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ESPN Insider - Mel Kiper Jr.: TOP FIVE PROSPECTS BY POSITION

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By Mel Kiper Jr.

Special to ESPN Insider

http://proxy.espn.go.com/ncf/columns/story?columnist=kiper_jr_mel&id=1686837

TOP FIVE PROSPECTS BY POSITION | Dec. 15

With the regular season concluded and teams preparing for bowl games, here's a look at my top five prospects by position. Running back Kevin Jones of Virginia Tech is the only junior to declare thus far, but this list is subject to change as underclassmen begin to reveal their intentions.

Four players on the current list -- Ole Miss QB Eli Manning, Texas WR Roy Williams, Iowa OT Robert Gallery and Ohio State DE Will Smith -- are worthy of top-five overall picks, while positions like wide receiver and offensive tackle could see all of the current top five come off the draft board by the end of the third round.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Eli Manning is running toward the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft.

1. Eli Manning, Ole Miss, top five overall -- Improved pocket awareness this season has turned Manning into one of the top five players on the board overall. He was expected to be the top senior quarterback at the beginning of the year and that's what happened.

2. J.P. Losman, Tulane, late first-early second round -- Surrounded by a below-average line and did not have a top-flight receiver, yet posted solid numbers while taking some vicious hits. Has a very live, snappy arm and is decisive with his throws. Late-first to second round.

3. Philip Rivers, NC State, second round -- Compares favorably to former Miami (Fla.) and Cleveland Browns great Bernie Kosar. Rivers is smart and instinctive with a quick release -- probably the quickest since Dan Marino -- that compensates for his unorthodox delivery.

4. Matt Schaub, Virginia, third-fourth round -- A big quarterback at 6-5¼, 245 pounds, Schaub has an NFL arm and better feet and athleticism than most give him credit for.

5. Jason White, Oklahoma, third-fourth round - With his accuracy on all types of passes White is quarterback in the mold of Kansas City Chiefs starter Trent Green. He has torn the ACL in both knees, though, so health could be a concern.

Running Back

1. Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech, first round -- A little upright with his running style, but tremendously athletic with game-breaking speed and the ability to catch the ball and block. A complete player.

2. Chris Perry, Michigan, second round -- Ranks with Jones at the most complete backs in the draft. Perry runs hard and has good size at 6-0½, 225, making him an excellent short-yardage and red zone runner. Not a home-run hitter but is an excellent pass-catcher and blocker.

3. Greg Jones, Florida State, second-third round -- A year removed from a major knee injury Jones' yards-per-carry average dipped from near 6.0 last season to 4.2 this year, dropping his rating a bit. But at 6-1½, 246 pounds Jones has the athleticism to be productive if he regains his form.

4. Quincy Wilson, West Virginia, third round -- A low-slung, compact runner at 5-9, 215 pounds, Wilson had his biggest games against the biggest opponents this season. The only question is a tendency to cough the ball up on occasion.

5. Julius Jones, Notre Dame, third-fourth round -- Coming off a year away from football because of academic issues, Jones came on like gangbusters down the stretch this season. He ran with strength and determination and also showed he can hit the long gainer at times.

Fullbacks

1. Travis Wilson, Kansas State, fifth-seventh round -- The best blocker of the group, Wilson led the way for Darren Sproles most of the season and carried the ball just 10 times.

2. Mike Karney, Arizona State, fifth-seventh round -- Primarily a blocker, though he did catch 14 passes for the Sun Devils this season.

3. Thomas Tapeh, Minnesota, fifth-seventh round -- A former tailback who is the most complete all-around back in this group.

4. Lousaka Polite, Pittsburgh, fifth-seventh round -- Ran the ball 63 times this season after tailback Brandon Miree went down with injury, and also caught 23 passes.

5. Luke Lawton, McNeese State, late-rounder/free agent - Scored seven combined touchdowns this season.

Wide receiver

1. Roy Williams, Texas, top five overall -- Touch and physically gifted at 6-2½, 210 pounds. Williams put up tremendous numbers in a conservative offense and should be one of the first five players off the board on draft day.

2. Lee Evans, Wisconsin, first-second round -- Gradually worked his way back from a knee injury, displaying soft hands and a tremendous feel for the position. Also has decent size at 5-10½, 195 and showed toughness coming back from injury.

3. Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State, second round -- A gifted natural receiver, but there are questions about his speed and ability to separate and Woods also struggled against top-echelon defenses.

4. James Newson, Oregon State, second-third round -- Catches nearly every ball thrown his way and is a good threat in the red zone with his 6-0½, 210-pound frame. Work hard on every play but needs to showcase more speed.

5. Michael Jenkins, Ohio State, second-third round -- Big and athletic at 6-4, 215 pounds, Jenkins could become a very capable No. 2 receiver at the NFL level.

Tight End

1. Ben Troupe, Florida, first round -- A Shannon Sharpe-type natural pass receiver, Troupe ranks in the top 10 on my current Big Board. He is a gifted athlete at 6-4¼, 260 and makes the difficult catch look easy.

2. Ben Watson, Georgia, second-third round -- Banged up early in the season and was not as productive as possible, the former Duke transfer has a lot of natural ability.

3. Ben Hartsock, Ohio State, third-fourth round -- A hardworking, dedicated player who rose up the draft board with a productive senior campaign, Hartsock checks in at 6-4, 258.

4. Chris Cooley, Utah State, third-fourth round -- An outstanding pass catcher out of the H-back position, he averaged 11.8 yards on his 62 catches and scored six touchdowns. Also has tremendous body control.

5. Ronnie Ghent, Louisville, fourth-fifth round -- Shows a lot of athletic prowess at 6-2, 249 pounds but is not an outstanding blocker.

Tackle

1. Robert Gallery, Iowa, top five overall -- A super blue-chip prospect at 6-7, 318. Gallery is a great pro-style pass blocker at left tackle and also gets after it in the running game.

2. Jacob Rogers, USC, late first-mid second round -- Won't jump out during individual workouts because of various injuries over his career, but Rogers is very steady with the pads on and goes 6-5½, 305.

3. Travelle Wharton, South Carolina, second round -- Has started at left tackle since his freshman year and was hampered some by an ankle injury this season, but at 6-3½, 316 pounds he can still work his way into the second round with a good all-star game showing.

4. Max Starks, Florida, second round -- Not as physically dominant as his 6-7, 344 frame would imply, but Starks is light on his feet and versatile enough to play both guard and tackle.

5. Tony Pape, Michigan, second-third round -- A battle-tested Big Ten veteran, Pape has maintain ted consistency over his career.

Guard

1. Vernon Carey, Miami, first-second round -- Was not at full strength this season because of an ankle injury, yet the 6-4, 355-pounder played every line spot except center this year. An excellent player when healthy.

2. Sean Locklear, NC State, third-fourth round -- Athletic and strong at 6-3&189;, 305 pounds Locklear has made a successful transition from defensive tackle and has been versatile late in his career.

3. Atlas Harrion, Alabama, fifth-sixth round -- A major-college sleeper, Harrion is versatile enough to play every spot on the line but looks like a guard in the NFL. At 6-3&189;, 300 pounds he could still maximize his play and be a better pro than collegian.

4. Stephen Peterman, LSU, fourth-fifth round -- A former tight end and defensive end who is still mastering the technical aspects of the position, but at 6-3&189;, 325 you have to like his fire and aggressiveness.

5. Shannon Snell, Florida, second-day choice -- A proven entity and very good from a technical standpoint, but maybe not as dominant as he should have been at 6-4, 333 pounds.

Center

1. Jake Grove, Virginia Tech, first round -- Has moved up the draft board lately and has the mean streak teams look for in an anchor. Game day performances have been excellent.

2. Nick Leckey, Kansas State, third-fourth round -- Experienced at both guard and center and a solid technician at 6-3&189;, 313, Leckey has banged heads with some of the best defensive tackles in the country during his career.

3. Nick Seitze, Kentucky, fourth-fifth round -- Has worked in practice and games against top-drawer DTs and checks in at 6-4&189;, 291 pounds.

4. Scott Wells, Tennessee, late rounds -- Experienced and well-coached, Wells understands leverage and is a solid, reliable anchor at 6-1, 300 pounds.

5. A.J. Ricker, Missouri, late rounds -- Has started since his freshman year and has done a good job developing his technical skills and confidence.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

1. Will Smith, Ohio State, top five overall -- Smith has maintained an elite level all season and is deserving of a top five overall pick.

2. Darrion Scott, Ohio State, second-third round -- A 'tweener type who could play either end or tackle.

3. Isaac Hilton, Hampton, third-fourth round -- Showcased his versatility by finishing second on the team in tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss against Howard and 10 tackles to go with two sacks against Morgan State.

4. Roderick Green, Central Missouri St., third-fourth round -- A feared sack artist who is athletic enough to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

5. Dave Ball, UCLA, third-fourth round -- A highly-competitive overachiever, Ball benefitted from the presence of Rodney Leslie at tackle.

Tackle

1. Dwan Edwards, Oregon State, first round -- One of the most underrated tackles in the country, Edwards has had a tremendous senior year for the Beavers.

2. Rodney Leslie, UCLA, second round -- Hampered by injuries each of the last two years, but at full strength Leslie is a force to be reckoned with.

3. Marcus Tubbs, Texas, late first-early second round -- Has tremendous athletic ability for a 6-4¼, 325-pounder, but Tubbs needs to be more active and intense from play to play.

4. Tommy Kelly, Mississippi St., second-third round -- Can play tackle or end but is not a finished produce and needs to keep developing from a technical standpoint.

5. Chad Lavalais, LSU, second-third round -- Bounced back from an injury-plagued 2002 season with some dominating performances, and if he can continue to maintain that level for 60 minutes Lavalais has a chance to be an excellent pro with his 6-2, 295-pound frame.

Inside linebacker

1. Courtney Watson, Notre Dame, second-third round -- Smart, productive and extremely consistent, Watson is a Tampa Bay Bucs-style linebacker.

2. Jonathan Harrell, Northern Iowa, third-fourth round -- A good Division I-AA player who has played both inside and outside linebacker.

3. Daryl Smith, Georgia Tech, third-fourth round -- Did not really take his game to the next level this year.

4. Louis Moore, Pittsburgh, fifth-sixth round -- Has talent and moved in from the outside this season, but did not benefit from a top-flight defensive line to keep blockers off him. Moore did not have a great year but held up well.

5. Cody Spencer, North Texas, fifth-sixth round -- Always around the ball, Spencer grows on you the more you watch him play.

Outside linebacker

1. Jonathan Vilma, Miami (Fla.), first round -- Does not have great size at 6-0&189;, 231 pounds but has been one of the elite defensive players in college this year. A hit-lift-drive tackler and one of the more instinctive linebackers you will see.

2. D.J. Williams, Miami (Fla.), mid-to-late first round -- Big and fast (a former fullback), but still learning the position.

3. Karlos Dansby, Auburn, mid-to-late first round -- Gifted physically and can attack off the edge, but needs to get off blocks quicker and improve his coverage skills.

4. Michael Boulware, Florida St., second round -- A speedy, multi-dimensional linebacker who needs to get up to about 235 pounds on his 6-2&188; frame, Boulware can stay on the field all three downs.

5. Demorrio Williams, Nebraska, third-fourth round -- One of the most-improved players in the country, Williams can cover the field and has outstanding awareness. Does not have ideal size, though, at just 6-1, 223.

Cornerback

1. Will Poole, USC, first round -- Did not become a starter until the third game this season yet turned into an elite cover man who led the Trojans in interceptions and pass breakups. Has a keen understanding of positioning.

2. Dunta Robinson, South Carolina, late-first to early-second round -- An underrated major-college standout who did a great job this season in coverage and has outstanding toughness.

3. Ricardo Colclough, Tusculum, late first-early second round -- Exceptional small-college corner who had nine interceptions and is also an excellent kick returner. Has good size at 5-11, 189 and 4.45 speed in the 40 but needs to get a little stronger.

4. Keith Smith, McNeese St., late first-early second round -- Was challenged a lot early in his career but held up well and did not see a lot of balls thrown his way this season.

5. Derrick Strait, Oklahoma, second round -- Does not have ideal size at just 5-9, but Strait is an excellent pure football player who did a great job in coverage during his career.

Safety

1. Stuart Schweigert, Purdue, first-second round -- An interception machine and outstanding centerfielder, Schweigert has been a thorn in the side of opposing quarterbacks throughout his career. Has good size at 6-2, 209.

2. Bob Sanders, Iowa, second or third round -- Has moved into my top 25 overall, and were he two inches taller than the 5-8&189; he checks in at Sanders would be looking at a mid-first round slot. Very strong and should run the 40 in the 4.35 range.

3. Will Allen, Ohio State, second-third round -- An excellent athlete with corner-type cover skills but not a headhunter. Good size at 6-1, 193.

4. J.R. Reed, South Florida, third-fourth round -- An outstanding player with good ball skills and great feet, Reed could even be tried at corner in the right scheme.

5. Rashad Washington, Kansas St., third-fourth round -- A great athlete who also played basketball for the Wildcats, Washington checks in at 6-1&189; and 212 pounds.

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The danny is probably :jerkoff: over this report already. Never too early to prepare for the draft, ya know.

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