Posted: Thursday January 27, 2005 2:05AM; Updated: Thursday January 27, 2005 5:58PM
Mandel's top NFL Draft prospect, Texas RB Cedric Benson, finished his college career with 5,540 rushing yards.
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The following rankings are based solely on my observations watching these players the past three to four years. They do not necessarily reflect potential draft order. Not to mention some players -- no matter how dominant they were in college -- do not translate in the eyes of NFL personnel.
1.) Cedric Benson, RB, Texas Benson is a classic workhorse runner in the mold of his idol, Ricky Williams: physical and elusive with great vision and balance. He rushed for at least 1,000 yards all four seasons, including 1,834 with 19 touchdowns as a senior. His only downside: lack of breakaway speed.
2.) Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas Simply put, Johnson was the most dominant player in the country last year. He makes plays all over the field. Despite teams making a concerted effort to run away from him, he had 130 tackles and nine forced fumbles. NFL teams don't usually select linebackers this high, though.
3.) Aaron Rodgers, QB, Cal* Rodgers benefited greatly from two years of tutelage by QB guru Jeff Tedford, and he has all the tools. His accuracy is superb, his arm strength is phenomenal and he's a tremendous leader. He completed 66 percent of his throws in 2004. He's still young, and at 6-foot-3 is considered to be average size.
4.) Mike Williams, WR, USC* At 6-foot-5, "BMW" is the prototypical big receiver who can go up for the ball and make plays. He was dominant from day one, gaining 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons at USC. The big question, obviously, is his year away from football, and there's some concern about his speed.
5.) Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami Rolle established himself as an elite cover corner when he shut down Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald as a junior, and he also excels as a run-stopper/blitzer. He has great size (6-foot-1), speed and instincts and went two years without allowing a touchdown. His senior season was a tad disappointing, however.
6.) Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan A gifted athlete with a knack for leaping over defenders and making the big plays, Edwards blossomed into the nation's top receiver as a senior. He had 96 catches for 1,330 yards and 15 TDs. He does drop the easy ones sometimes, and he had some attitude problems earlier in his career.
7.) Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn Cadillac didn't always put up big numbers because he shared carries with Ronnie Brown, but there's no denying his talent. With superb vision and an innate ability to find the hole, he's capable of both carrying and catching the rock. Durability may be a factor because of several injuries.
8.) Alex Smith, QB, Utah* Smith excelled in Urban Meyer's spread offense as both a runner and a passer. He's incredibly bright, accurate, mobile and is an unmatched decision-maker. He completed 67.5 percent of his passes with only four interceptions. Some may wonder whether he was a product of the system.
9.) Heath Miller, TE, Virginia* He's everything you could want in a tight end. Miller was Virginia's top receiver the past two seasons, catching 111 balls for 1,176 yards, and the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is also a devastating blocker. He'll be useful primarily in the red zone, as he lacks the speed to be a true playmaker.
10.) Marcus Spears, DE, LSU Spears was a central figure in LSU's 2003 national-title run. Extremely nimble and athletic for a near 300-pounder, he's a pass rusher first but also is able to drop into pass coverage, returning an interception for a touchdown in the 2004 Sugar Bowl. His speed may come into question.