back to the Black Table

The NFL Draft is a tremendously boring weekend-long event that has become a maniacal event for reasons that are completely illogical.

Fans have been convinced that a single college kid can make all the difference for their team, when in reality, a considerable percentage of draft picks never pan out. And a sizeable number of those that do are not the ones you expect.

Nonetheless, every spring, the NFL picks over the cream of the college crop looking for the next Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and Randy Moss. And teams get their shorts in a knot over whichever star-in-the-making they land.

But what makes this year's draft interesting is that nobody wants the best players. Few teams think they are as good as the best players in past years and even fewer are interested in doling out enormous contracts to players they generally don't think are worth it. The NFL's system leaves them no choice; you don't technically have to draft any players, but if you do, you're going to pay them.

So we're watching this year not to see who will wind up where, but instead who won't wind up where. The top picks could be decided by the process of elimination: Well, we don't want Player A or Player B, so I guess we'd better take Player C.

This draft will be exciting (or at least the 10 minutes of the 12-hour broadcast in which something actually happens) because nobody knows anything. Most teams are trying to trade down from their original draft picks, some are trying to move up because they sense they can work a cheap trade and all are watching everybody else to see what's cooking.

We won't be excited about the actual players on Saturday, just the machinations behind how each player got to where he went. But we can get excited about trying to predict, with little success, what will happen.



Alex Smith, QB, Utah.

For the past two months, I have thought that Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback prospect than Smith, but the 49ers appear to have settled on Smith over the past few weeks. I haven't really seen anything in


Smith to make me think he will be a special player, other than that he is "smart." Well, there are a lot of smart people in the world and not a lot of good quarterbacks. The 49ers get their next quarterback, but they don't solve their quarterback problem with the pick.



Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn.

The Dolphins have no good pick to make. If the 49ers didn't take Smith, several teams would be interested in trading up for him, or Miami could take him itself. But the 49ers don't like Rodgers enough to put themselves


into more of a quarterback quandary. Brown is going to be a heck of a running back. Runners might not provide as much value for such a high pick as other positions, but the Dolphins make themselves very good at a very important position with the selection.



Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan.

If the Browns add Edwards to healthy tight end Kellen Winslow, backed by a rushing game led by Reuben Droughns and Lee Suggs, that offense isn't horrible. Trent Dilfer is good enough to keep you around in games


until somebody else blows it for you. New GM Phil Savage isn't wild about drafting quarterbacks this high, and he'd want Smith, not Rodgers, as well.



Cedrick Benson, RB, Texas.

Benson appeared to have fallen behind Cadillac Williams on the running back board, but the Bears would prefer a grinding, pound-it-out running game. That's what Benson gives them. They'd consider Edwards


as well if he were available, but they're better off taking the back. Rex Grossman won't be completing many passes, and when he finally gets good enough to do so, Chicago always will be able to land competent receivers. Personally, I would take linebacker Derrick Johnson, which would help develop what could be the league's best defense.



Cadillac Williams, RB, Auburn.

Can't you just imagine a slovenly coach like Jon Gruden slobbering all over Williams? Gruden fell in love with Williams at the Senior Bowl, and now he gets his fingers on him. He might not wind up being the best


pick in the draft, but he probably will be one of the sexiest (at least in terms of his playing style), and Gruden always worries about substance after style.



Aaron Rodgers, QB, California.

Rodgers' slight fall ends here as the Titans grab the likely successor to Steve McNair. It's pretty much a no-brainer pick if it falls this way. McNair is about half-dead; the Titans don't really have any business landing Rodgers here.





Mike Williams, WR, Southern Cal.

Williams would be considered the last premier offensive player, so the Vikings probably would get more trade offers for the pick than other teams will. Williams has the potential to be a mind-boggling receiver. He


won't run past many defenders, but he will out jump them, out leap them and is one of those guys who catches everything within sight. The Vikings have talked about packaging their two No. 1 picks to move up to take Edwards, but Edwards is not significantly better than Williams, and the Vikings can really bolster their team by adding another strong starter at No. 18.



Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami (Fla.).

The Cardinals also could look to move out of this spot because they don't really like any of the players left here. Rolle could wind up as the best defensive player in this draft and has the best chance in this class to be a


shutdown cornerback. The Cardinals need one of those, so it makes perfect sense.



Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn.

Hey, the Tigers could have three players drafted in the top nine. I wonder if they had a pretty good team last year - maybe one that could have played for a national championship? This pick might not be the


Redskins' to make either; if they do, they'll like the bigger and more physical Rogers over the shorter, faster Adam "Pac-Man" Jones.



Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin.

Valuations of this guy are all over the place, largely because of lingering concerns about a previous hip injury. That aside, I don't think James is fast enough or strong enough to make a huge impact. I'm also not prepared


for the Lions to be competitive, so if James doesn't work out, hey, I'm not going to sweat it.



DeMarcus Ware, DE, Troy.

Ware will be the first of several so-called hybrid defensive players to go in the first round. Ware is quick enough to stand up as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, with the potential to eventually bulk


up and return to his college position as a defensive end. He is a perfect fit for the Cowboys; they hope to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive front, and Ware has soared past Shawne Merriman, a similar player, in recent days.



Shawne Merriman, LB/DE, Maryland.

The Chargers happily will grab Merriman, who has been pegged to go to the Cowboys since about January. Ware's fast-rising stock


means that won't happen, allowing San Diego to take their prime target. He'll fit perfectly into the team's 3-4 scheme, just as Ware will fit with Dallas. For a team lacking defensive playmakers, Merriman will be one.



Alex Barron, T, Florida State.

The Texans will benefit from none of the offensive tackles being considered all-world this year. Usually, one of them goes in the top 10, but Barron still will be here and he can come in to protect franchise quarterback


David Carr for the next 10-12 years. There has been some talk about Barron sliding, and the Texans maybe not being interested in him, but don't buy it.



Heath Miller, TE, Virginia.

Another pick that just makes too sense not to happen. Miller has disappeared from some draft rankings because he hasn't been able to work out through the whole draft season because of a hernia. But that will heal, and


he is too accomplished of a receiver to slide further. Carolina will wind up with great value; maybe not Tony Gonzalez, but probably better than Jeremy Shockey.



Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, CB, West Virginia.

This is precipitated on the Chiefs not trading for Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain, which is their better option. If forced to draft a cornerback, Kansas City would prefer Rogers


because new division arrival Randy Moss is just going to laugh when he sees the 5-9 1/2 Jones trying to defend him. If the Chiefs were to land Surtain, or possibly free-agent cornerback Ty Law, look for them to take a pass rusher, probably Georgia's David Pollack.



Jamaal Brown, T, Oklahoma.

In connection with the rumors of Barron dropping, there has been concurring talk that Brown could jump ahead of Barron. If that happens, the Saints would be equally happy taking Barron as they would Brown. Brown is


a good fit because he is going to be a right tackle for a few years while he bulks up and learns the game, and that's what the Saints need now.



Marcus Spears, DE, LSU.

Spears is going to be a great player, much like Patriots star defensive lineman Richard Seymour. Coach Marvin Lewis might not know exactly what to do with Spears right now because he will be versatile enough to


play inside or outside. But Spears will be a great player wherever he goes, and Lewis will figure out what do with him.



Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina.

This is a dream scenario for the Vikings, landing two top receivers from the two different USCs. It probably won't happen because Williamson is soaring up boards and


is overvalued by this point. He'll be gone before this point, but I'm not sold on him. He's fast. That's what the uproar is about Williamson. He isn't polished and didn't play in a passing offense in college. He faces a steep learning curve.



Thomas Davis, S, Georgia.

The need is just too great for the Rams to pass Davis; the only true safety they have is Adam Archuleta, who has lingering back problems. Many people think Davis, at 230 pounds, eventually will move to linebacker,


which is OK for the Rams because they need help there too. It's an unfortunate pick for Davis because defensive players drafted early by the Rams tend to stink.



Shaun Cody, DT, Southern Cal.

The Cowboys will trade down if somebody makes a good offer; if they don't, picking Cody will give them two great first-round defensive picks -- exactly what coach Bill Parcells is looking for. Cody is strong and


quick enough to play anywhere on the line; he has a relentless motor and huge upside.



Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma.

A cornerback is a more-pressing need, but Clayton is too good to pass on. He is ready to make an immediate contribution and probably is better right now than Reggie Williams, the Jaguars' first-round pick last


year, although Williams still has more potential. As Jimmy Smith gets ready to claim Social Security, Jacksonville needs somebody to punch up the offense.



Khalif Barnes, T, Washington.

Good value pick for the Ravens and also fills one of the only open spots in their lineup, at right tackle. He'd be a great bookend to pair with all-world Jonathan Ogden and will make Baltimore's offense potent, helping the run


game while also protecting young quarterback Kyle Boller.



David Pollack, DE, Georgia.

Many good defensive line candidates are slipping in this scenario, which is great news for the desperate Seahawks. Pollack has a chance to be a great pass rusher, although he isn't a great physical specimen. In that


regard, he is similar to Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes will have to figure out what to do with him. They also love defensive tackle Luis Castillo but are wary after he admitted testing positive for steroids last week.



Matt Roth, DE, Iowa.

Defense, defense, defense. That's all that matters for the Packers. They wasted a couple high picks on cornerbacks last year and ought to give them another year before trying to replace them. Roth is like Pollack --


not great physically but a huge motor. He's the kind of player the crazy Packers fans will fall in love with.



Roddy White, WR, Alabama-Birmingham.

The only thing that makes less sense than the Redskins trading up for this pick is them taking Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. That still might happen, but telegraphing


your intentions for this pick several days ahead of the draft is just inviting somebody to trade up one spot ahead of you to take Campbell. I think this move is a product of owner Daniel Snyder loving flashy offensive players, while coach Joe Gibbs knows his defense needs help. The second first-rounder allows both to be happy. If it means losing a potential top 10 pick next year, so be it.



Fabian Washington, CB, Nebraska.

The Raiders took advantage of the Jets' penchant for underachieving, white tight ends to get back in the first round where they can secure a much-needed cornerback. Oakland already has dumped Phillip


Buchanon and would like to get rid of Charles Woodson, its top two corners last year. Washington is fast if a bit raw and is a big-time playmaker who had 11 interceptions in three years.



Justin Tuck, DE, Notre Dame.

I'm not a huge fan of Tuck's, but this is about where he is falling on a lot of draft boards. The Falcons also could select one of several first-round worthy receivers who will be available here. That would appeal to fans,


but after using first-round picks to acquire Michael Jenkins and Peerless Price the past two years, they need to use the selection on other positions. They'd also look for an offensive lineman, but there isn't one to take here.



Reggie Brown, WR, Georgia.

The Chargers fill their other big need by taking Brown with their second first-rounder. Brown will wind up being better than a lot of the players taken ahead of him. He lacks polish but is an incredible athlete who will


become a top-notch receiver in a year or two.



Marlin Jackson, CB, Michigan.

Clemson's Justin Miller would be another good selection for the Colts, but they put a high value on character and likely will devalue Miller after he was arrested for disorderly conduct last weekend. Jackson is


a bit of a risk because some teams project him at cornerback instead of safety. He can contribute as a rookie, which is vital for this team.



Justin Miller, CB, Clemson.

Character isn't a concern for the Steelers as long as a guy can play. Miller will help boost the secondary, which was trashed in last season's AFC title game. Miller also is a great returner, which the Steelers could need if


they try to protect Antwaan Randle El, projected to be a regular starter for the first time.



Luis Castillo, DT, Northwestern.

Castillo is a fast-rising first-round pick, according to several teams, and his going here means Travis Johnson -- long assumed to be the No. 1 defensive tackle -- would slip out of the first round. The pick fills a need for


the Eagles, who also always are a candidate to trade up. They have the ammunition to do so this year with extra second- and third-round picks.



Darryl Blackstock, LB, Virginia.

There's no telling what the Patriots might do; they conceal their intentions better than any team and always stay true to their board, regardless of what position they take. Blackstock is a versatile, tackling, pass-


rushing linebacker. He could play inside or outside and fits well with what the Patriots like from their linebackers, although they usually don't draft them this high.


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