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FOR TOP PICKS, IT'S PARITY TIME

There are franchise-type running backs, big-play wide receivers, highly skilled quarterbacks, big, athletic offensive linemen, potential Pro Bowl cornerbacks, pass-rushing defensive ends and playmaking linebackers.

The 2005 NFL draft has a little bit of everything, or almost everything.

The missing ingredient: a consensus top player.

Barring a trade, the San Francisco 49ers will go on the clock at noon today on ESPN. The only question is whom will they take?

Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers of California and Alex Smith of Utah, wide receivers Braylon Edwards of Michigan and Mike Williams of Southern California, and running backs Ronnie Brown of Auburn and Cedric Benson of Texas all have been ranked as the No. 1 prospect at some point this year by various Web sites, magazines and television draftniks.

"It all depends on what day it is or what time of the day it is," said Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys player personnel director who is a draft analyst for NFL.com. "When you look at these guys, they're all very, very equal."

As for the overall quality of this draft, opinion varies on that as much as it does on who the top player is.

"I think it's a deep draft, although you probably don't have as many big names at the top," New York Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said at the NFL scouting combine.

New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett said at the NFL meetings last month that his team has a handful of players rated evenly at the top.

"Then after that, it's a crapshoot," he said.

On paper, this draft pales in comparison to last year, when nearly two-thirds of the 32 first-round picks made impacts as rookies.

"Last year, there were difference-makers at almost every position," said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for NFL Network. "When you get a (Ben) Roethlisberger at 11, a (Jonathan) Vilma at 12, a D.J. Williams at 16, not to mention the guys in the top 10 that stepped right in and started like Sean Taylor, Roy Williams, Robert Gallery, that's an impressive group."

While the 2005 draft may lack the star quality of the '04 selections, some observers think it has more depth.

"I think this is a good draft in that players you're going to get in the second, third and fourth round are very solid players," Brandt said. "The players you will get on the second day are probably a better player over the long run than a player you got on the second day last year."

Offense figures to dominate the early portion of the first round. Quarterbacks have been taken first overall in the last four drafts and six of the last seven. Rodgers or Smith could continue that trend. In fact, they could be the first two players chosen.

Running backs haven't gotten a lot of love in recent drafts. Twenty-three players were taken before St. Louis selected Steven Jackson last year. No running back has been drafted in the top 10 since LaDainian Tomlinson was picked fifth overall by San Diego in 2001.

But Brown and Carnell Williams of Auburn and Benson of Texas could be the first trio among the first 10 selections since Barry Sanders (third), Tim Worley (seventh) and Sammie Smith (ninth) in 1989. The last two backs from the same team to be drafted in Round One were Roger Vick and Rod Bernstine of Texas A&M in 1987.

Seven to 10 other backs are expected to be taken in the second and third rounds, making this class comparable to 1989, when 11 backs were chosen in the first three rounds.

The '04 draft was dubbed the Year of the Wide Receiver as a record seven were first-rounders. At least five could be picked in the opening round today, starting with Edwards and Williams.

Cornerbacks probably will be the first defenders drafted. Miami's Antrel Rolle, West Virginia's Adam Jones and Auburn's Carlos Rogers are the best of a very deep class.

There's a chance no offensive or defensive lineman will be drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 1999 and the third time ever. Offensive tackles Alex Barron of Florida State and Jammal Brown of Oklahoma and defensive linemen Shawne Merriman of Maryland and Travis Johnson of Florida State will be scooped up early.

Texas' Derrick Johnson heads the linebacker class, strengthened by the addition of converted defensive end Demarcus Ware of Troy State and Georgia safety Thomas Davis.

Here's a position-by-position look at the draft prospects:
QUARTERBACKS
Top Prospects
Alex Smith, Utah, 6-4, 217: Lacks arm strength but a combination of size, athleticism, intelligence and intangibles gives him a chance to develop into a quality starter in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers, California, 6-2, 223: A polished passer with a strong, accurate arm and the ability to read defenses. Doesn't have prototypical size but is big enough.
Next Level
Jason Campbell, Auburn, 6-4 2/3 , 227: A marvelous athlete who thrived in West Coast offense. Improved every year but still has plenty of room to grow.
Charlie Frye, Akron, 6-4, 224: Has the arm, leadership skills and potential to add to the growing legacy of Mid-American Conference passers.
Kyle Orton, Purdue, 6-4, 233: Operated pass-happy offense in college, but he has skills to succeed in pros if he adjusts to pro-style attack.
Andrew Walter, Arizona State, 6-6, 233: Possesses great size and a powerful arm.
Sleepers
David Greene, Georgia, 6-3, 226: Lacks elite physical tools, but he's a tough competitor and a winner (NCAA-record 42 career victories).
Derek Anderson, Oregon State, 6-6, 242: Flying under radar, but he's got the physical attributes to play in the league.
Adrian McPherson, Florida State, 6-4, 215: If teams can look past involvement in 2002 gambling scandal, he is talented enough to be a developmental project.
Stefan LeFors, Louisville, 6-1, 208: Not big but NCAA passing champ is accurate and can make plays on the run.
RUNNING BACKS
Top Prospects
Ronnie Brown, Auburn, 6-0, 233: The complete package of size, speed and power. An excellent blocker and outstanding receiver who can line up anywhere on the field.
Cedric Benson, Texas, 5-10, 225: Highly productive big back with outstanding vision, balance and explosiveness. Physical style has been compared to Ricky Williams.
Carnell Williams, Auburn, 5-11, 213: An electrifying and shifty runner with great acceleration, toughness and a knack for breaking tackles.
Next Level
Ciatrick Fason, Florida, 6-1, 207: Early draft entry has good quickness through the hole and can make defenders miss in open field.
Vernand Morency, Oklahoma State, 5-10, 212: Another early entry who is a tough inside runner with the speed to bounce outside and go the distance.
J.J. Arrington, California, 5-9, 214: A 2,000-yard back last season, he runs bigger than his size and has ability to make big play.
Marion Barber III, Minnesota, 5-11, 211: College junior with speed and open-field elusiveness.
Eric Shelton, Louisville, 6-1, 243: Prototype power back lacks great speed but runs hard and moves the pile.
Sleepers
Frank Gore, Miami, Fla., 5-9, 217: Major surgeries to both knees marred college career, but he remains a powerful back who can be productive if he stays healthy.
Alvin Pearman, Virginia, 5-9, 208: Underrated prospect with great versatility (4,875 all-purpose yards and 135 receptions).
Walter Reyes, Syracuse, 5-9, 200: A tough, productive runner and dangerous receiver who would be drafted higher if he were bigger.
Brandon Jacobs, Southern Illinois, 6-4, 267: Auburn transfer is an overpowering runner who could be a short-yardage asset.
RECEIVERS
Top Prospects
Braylon Edwards, Michigan, 6-3, 211: The Biletnikoff Award winner is a special talent with the size, speed, hands and ball skills to be an elite player at the pro level.
Mike Williams, Southern California, 6-5, 229: A matchup nightmare because of size. Has good hands, runs solid routes and has enough functional speed to gain separation from defenders.
Troy Williamson, South Carolina, 6-1, 203: Early entry is a big-play threat with good size, tremendous speed and the ability to make catches without breaking stride. Averaged 47.8 yards on 13 career TD catches.
Mark Clayton, Oklahoma, 5-10, 193: A little undersized, but he's got great quickness, a feel for beating coverages and arguably the best run-after-the-catch skills in draft.
Next Level
Roddy White, Alabama-Birmingham, 6-1, 204: A big-time downfield threat with the speed to stretch defenses vertically.
Matt Jones, Arkansas, 6-6, 242: Very raw, but converted quarterback has freakish speed and athletic ability to become a force at new position.
Chris Henry, West Virginia, 6-4, 197: A speedster with good size could be an outstanding pro with more polish and discipline.
Terrence Murphy, Texas A&M, 6- 1/2 , 202: Former high school quarterback has the speed and explosiveness to be a threat as a receiver and return man.
Sleepers
Mark Bradley, Oklahoma, 6-1, 201: Overshadowed by Clayton, but he's a crafty receiver with great hands.
Vincent Jackson, Northern Colorado, 6-4 1/2 , 241: Lacks experience against top competition, but his size, speed and athleticism should translate to pro level.
Jerome Mathis, Hampton, 6-0, 183: Small-college star with sprinter speed and lots of potential.
Courtney Roby, Indiana, 6-0, 189: Has blazing speed and fearlessness to earn a roster spot.
TIGHT ENDS
Top Prospects
Heath Miller, Virginia, 6-5, 256: Sure-handed junior who runs well and knows how to get open downfield.
Alex Smith, Stanford, 6-4, 258: Big target with outstanding receiving skills who's willing to block.
Next Level
Kevin Everett, Miami, Fla., 6-4 1/2 , 241: Has outstanding potential as a blocker and receiver with more seasoning.
Joel Dreessen, Colorado State, 6-4, 260: Tough and competitive player who could develop into solid pro.
Sleeper
Adam Bergen, Lehigh, 6-4, 265: Division 1-AA prospect who has good size and catches ball well.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Top Prospects
Alex Barron (OT), Florida State, 6-7, 320: A mammoth player with exceptional quickness, strength and athleticism who will be an outstanding pro if he plays with more aggression.
Khalif Barnes (OT), Washington, 6-5, 305: An athletic big man who has the size, mobility and upside to be a starting NFL left tackle.
Jammal Brown (OT), Oklahoma, 6-5, 316: A physical run blocker with the size, footwork and technical skills to excel in pass protection.
Marcus Johnson (OG/T), Mississippi, 6-6, 310: An impressive interior blocker who also can play tackle because he's athletic enough to play in space.
Next Level
Chris Spencer (C), Mississippi, 6-2 1/2 , 308: Big, strong and physical, he is talented enough to be an NFL starter from Day One.
David Baas (C), Michigan, 6-5, 319: Versatile enough to play guard or center, he has good quickness, intelligence and plays with good leverage.
Adam Terry (OT), Syracuse, 6-8, 325: Intriguing prospect because he's technically sound and moves well for a big man.
Elton Brown (OG), Virginia, 6-5, 312: A mauling run blocker and instinctive pass protector.
Jason Brown (C), North Carolina, 6-2, 306: Has the size, toughness and awareness to be a quality NFL lineman.
Ben Wilkerson (C), LSU, 6-3, 292: Could use more bulk but has good quickness and works hard to finish every block.
Sleepers
Michael Munoz (OT), Tennessee, 6-5, 305: Isn't as physically gifted as Hall of Fame father, Anthony Munoz, but has enough tools to play in NFL.
Richie Incognito (C), Nebraska, 6-3, 290: Very athletic lineman could be an early contributor if past disciplinary issues are behind him.
Junius Coston (C), North Carolina A&T, 6-2, 310: A possible late-round steal if someone can harness his considerable physical tools.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Top Prospects
Shawne Merriman (DE), Maryland, 6-4, 272: An explosive pass rusher and disruptive run stopper who has the skills to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Erasmus James (DE), Wisconsin, 6-4 1/2 , 266: A fierce player with natural pass-rushing skills who's an intense run defender.
Travis Johnson (DT), Florida State, 6-4, 305: Explosive, penetrating one-gap player with the ability to be a disruptive force.
Marcus Spears (DE), LSU, 6-3 1/2 , 302: Has the ideal size, strength and athletic ability to play end or slide inside.
Next Level
David Pollack (DE), Georgia, 6-2, 265: A little smaller than you'd like, but he's a relentless player with great production against top competition.
Dan Cody (DE) Oklahoma, 6-5, 257: Has the quickness and big-play ability to make an immediate impact.
Shaun Cody (DT), Southern California, 6-4, 293: A model of consistency in college with a knack for making big plays at tackle or end.
Matt Roth (DE), Iowa, 6-3, 279: A determined pass rusher and aggressive run defender who plays with a nonstop motor.
Mike Patterson (DT), Southern California, 5-11 1/2 , 290: Forget his size. He's a football player with great quickness, strength and playmaking skills.
Luis Castillo (DT), Northwestern, 6-3, 305: A strong run-stuffer with size, strength and toughness.
Anttaj Hawthorne (DT), Wisconsin, 6-3, 321: Big, strong run stopper who is hard to block when he goes all out.
Sleepers
Chris Canty (DE), Virginia, 6-7, 286: Would be a first-rounder if not for season-ending knee injury. Could be a steal in the second round because of his physical ability and potential.
Bill Swancutt (DE), Oregon State, 6-3, 266: A productive player (37 career sacks) whose desire and toughness make up for lack of athleticism.
Atiyyah Ellison (DT), Missouri, 6-4, 305: Still-improving prospect with the size and disruptive skills that are worth a look.
LINEBACKERS
Top Prospects
Derrick Johnson, Texas, 6-3, 242: A sideline-to-sideline playmaker with the size and instincts to dominate inside and the speed and range to be a force outside.
Demarcus Ware, Troy State, 6-4, 251: College defensive end would be dynamic 3-4 outside backer because of his great speed and pass-rushing skills.
Thomas Davis, Georgia, 6-1, 230: A run-stuffing college strong safety has the strength, athleticism and toughness to make position switch.
Darryl Blackstock, Virginia, 6-3, 235: A natural 3-4 outside backer with speed to turn the corner and a closing burst when rushing the passer.
Next Level
Kevin Burnett, Tennessee, 6-3, 235: A powerful tackler whose size, speed, range and instincts make him an attractive prospect.
Channing Crowder, Florida, 6-2, 245: Could have used another year of college, but he has the talent to become a pro starter in the middle.
Odell Thurman, Georgia, 6-0, 233: A solid tackler with good quickness and physical toughness to play inside.
Barrett Ruud, Nebraska, 6-3, 241: Lacks great athleticism but has the size, mobility and instincts to be a solid pro.
Sleepers
Michael Boley, Southern Mississippi, 6-2 1/2 , 231: Three-year starter was a productive playmaker with quickness, strength and tackling skills.
Alfred Fincher, Connecticut, 6-1, 238: Plays with tremendous toughness and intensity.
Rian Wallace, Temple, 6-2, 241: A strong and instinctive underclass prospect who is worth taking a chance on.
DEFENSIVE BACKS
Top Prospects
Adam Jones (CB), West Virginia, 5-10, 183: Though not very big, he is a supremely confident and gifted playmaker with a great package of speed, toughness, instincts and good hands. Also a standout return man.
Antrel Rolle (CB), Miami, Fla., 6-1, 197: A big, physical corner who can hold his own with most receivers and be a force in run support. Has outstanding ball skills and enough speed to be an impact player as a rookie.
Carlos Rogers (CB) Auburn, 6-0, 196: Four-year starter with the size, athleticism and technical skills to play man coverage and the range and instincts to excel in zone coverage.
Next Level
Marlin Jackson (CB), Michigan, 6-1, 198: Big and physical enough to play safety but athletic ability and cover skills are a good fit at corner.
Justin Miller (CB), Clemson, 5-10, 201: An aggressive cover corner with good closing speed and an accomplished return specialist.
Fabian Washington (CB), Nebraska, 5-10, 188: Solid corner with blazing speed and a nose for the ball (11 INTs and 38 passes defended in career).
Brodney Pool (S), Oklahoma, 6-1, 201: An instinctive player with good size, quickness and range to cover a lot of ground in the secondary.
Corey Webster (CB), LSU, 6-0, 199: Technically sound corner with good size and speed to blanket receivers.
Brandon Browner (CB), Oregon State, 6-3, 221: Physical in coverage but may move to safety to take advantage of great size and strength.
Ernest Shazor (S), Michigan, 6-3, 224: A big hitter with good speed, range and athleticism.
Sleepers
Vincent Fuller (S), Virginia Tech, 6-1, 187: Has good speed, range and ball skills to develop into a starter.
Ronald Bartell (CB), Howard, 6-1, 208: Small-college player needs a lot of work but has plenty of physical skills to work with.
Josh Bullocks (S), Nebraska, 6-0, 203: Solid playmaking skills and long-range potential make him a good middle-round value pick.
Gerald Sensabaugh (S) North Carolina, 6-0, 216: A physical and intense player with natural skills, he could develop into solid player with more coaching.
Justin Beriault (S), Ball State, 6-2, 192: An active player who is always around the ball (125 tackles in '04).
e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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