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Kiper's Top 25

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Updated: Mar. 4, 2005

Brown sprints his way to No. 1

By Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN Insider



The combine has offered up a new leader on my Big Board of the top 25 NFL prospects: Auburn running back Ronnie Brown, who showed more speed in Indianapolis than most expected.


He supplants Texas running back Cedric Benson, while Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards holds steady at No. 2 and USC wide receiver Mike Williams is back in the top three after occupying the top spot for a majority of the regular season. Wide receiver Roddy White of UAB makes the biggest jump this week, going from No. 18 to No. 12 on the heels of a good combine showing, while tight end Heath Miller of Virginia fell from No. 11 to No. 19 thanks to injury concerns.


The board also features one newcomer this week, Nebraska junior cornerback Fabian Washington, a terrific all-around athlete who ran one of the fastest 40s ever recorded at the Combine.


Washington's appearance on the list means 19 schools are now represented on the Big Board, including three Auburn players (two of the top eight) and two apiece for Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC.




Ronnie Brown rushed for 928 yards and caught 34 passes in 2004.1. Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn (6-foot-0, 230 pounds) | previous rank: 3

Had an outstanding workout at the combine, running the 40 in 4.48 while weighing around 230, which only adds to the already impressive profile Brown has. He showed against several opponents in 2004 that he is one of the most complete backs in the nation, running and catching the ball with equal skill. He averaged over six yards per carry this season and had 34 catches. Brown has the size, instincts, power and quickness to put up unbelievable numbers and would have been a Heisman candidate had he been the clear-cut No. 1 on the depth chart. An explosive powerhouse with speed and strength.


2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan (6-2½, 210) | previous rank: same

Edwards has been steadily moving up based on a tremendous overall season in 2004, when he took over games and showed off his unbelievable athletic skills. He has the size, athleticism and overall pass-catching skills to dominate cornerbacks and corrected the problems he had with concentration lapses and dropped balls. He's the top wideout on the draft board but is getting pressure from below.



3. Mike Williams (jr.), WR, USC (6-5, 230 pounds) | previous rank: 8

Williams dominated the collegiate game for two full years before his bid to join the NFL draft as a sophomore was ended by the courts and he was declared ineligible by the NCAA. Williams is eligible for the 2005 draft, though, and after keeping his weight near 230 and performing adequately at the combine (4.56 in the 40), he is right on the heels of Edwards in the race to become the top wideout in the draft. Williams likely would have been a top-10 pick last season and should be among the top 5-7 this year. His size, strength and toughness make him a tremendous package who can use his body control and hands to go after the ball over smaller defenders. His two-year totals at USC: 176 receptions, 2,579 yards and 30 TDs.



4. Cedric Benson, RB, Texas (5-10½, 222) | previous rank: 1

Benson is a strong, tough runner who was incredibly productive in his four years in Austin. He rushed for 1,000 yards in each season, and his ability to block and catch the ball makes him a complete back. Benson has tremendous vision and quick feet, and thanks to his powerful lower body, the first tackler rarely brings him down. He is not flashy but put up big numbers against top competition. Benson moves off the top spot only because he has yet to work out and show he has athletic ability to match Ronnie Brown's.



5. Alex Smith (jr.), QB, Utah (6-3, 207) | previous rank: 4

A mobile quarterback who rushed for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns, Smith is also a very efficient passer who completed 68 percent of his attempts with 32 TDs against only four interceptions. He is tremendously intelligent and will pick up an offensive system quickly at the next level. The one knock is that he's somewhat of a finesse passer who did not have to muscle a lot of throws into tight spots in college. Smith has ability very similar to California's Aaron Rodgers but gets the nod because of his height advantage.



6. Adam "Pac-Man" Jones (jr.), CB, West Virginia (5-10¾, 191) | previous rank: 7

Jones is lethal not only as a cover man but also as a kick and punt returner. He is a little raw technically, but he's still an outstanding cover corner. He has tremendous closing speed and is more than willing to give up his body in run support. In today's NFL, where the rules are tilted in favor of the receivers, with corners unable to become true lockdown defenders, that tackling ability in the open field will be just one more asset to combine with his speed, aggressiveness and special-teams skills. Having answered questions about his height at the combine, Jones is now solidly among the top 10.



7. Aaron Rodgers (jr.), QB, California (6-1½, 205) | previous rank: 5

Don't put too much stock in Rodgers' performance in the Holiday Bowl, where he was without his top three receivers. A smart, accurate passer with good athletic ability, Rodgers completed 68 percent of his passes this season. His arm strength is good enough and his release is quick, and the fact that he seems a bit mechanical at times is simply a product of the way Cal head coach Jeff Tedford coaches his quarterbacks to hold the ball at shoulder level. Rodgers is a better prospect than former Golden Bears QB Kyle Boller, now of the Baltimore Ravens. Rodgers and Alex Smith have very similar abilities.



8. Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn (5-10½, 207) | previous rank: 10

A very creative and deceptively strong runner who has few peers in terms of pure running skills. Williams does not have imposing size but can still get tough inside yards by finding cracks, a skill that contributed to his 1,165 rushing yards and 12 TDs last season. He has bulked up to around 217 pounds and performed well at the combine, showing better hands than most expected and running about 4.4 in the 40.



9. Derrick Johnson, OLB, Texas (6-3, 233) | previous rank: same

Johnson led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons, totaling 255 stops and a team-high 39 tackles for loss in that time. A great athlete who has a nose for the ball and is all over the field, Johnson forced nine fumbles this year and also had nine interceptions over the last three years. His combine performance solidified his status as the best pure linebacker in the draft and has him positioned to move up the board before all is said and done.



10. Dan Cody, DE, Oklahoma (6-4, 265) | previous rank: 6

Cody continues to occupy a prime position on the board because of his impressive overall body of work this season. He has been utilized as both a stand-up outside linebacker and a defensive end with his hand on the ground, in much the same way as former NFL standout Kevin Greene. This year Cody finished with 42 tackles (17 for loss, including 10 sacks) and 12 QBH but will have to perform well in his individual workout after skipping the combine.



11. Shawne Merriman (jr.), OLB/DE, Maryland (6-3, 255) | previous rank: 15

A combo guy on the edge who will test the charts. Merriman benches 385, squats 590 and has a 41½-inch vertical jump -- the best ever for a Maryland defensive lineman. But don't forget his production, as he led the Terrapins with 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Merriman could play outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, or put his hand on the ground and play end in a 4-3.



12. Roddy White, WR, UAB (6-1, 205) | previous rank: 18

Runs a consistent 4.42 in the 40, giving him a size/speed combination in the elite category. White averaged 21.6 yards per catch in 2003 and scored seven TDs, and this season he finished second in the nation in receiving yards per game (121.0) while averaging 20.0 yards per catch. White also held his drops to a minimum this year.



13. Alex Barron, OT, Florida State (6-7, 325) | previous rank: 16

Athletically gifted with great footwork as a pass blocker, Barron started 30 games during his career. He is the clear-cut No. 1 among offensive linemen due to his strength and experience and should be a solid starter at the pro level.



14. Marcus Spears, DE, LSU (6-4, 295) | previous rank: 13

Boosted his stock with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. Will not turn into a 10-12 sack performer at the next level because he lacks great closing speed, but Spears looks like a five-sack guy who will be an outstanding run stopper and disruptive to the passing game because of his size and long arms. He is a great athlete who began his career as a tight end, and because of that will be able to play in any defensive structure and should be a solid pro.



15. Travis Johnson, DT, Florida State (6-4, 292) | previous rank: 12

Has improved significantly over the last two seasons. Johnson dominated offensive linemen all year and spent a lot of time in opposing backfields, collapsing the pocket or getting penetration against the run.



16. Troy Williamson (jr.), WR, South Carolina (6-1½, 200) | previous rank: 17

Williamson can flat-out fly and will likely end up being the fastest wide receiver in this year's draft. He put up 19.4 yards per catch this season in a non-passing offense. With his size/speed ratio, Williamson should continue to zoom up the draft board.





Antrell Rolle posted a 4.5 in the 40 and knows how to get physical with opponents.17. Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami (6-0½, 200) | previous rank: 21

Rolle has consistently proven his mettle against the top wideouts in the country. A perfect example of that came last year when he shut down former Pittsburgh wideout and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Larry Fitzgerald. Teams did not throw his way much in 2004, yet he was still a force for the Hurricanes with solid run support and tackles in the backfield.


18. Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin (6-4, 260) | previous rank: 14

James missed most of last season with a hip injury but had a great showing in fall camp and carried that momentum over to the regular season. He nursed an ankle injury late in 2004 but still commanded double-team blocks. An outstanding pass rusher who is also strong against the run, James has dropped because of a slow 40 time at the combine and his injury history. He must still prove his durability.



19. Heath Miller (jr.), TE, Virginia (6-4½, 255) | previous rank: 11

Miller is a precise route runner with tremendous body control and great hands. He has three seasons of outstanding productivity under his belt, including 70 receptions in 2003. His yards-per-catch average has improved steadily during his career, and Miller is also a willing, reliable blocker who does a nice job augmenting the running game along the offensive line. One of the top overall prospects in the nation, Miller should end up being a top-15 selection if he can put an injury behind him.



20. Khalif Barnes, OT, Washington (6-5, 311) | previous rank: 25

A wrist injury cost Barnes the final six games of the season, but he was outstanding to that point. He has quick feet and good balance in pass protection, something he displayed in some outstanding one-on-one battles with Matt Roth at the Senior Bowl. Roth said afterward that Barnes is the toughest left tackle he faced all season. Barnes can also be effective in the running game and has all the necessary skills to be a good pro player.



21. Jammal Brown, OT, Oklahoma (6-5, 313) | previous rank: unranked

Equally adept at run and pass blocking, Brown has long arms that allow him to get his hands on defenders and move them off the ball using his good feet and balance. Fighting it out with Barnes to see who will become the second offensive tackle off the board.



22. Matt Roth, DE, Iowa (6-3½, 266) | previous rank: 19

A fiery and intense player who is a tremendous natural pass rusher, Roth led the Hawkeyes with eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles during the regular season and tied for the team lead with eight sacks. His 14 tackles for loss were second on the team during the regular season. The overall consistency of his body of work elevated Roth, but his 40 time was not what many expected at the combine, and he will have to make up for that in his individual workout.



23. Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn (6-0, 194)) | previous rank: unranked

Has 4.4 speed in the 40 and is a physical player who can tackle in the open field and is an asset in run support. Rogers is a respected cover man with good ball skills who was Auburn's best defensive player in 2004. Consistency, durability and experience against top-level competition in the SEC have all boosted his stock.



24. Shaun Cody, DT, USC (6-4, 288) | previous rank: 22

A versatile performer who can play either end or tackle, Cody helped the Trojans finish first in the nation in rush defense at 79.4 ypg. Would be a good fit for a team looking to add depth to the line thanks to his ability to play inside or on the edge.



25. Fabian Washington (jr.), CB, Nebraska (5-10½, 188) | previous rank: unranked

Wowed plenty of scouts with his 4.28 time in the at the combine. Washington was a three-year starter at Nebraska who made a big splash as a freshman and leveled off somewhat as a junior. But his experience against top-shelf competition is a major plus. He also has tremendous leaping ability and size/speed ratio, placing him squarely in the mid-to-late first round.



David Pollack, DE, Georgia (6-2½, 265) | previous rank: 20

Not physically imposing, Pollack plays with incredible intensity and passion. He is quick off the ball, has great closing speed and wreaks havoc as a pass rusher, as evidenced by his 60 quarterback pressures over the last two seasons and 17.5 TFL (12.5 sacks) in 2004. Still, Pollack was slower than expected at the combine and has ground to make up with his individual workout.



Brodney Pool (jr.), S, Oklahoma (6-2½, 200) | previous rank: 23

One of the top playmakers on a star-studded defense, Pool covers a lot of ground and shows very good anticipation. He is excellent in coverage and more than adequate in run support, diagnosing plays quickly and using his enormous physical gifts to get to the ball. A complete player who led the team with 92 tackles in 2004, while intercepting two passes and breaking up nine others.



Anttaj Hawthorne, DT, Wisconsin (6-2½, 315) | previous rank: 24

Very quick for his size, Hawthorne knows how to handle double-team blocks and can create tackles for loss. Add his strength and overall athleticism to that size and experience and you have an ideal tackle for a 4-3 scheme.

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16. Troy Williamson (jr.), WR, South Carolina (6-1½, 200) | previous rank: 17

Williamson can flat-out fly and will likely end up being the fastest wide receiver in this year's draft. He put up 19.4 yards per catch this season in a non-passing offense. With his size/speed ratio, Williamson should continue to zoom up the draft board.

The next Andre Johnson.

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