will be able to occupy blockers and allow linebackers to run to the ball.
13. Houston Texans: Alex Barron, OT, Florida State
The Texans had an interest in St. Louis veteran Orlando Pace but did not get him, and with quarterback David Carr needing more protection, the versatile Barron an ideal fit. He is very strong in the lower body and has quick feet in pass protection.
14. Carolina Panthers: Troy Williamson (jr.), WR, South Carolina
Williamson showed great speed at the combine and would be a nice option for a team that lost Muhsin Muhammad in free agency. Williamson did not play in a passing offense in college but has the speed all teams are looking for.
15. Kansas City Chiefs: Demarcus Ware, DE/OLB, Troy
The Chiefs likely will dedicate most of their draft to defense, and Ware is a solid end/outside linebacker combo in the mold of Peter Boulware who will help the front seven generate some heat on the passer.
16. New Orleans Saints: Thomas Davis (jr.), S/OLB, Georgia
A college safety who projects to linebacker at the next level because of his size, Davis is a punishing tackler with big-play ability whose weakness in coverage will not be exposed at linebacker the way it could be at safety.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn
Rogers was a steady, reliable player at Auburn and was perhaps the Tigers' best defensive player last season. He has plenty of experience against top-shelf SEC competition and his aggressive attitude would make him a nice fit in Marvin Lewis' defensive scheme.
18. Minnesota Vikings: Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma
The Vikings drafted end Kenechi Udeze in the first round last year, but the defensive line is a major need area for Minnesota and Cody has enough athleticism to be able to play on his feet at times. Cody also has a great motor and never quits so he would fit in nicely under head coach Mike Tice.
19. St. Louis Rams: Jammal Brown, OT, Oklahoma
Orlando Pace is a Pro Bowler at left tackle but the Rams need a right tackle in the worst way. Brown had an outstanding season as both a pass and run blocker and his good feet and long arms allow him to move defenders off the line or away from the quarterback.
20. Dallas Cowboys (from Buffalo): Roddy White, WR, UAB
Getting Merriman at No. 11 would allow the Cowboys to fill another major void with White, who averaged 20 yards per catch during his senior season and was very good at both the Senior Bowl and the combine. The acquisition of quarterback Drew Bledsoe means the Cowboys will have to find him some help in the passing game.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars: Marlin Jackson, CB, Michigan
Jack Del Rio's team is thin in the secondary and Jackson showed in his individual workout that he has the necessary speed to play corner at the NFL level. He also has good size and a lot of experience against some of the best wideouts in the country. Don't forget, he went head-to-head with Braylon Edwards every day in practice.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma
Arguably the most polished receiver in the draft, Clayton has speed and athleticism that make him one of the most dangerous receivers after the catch to come along in recent years. His presence would help the Ravens overhaul a passing attack that was bolstered with the free-agent signing of Derrick Mason.
23. Seattle Seahawks: David Pollack, DE, Georgia
The Seahawks need a pass rusher with a big-time motor and Pollack fits the bill with his intensity and nose for the ball. An ideal fit for Mike Holmgren's team if he lasts this long on the board.
24. Green Bay Packers: Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin
The Packers need someone to complement end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and James would do just that. He can play the run and pass equally well, and would have been a top-five pick had injury/durability questions not come into play.
25. Denver Broncos: Travis Johnson, DT, Florida State
The Broncos signed several former Cleveland players along the defensive line but only one, end Ebenezer Ekuban, who was productive last season. Johnson improved tremendously last season and would provide a big-time presence inside who could collapse the pocket, stuff the run and occupy blockers.
26. New York Jets: Fabian Washington (jr.), CB, Nebraska
With Marlin Jackson moving up thanks to a good workout, Washington falls to the Jets. He is arguably the best athlete among all the cornerback prospects, though, and is the fastest of the group. Washington was a safety/corner combo in college who did not really play to the level of a first-round pick but his workouts showed his potential and moved him up.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Shaun Cody, DE/DT, USC
Atlanta needs both an end and a tackle along the defensive front, and Cody showed in college the versatility to play either position. He was a major contributor to the nation's No. 1 run defense last season.
28. San Diego Chargers: Khalif Barnes, OT, Washington
Barnes overcame a late-season wrist injury and had a terrific week at the Senior Bowl, and if he can sustain his concentration and intensity for 60 minutes a week he will fill a big need for the Chargers and their young offensive stars.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Matt Roth, DE, Iowa
His presence would take a lot of pressure off stud pass rusher Dwight Freeney and give a boost to a defense that has been a problem area for the Colts in recent seasons.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Heath Miller (jr.), TE, Virginia
A mid-first round talent who dropped down the board thanks to a hernia problem that required surgery after the college season. Miller still remains the best tight end prospect and would give Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger a nice option in the middle of the field.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Matt Jones, QB/WR, Arkansas
Jones is shooting up the draft board after posting a 4.39 in the 40 at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. He will have a tough transition to make from quarterback to wide receiver, but a championship-caliber team like the Eagles can afford to give him time to work his way into a new position. He looked like a fifth-round pick after the college season but his great workouts have helped immensely.
32. New England Patriots: Justin Miller, CB, Clemson
The Patriots were thin at corner last fall and Miller would fill that void nicely. He will be a nice nickel/dime back initially as he learns the system and gains experience, but he is also a great return man who will contribute on special teams.