Brandt: Pre-Combine Player Rankings

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Here's a breakdown by position of the key offensive and defensive players who will be at this year's NFL Combine. We also are listing the top players at each position, and players you might not know a lot about (yet).

The combine is one of the rare win-win situations the NFL offers. The teams go and check out every player on display -- one-stop shopping for the draft. But for the players who go, it's even more valuable because they can show off what they can do in workouts for all 32 teams. It's the biggest job fair any college prospect could ever imagine having, and every year players "move up" draft boards thanks to their work.

Kyle Boller, for example, ran and did the field drills and ended up being drafted 19th after being thought of as a second-round pick. He was the opening day starter for the Ravens.

These rankings can and will change after the combine because of physicals (players could have injuries or health problems) and workouts (e.g. a player might run faster than had been expected).

In 2003, players like Terence Newman, Marcus Trufant and Jordan Gross all had complete workouts and ended up being drafted in the top 11 picks in Round 1 with signing bonuses totalling nearly $30 million ($29,896,501 to be exact).

Note: The combine track is fast - great for running very good times. After all, this is the field the Colts run on eight games a season.

QUARTERBACKS (21 players invited)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Eli Manning, Ole Miss

1a. Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio)

  1. Philip Rivers, N.C. State
  1. J.P. Losman, Tulane
  1. Matt Schaub, Virginia
  1. John Navarre, Michigan
  1. Cody Pickett, Washington
  1. Jeff Smoker, Michigan State

Wild card:

Drew Henson, Michigan. Henson was drafted in 2003 by the Houston texans in the sixth round. If he's not signed to an NFL contract before the start of this draft, Henson will go back into the draft where anyone could take him.

More names to know:

Jason File, Oregon

Robert Kent, Jackson State

Quick Hits:

  • Last year, 17 quarterbacks were invited to the combine, 11 were drafted, and two drafted were not invited.
  • Also last year, three of four quarterbacks drafted in Round 1 started games: Byron Leftwich (13), Kyle Boller (9) and Rex Grossman (3). Only Carson Palmer, the No. 1 overall choice, did not start a game.
  • Since 1979, only five quarterbacks who have started seven or more games as a rookie have had a 50-percent or better winning record: Phil Simms (1979, 6-6), Dan Marino (1983, 7-2), Chris Chandler (1988, 9-4), Kerry Collins (1995, 7-6) and Kyle Boller (2003, 5-4).
  • In the last three Super Bowls, the highest a starting quarterback was picked was the fourth round, 98th overall, which is where Rich Gannon was selected.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (53 players invited: 20 tackles, 21 guards, 10 centers)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Robert Gallery, Iowa
  1. Shawn Andrews, Arkansas
  1. Jacob Rogers, USC
  1. Max Starks, Florida
  1. Kelly Butler, Purdue
  1. Vernon Carey, Miami (Fla.)
  1. Sean Locklear, N.C. State
  1. Justin Smiley, Alabama
  1. Jake Grove, Virginia Tech
  1. Jeb Terry, North Carolina
  1. Alan Reuber, Texas A&M

More names to know:

Dylan McFarland, Montana

John Clabo, Wake Forest

Brian Rimpf, East Carolina

Quick Hits:

  • In 2003, 64 offensive linemen were invited to the combine, 38 were drafted while seven of those drafted were not invited.
  • Biggest surprises: Dan Koppen, a fifth-round pick for the Patriots, started Super Bowl XXXVIII. ... Steve Sciullo, a fourth rounder, was a starter for the Colts. ... It wasn't a surprise that Jordan Gross was drafted, but he managed to play on every single down for the Panthers offense. Eric Steinbach did the same thing for the Bengals, and he was a second-round selection.
  • Two offensive linemen in this draft have fathers who were first-round picks. Oddly enough, both are from Florida: Max Starks (Ross) and Shannon Snell (Ray).

RUNNING BACKS (29 players invited)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech
  1. Steven Jackson, Oregon State
  1. Greg Jones, Florida State
  1. Chris Perry, Michigan
  1. Cedric Cobbs, Arkansas
  1. Julius Jones, Notre Dame
  1. Tatum Bell, Oklahoma State
  1. Maurice Clarett, Ohio State
  1. Michael Turner, Northern Illinois
  1. Rae Carthon, Florida
  1. Quincy Wilson, West Virginia

More names to know:

Mewelde Moore, Tulane

Shaud Williams, Alabama

Wild card:

Clarence Farmer, Arizona. Farmer has the big-time ability, but was dismissed from his team while attending college.

Quick Hits:

  • In 2003, 33 running backs were invited to the combine, 21 were drafted, and two were drafted that were not invited.
  • Biggest surprise: Domanick Davis, who was a fourth-round pick of the Texans. He gained over 1,000 yards and was the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.
  • Three running backs have fathers or brothers who were first-round picks in previous drafts: Julius Jones' brother, Thomas (now with the Bucs), Quincy Wilson's father Otis, a linebacker with the Bears, and Jarrett Payton's father, Hall of Fame running back Walter.

WIDE RECEIVERS (50 players invited)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Roy Williams, Texas

1a. Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh

  1. Michael Clayton, LSU
  1. Lee Evans, Wisconsin
  1. Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State
  1. Mike Jenkins, Ohio State
  1. B.J. Johnson, Texas
  1. Devery Henderson, LSU
  1. Drew Carter, Ohio State
  1. Keary Colbert, USC
  1. Reggie Williams, Washington
  • Except for Williams and Fitzgerald at the top, this order will change several times before draft day.

More names to know:

Justin Jenkins, Mississippi State

Clarence Moore, Morthern Arizona

Johnnie Morant, Syracuse

Quick Hits:

  • In 2003, 40 wide receivers were invited to the combine, 27 were drafted, and 10 were drafted that were not invited.
  • Biggest surprise: Anquan Boldin, who came out of nowhere in Week 1 and never stopped performing. Boldin was a second-round pick, 54th overall, and caught over 100 passes and the only rookie selected to play in the 2004 Pro Bowl.
  • Texas prospect Roy Williams' brother Lloyd Hill (Texas Tech) led the NCAA in receptions in 1992. Williams himself made his mark in high school as a track star -- he scored all his school's points (24) in the 2000 Texas state championship meet and also set the state record in the long jump.
  • Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods caught seven touchdown passes in a game against SMU this past year. He also led the Big 12 in receptions in 2002 with 107.

TIGHT ENDS (19 players invited)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Kellen Winslow, Miami (Fla.)
  1. Ben Troupe, Florida
  1. Ben Watson, Georgia
  1. Ben Hartsock, Ohio State
  1. Kris Wilson, Pittsburgh
  1. Ben Utecht, Minnesota

More names to know:

Jeff Dugan, Maryland

Courtney Anderson, San Jose State

Quick Hits:

  • In 2003, 21 tight ends were invited to the combine, 12 were drafted, with one non-invitee taken.
  • Biggest surprises: Jason Witten, a third-round pick (69th overall) by the Cowboys. His blocking and pass receiving were great for a rookie.
  • Kellen Winslow Jr.'s father, Kellen Sr., was a first-round pick in 1979 by the Chargers. Winslow went to five Pro Bowls and caught 541 passes in nine years.
  • The 2002 draft set records for most tight ends picked in Round 1 (three) and at the time, the most tight ends taken in one draft (17). That second record was snapped last year when an eye-popping 23 tight ends were selected last year.

KICKERS/PUNTERS (11 players invited: Five placekickers, six punters)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Nate Kaeding, Iowa
  1. B.J. Sander, Ohio State
  1. Nick Setta, Notre Dame

A name to know:

Scott Verhalen, East Texas Baptist

Quick Hits:

  • 15 kickers were invited to the combine, three were drafted.
  • Biggest surprise: Josh Brown, who was picked by Seattle. He kicked a 58-yard field goal for the Seahawks and converted 21 of 28 field goals.
  • Only three true rookies kicked in the NFL in 2003. They were Brown, Seth Marler (Jacksonville) and Eddie Johnson (punter for Minnesota).
  • In the past 10 drafts, 34 kickers have been drafted: 18 placekickers and 16 punters. Over that same span, eight kickers have been drafted on the first day, with only Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski picked in Round 1.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (60 players invited)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Kenechi Udeze, USC
  1. Tommie Harris, Oklahoma
  1. Will Smith, Ohio State
  1. Vince Wilfork, Miami (Fla.)
  1. Randy Starks, Maryland
  1. Darrion Scott, Ohio State
  1. Dave Ball, UCLA
  1. Darnell Dockett, Florida State
  1. Marcus Tubbs, Texas
  1. Dwan Edwards, Oregon State
  1. Junior Siavii, Oregon
  • Note: Some teams might view Will Smith and Purdue's Shaun Phillips as outside linebackers in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Terrell Suggs was looked at as a linebacker last year, and was drafted as such by the Ravens.

More names to know:

Donnell Washington, Clemson

Igor Olshansky, Oregon

Corey Williams, Arkansas State

Quick Hits:

  • In 2002, 42 defensive linemen were invited to the combine. That number increased to 53 in 2003 and has gone to 60 this year. This tells us teams are putting a greater value on defensive linemen each year.
  • Biggest surprises: Kevin Williams, Minnesota. He had 71/2 sacks in 2003 -- no other NFC rookie had three! Also, Terrell Suggs of Baltimore had 12 sacks last year. Only four rookies in NFL history had more, and all four were selected to play in the Pro Bowl during their career.
  • Of the 53 linemen invited to the combine last year, 44 were drafted while six non-invitees were picked.
  • In 1998, 30 defensive linemen were drafted. That number was increased to 50 last year. Also, in 2004 there will be 20 linemen paid over $3 million (Bryant Young and Jason Taylor will be paid the most). It pays to raise your son to play D-line.

LINEBACKERS (38 players invited: 29 outside, nine inside)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. D.J. Williams, Miami (Fla.)
  1. Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma
  1. Jonathan Vilma, Miami (Fla.)
  1. Karlos Dansby, Auburn
  1. Keyaron Fox, Georgia Tech
  1. Daryl Smith, Georgia Tech
  1. Dontarrious Thomas, Auburn
  1. Demorrio Williams, Nebraska
  1. Rod Davis, Southern Miss
  1. Courtney Watson, Notre Dame

*Note: Linemen like Larry Stevens (Michigan) and Shaun Phillips (Purdue) might be selected as outside linebackers.

Names to know:

Jonathan Harrell, Northern Iowa

William Strother, New Mexico

Cody Spencer, North Texas

Quick Hits:

  • In 2003, 31 linebackers were invited to the combine, 23 were drafted, and five drafted were not invited (all outside linebackers).
  • Biggest surprises: Nick Barnett of the Packers. He's a converted safety who played one year at linebacker in college but played fulltime at linebacker for the Packers. Lance Briggs of the Bears also played well and started for 13 games.
  • Three linebackers have been drafted No. 1 overall in the draft. They are Aundry Bruce (Atlanta, 1988), Tom Cousineau (Buffalo, 1979) and Tommy Nobis (Atlanta, 1966).

DEFENSIVE BACKS (56 players invited)

First players likely to be picked:

  1. Sean Taylor, Miami (Fla.)
  1. DeAngelo Hall, Virginia Tech
  1. Will Poole, Southern California
  1. Chris Gamble, Ohio State
  1. Derrick Strait, Oklahoma
  1. Donta Robinson, South Carolina
  1. Ricardo Colclough, Tusculum
  1. Jeremy LeSueur, Michigan
  1. Keith Smith, McNeese State
  1. Bob Sanders, Iowa

High picks you might not have heard of:

Joey Thomas, Montana State

Jeff Shoate, San Diego State

Ahmad Carroll, Arkansas

Marcell Almond, Southern California

Quick Hits:

  • In 2003, 47 defensive backs were invited to the combine, 40 were drafted, and 10 drafted were not invited.
  • Biggest surprise: Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears. He was the 35th player selected. He became a starter and had four interceptions, including one pass intended for Randy Moss that saved a victory for Chicago.
  • Two defensive backs from the 2003 NFL Combine started in Super Bowl XXXVIII -- Eugene Wilson (Patriots) and Ricky Manning. Another -- New England's Asante Samuel -- played a great deal of time.
  • Early in Day 2 of the draft, we expect teams to start grabbing potential third cornerbacks.
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