back to the Black Table
               
  HEY, GOOD LUCK HANDICAPPING THE 2004 NFL DRAFT, MEL.  
   
   
  Some things are better the second time around, but this definitely won't be.

It is time for The Black Table's second annual NFL Draft preview, and I can't do much worse than last year. I nailed the top three picks -- all of which were obvious and set in stone before the draft -- and got the fourth pick right, albeit to the wrong team. Then I took the rest of the day off, getting every single remaining pick wrong.

And that's the beauty of the mock draft. It is destined to be wrong. Yet today, today it is a priceless commodity. By mid-afternoon Sunday, it will be completely worthless.

As an added bonus, I have even less chance of being right this year. While the first player to go in this draft is obvious, it isn't clear which team will take him. And after that, the permutations are endless. This year's draft is even more interesting because after the first pick, any player could go to any team. Only four players -- quarterback Eli Manning, tackle Robert Gallery, tight end Kellen Winslow and safety Sean Taylor -- are top 10 picks who are also consensus choices as the best players at their positions.

If you listen to the widespread rumors circulating in the final few days before the draft, everybody wants to trade their first-round pick, and nobody wants any one player. Then there's the matter of a currently ineligible player who could be ruled eligible for the draft by the Supreme Court -- the Supreme Court! -- at any time. USC wide receiver Mike Williams would be a top 10 pick if he were eligible.

So without tying ourselves in any more knots, here's how my first round would go.

 

 
 
#1

Eli Manning, QB, Mississippi.

If the Chargers stay in this spot, they have to take Manning. But this is certainly not a fun pick. If the Chargers stay put and take Manning, they are doing it because they are haunted by not getting Peyton Manning or

 
 

Michael Vick in recent years. And if they trade out, it's because they are haunted by visions of another quarterback flop, a la Ryan Leaf. And if they stay put and take tackle Robert Gallery, they're whack jobs. Gallery is the safest pick, but picking first means trying to find a franchise savior. I don't think Manning will wind up being a savior, but he could be, and that's why the Chargers have to take him.

 

 
 
#2

Robert Gallery, T, Iowa.

Gallery will be the second pick in the draft, though probably not by the Raiders. He is that good, and that many teams want him. If the Giants don't trade from No. 4 to No. 1 for

 
 

Manning, they could try to get here and take Gallery. So could the Redskins at No. 5, Browns at No. 7 and Jaguars at No. 9. The beauty of this slot is that the Raiders, being the Raiders, like to do weird things, and nobody ever has the slightest clue what they are thinking. This is why the NFL should give Oakland one of the top three picks in every draft. They're fun. If they are too good the previous year, heck, take away later-round picks.

 

 
 
#3

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh.

This pick has been a lock since Fitzgerald applied for the draft. (Fitzgerald is a family friend of new head coach Dennis Green.) And he is the best receiver, even if he isn't

 
 

as fast as Roy Williams. If you can get a steal at No. 3, the Cardinals are doing it.

 

 
 
#4

Uh, pass?

The Giants are intent on trading up or down because of their nightmarish scenario: They don't want anybody who will fall to No. 4. Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

 
 

is the second-best quarterback, but a bit of a project and a little bit of a reach. Some people think the Giants prefer North Carolina State QB Philip Rivers to Roethlisberger anyhow, but Rivers is even more of a reach. I expect the Giants to desperately try to trade out of this spot to a team that wants wide receiver Roy Williams, safety Sean Taylor or tight end Kellen Winslow. They'd take Roethlisberger or Rivers later, but the most logical pick here would have to be Roethlisberger.

 

 
 
#5

Sean Taylor, S, Miami.

The debate is between Taylor and Winslow, but the pick should be Taylor. The Redskins already have running back Clinton Portis and receiver Laveranues Coles and would not

 
 

use Winslow enough to justify taking him. Plus, they have a giant hole at safety, and Taylor is good enough to turn around a defense on his own.

 

 
 
#6

Kellen Winslow, TE, Miami.

Winslow would be a great pick for the Lions, giving quarterback Joey Harrington another great playmaker to go along with receiver Charles Rogers. Detroit also desperately

 
 

needs a running back, but they'd have to slide down pretty far to get good value.

 

 
 
#7

Roy Williams, WR, Texas.

On the cover of last year's media guide, the Browns had pictures of Quincy Morgan, Kevin Johnson, Dennis Northcutt and Andre Davis -- four good No. 2 receivers. Johnson is

 
 

gone, and Northcutt will be soon. Williams is a true No. 1 receiver and future stud, but the Browns have a lot of building to do around him. Don't be surprised if somebody jumps up to take Williams higher.

 

 
 
#8

DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech.

Tough call for the Falcons: Shutdown cornerback, or No. 1 defensive lineman? This is a pretty weak class for linemen, so the Falcons think they can scrape by for another

 
 

year and expect Hall to be their future at cornerback ahead of Tod McBride and Jason Webster, both of whom are adequate backups.

 

 
 
#9

Kenechi Udeze, DE, So. California.

Rumors about the health of Udeze's shoulder had been circulating for a couple of weeks, but the Jaguars became the only team to go public with them this week. It's a

 
 

smokescreen. They're just trying to do all they can to make sure he's still available here.

 

 
 
#10

Tommie Harris, DT, Oklahoma.

The Texans need defensive help everywhere, and Harris is the best player at his position and will be a cornerstone of the defensive line. They'll start Harris next to

 
 

free-agent signing Robaire Smith and then rotate Seth Payne and Gary Walker at their other line slot in a 3-4 formation.

 

 
 
#11

Philip Rivers, QB, N.C. State.

Odds are good that Rivers either will not go here, or to this team. But if the Steelers and Rivers are both still here, Pittsburgh will take him. Then Tommy Maddox could go away

 
 

again. I've never found his supposedly touching personal story (he was once the MVP of Vince McMahon's XFL) that interesting, and, honestly, he's just not very good.

 

 
 
#12

Jonathan Vilma, LB, Miami (Fla.).

Like Fitzgerald going to Arizona, Vilma and the Jets are a perfect match. Vilma is intelligent and immensely talented. He should prosper in Herm Edwards' defense and be a

 
 

linchpin for that unit to build around for the future.

 

 
 
#13

Vince Wilfork, DT, Miami (Fla.).

This is where any mock draft starts to fall apart. The Bills want to snag Rivers and won't be able to do so at No. 13. So look for Buffalo to jump on Wilfork, who ought to be

 
 

a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line as long as he can keep from getting too fat. Then again, not getting fat is a problem for a lot of us.

 

 
 
#14

Will Smith, DE, Ohio State.

Watch, as the Bears crap in their pants when Wilfork goes one pick ahead of them. They'll scramble to get Smith, who might not be any better than last year's first-round pick, Penn

 
 

State defensive lineman Michael Haynes. The only thing Haynes did as a rookie is prove Penn State no longer has any good players.

 

 
 
#15

D.J. Williams, LB, Miami (Fla.).

It will take all of GM Bruce Allen's sensibilities to talk coach Jon Gruden down off a ledge when the Bucs do not take an offensive player, but Tampa Bay needs to

 
 

get some young talent on defense. Gruden is a good enough coach to get by on offense, but the other side of the ball is lacking, and Williams could be a star in the mold of Derrick Brooks.

 

 
 
#16

Reggie Williams, WR, Washington.

The rumor that makes a ton of sense is for the Eagles to trade up from No. 28 and grab running back Steven Jackson. But if that doesn't happen, the 49ers will take Williams,

 
 

who burned 49ers coach Dennis Erickson enough when Erickson was at Oregon State. Buyer beware, however: Williams has the potential to be as much of a head case as Terrell Owens was.

 

 
 
#17

Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon State.

How could the Broncos not take him? Jackson can do it all -- run, catch and block, which is exactly what the Broncos ask of their backs. Denver needs to have a great

 
 

draft (which coach Mike Shanahan has not had many of recently), or they risk a major rebuilding in the next few years.

 

 
 
#18

Dunta Robinson, CB, So. Carolina.

An interesting pick. Some teams think Robinson is the surest bet at cornerback in this class, while others think Robinson already is as good as he is going to get. The

 
 

Saints made cornerback their No. 1 target in January, and Robinson is a great choice regardless of where he falls on that spectrum.

 

 
 
#19

Karlos Dansby, LB, Auburn.

The Vikings will be happy with Dansby, even though they really want a defensive linemen. They need any kind of playmaker on defense, and Dansby has a ton of potential

 
 

as an outside linebacker. He will need a year or so before becoming a top contributor, but adding Dansby and cornerback Antoine Winfield in the same offseason would be a very good year for Minnesota.

 

 
 
#20

Shawn Andrews, T, Arkansas.

Take this pick to the bank as well. There is no reason for Miami not to take Andrews, nor is there any reason for another team to take him earlier. Andrews will start at right tackle.

 
 

 

 

 
 
#21

Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma St.

The beauty of the Patriots' trade for Corey Dillon is that they have no major needs. Go through their roster. Sure, they could use some help here or there, but they will be fine

 
 

at every position with their current roster. So they take the best player available, and that's Woods, who is as polished as Roy Williams but is not a top 10 pick because he does not have the same "measureables."

 

 
 
#22

Kevin Jones, RB, Virginia Tech.

Jones, or Michigan running back Chris Perry, seems like a little too obvious of a pick for the Cowboys (Bill Parcells always has to do something goofy), so I wouldn't be surprised

 
 

if they went a different direction. Unfortunately, no other pick makes sense.

 

 
 
#23

Marcus Tubbs, DT, Texas.

The Seahawks are desperate for a big defensive tackle like Tubbs, and the talent really falls off behind him. They could slide up a couple slots to ensure they get him.

 
 

 

 

 
 
#24

Chris Gamble, CB, Ohio State.

You know this is coming: Gamble is a good gamble for the Bengals. He is an amazing athlete but is very raw. The Bengals picked up depth at cornerback, so Gamble can learn

 
 

for most of this season, but Cincinnati needs him to be a star for the future. Picking a Buckeyes star should sell a few tickets as well.

 

 
 
#25

Daryl Smith, LB, Georgia Tech.

The Packers hit the jackpot by grabbing linebacker Nick Barnett in the first round last year, and Smith could be another such pick. Barnett plays inside, and Smith is a

 
 

playmaker who can fly around the field from an outside spot. Trying to draft Brett Favre's replacement doesn't make sense, because they are close to contending for another title and can't spend a first-round pick on a guy who won't play while Favre could still win one more Super Bowl.

 

 
 
#26

Michael Clayton, WR, LSU.

No pick makes a lot of sense for the Rams because none of the defensive players is a good value or fits with that they want to do. So Mike Martz gets yet another offensive toy

 
 

he doesn't need. He also could reach for a running back, as he did several years ago with Trung Canidate, because Marshall Faulk is near the end of his career.

 

 
 
#27

Jake Grove, C, Virgnia Tech.

Not a very interesting pick, but it's one that would work out very well for the Titans. They need defensive linemen, yet the value is not very good at this point and Tennessee has

 
 

an extra second-round pick they can use to get somebody or to trade up.

 

 
 
#28

Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum.

Don't be shocked if the Eagles make a move up, but if they don't, Colclough is a raw prospect who could thrive under Philadelphia's solid coaching staff. The Eagles

 
 

need to replenish their depth in the secondary. No, I don't know where Tusculum is either.

 

 
 
#29

Will Poole, CB, Southern California.

The Colts will take the best available defensive player, no matter the position. That's how desperate they are. That they cut their two starting cornerbacks from last

 
 

season makes Poole a great find. He is better than the 29th pick but slid because of some questionable late workouts.

 

 
 
#30

Lee Evans, WR, Wisconsin.

Why would such a horrible defensive team take a wide receiver first? Because the Chiefs did not have a No. 1 receiver last year. Woods is one of the fastest players and

 
 

has been rising as teams are convinced that he is over a knee injury from two years ago. I think he is a reach to be a No. 1 receiver because he is too short at 5-11.

 

 
 
#31

Michael Jenkins, WR, Ohio State.

The Panthers think they can pick up interior offensive linemen later in the draft, which is how they will address what might be their biggest hole. Jenkins is a nice threat opposite

 
 

rising star Steve Smith and will let the Panthers dump Muhsin Muhammad. Carolina lost three of its top five defensive backs but has several youngsters it thinks will succeed.

 

 
 
#32

Chris Snee, G, Boston College.

After starting unheralded Russ Hochstein throughout the playoffs, taking a guard seems counterintuitive for the Patriots. But Snee is so much better than any other player

 
 

at this position that New England would be getting a great steal here. Teams don't like taking guards in the first round, but this is the Patriots' second first-round pick, and it's the 32nd pick at that.

 

Matt Pitzer is the fantasy football expert for USA Today Sports Weekly.