Don't be alarmed by running back Cedric Benson's unspectacular sprint times at his recent pro day. While the numbers appear disappointing, his times were what NFL observers expected. "That's what he is, a 4.6 guy on grass, but he plays faster because of his great vision and athleticism," one college scouting director said.
Instead, teams will focus on Benson's outstanding position workout. Benson is solid as the third running back in this draft. Depending on how things shake out he should be off the board after the eighth pick, which the Cardinals own.
With workouts complete for the top three backs, teams have what they need to complete their evaluations. Auburn standouts Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams will be the first running backs off the board, both in the top five. Who will be first? Expect that decision to go down to the last minute. It's much like 1999, when the Colts kept their preference secret and shocked everyone by choosing Edgerrin James over odds-on favorite Ricky Williams.
The Dolphins pick second and favor Brown, who is bigger and a bit more athletic than Williams. They believe he will fare better than Williams behind a rebuilding offensive line. But the debate in their meetings always starts with the question about why Williams was the starter and more productive back.
Dolphins officials would love to trade down, add picks and possibly select Benson later in Round 1. We don't see a scenario that would allow them to do so.
If the Dolphins pass on a running back at No. 2, the first back might not come off the board until the Buccaneers pick at No. 5. The Browns at No. 3 and Bears at No. 4 will not pick a running back. Bucs coaches handled Williams at the Senior Bowl and came away very impressed.
If the draft were today, Brown would go to the Dolphins at two, Williams to the Bucs at five and Benson to the Cardinals at eight. But the draft begins on April 23, and teams will tell a lot of lies about these players to disguise intentions.
ABOUT THOSE TACKLES
Earlier this week, we told you Florida State tackle Alex Barron was spinning down the draft. Teams are reevaluating their value boards with mock drafts and projections. As a result, observers concede that Barron will fall to at least the 10th pick. We see him going to the Texans at No. 13.
Barron remains the top tackle in this draft, but Oklahoma's Jammal Brown is on the rise and closing in. Brown won't pass Barron. Instead, Brown is making his way into final 10 picks of the first round.
Washington's Khalif Barnes also continues to impress decision makers. As more teams get a close look at him, Barnes will continue to climb and be selected late in Round 1.
LETDOWN IN TROJAN TOWN
Teams always have high expectations at Southern California's pro day. But this year, former Trojans disappointed observers.
Wide receiver Mike Williams did not work out; he chose to do so earlier at home in Tampa.
Defensive tackle Shaun Cody, the Trojans' only other projected first-round player, didn't help himself at the on-campus showcase. We believe he will fall to the middle of Round 2. Cody has unusually short arms and legs. He couldn't dispel concerns about his shortcomings in his workout. Cody will be a productive player for a long time. However, there are too many concerns to keep him in Round 1.
Defensive tackle Mike Patterson was slightly better than Cody in the Southern Cal workout, but he is five inches shorter and stout at 293 pounds. Patterson is a high-energy player and will be selected midway through the third round.
Inside linebacker Lofa Tatupu played most of the season at 226 pounds. He was 240 at the on-campus weigh-in, and that extra weight makes him slower. Tatupu will be a solid pro player, but his measurables could drop him into the middle of Day 2.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
Virginia outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock is on the rise. Although his character is a concern, teams switching to a 3-4 scheme would love to have him. Blackstock is extremely athletic, has the right size-speed equation and is a solid choice for the middle of Round 1. . . .
Georgia's Thomas Davis has great speed for his size, but his football instincts are wanting. So although he was once a top candidate at strong safety, he is being looked at as a weakside linebacker. Davis is better when closer to the line of scrimmage and without safety responsibilities. With a position change possible, Davis will fall at least one round and will be chosen midway through Round 2. . . .
Bolstered by an outstanding pro day workout, Oklahoma free safety Brodney Pool is soaring in value. Pool also is getting a boost as teams review his game tapes and compare him with other prospects. Pool will continue to distance himself from Michigan's Ernest Shazor and Virginia Tech's Vincent Fuller and lock up a first-round pick. . . .
LSU cornerback Corey Webster faces critical on-campus workout March 31. Never a speedster, Webster ran in the 4.5 range last spring when healthy. But a nagging injury is a major concern. He is an outstanding assignment cornerback, the type of guy teams want. But if Webster runs in the 4.6s this week he can say goodbye to Round 1.
War Room scouts analyze NFL and college players, coaches and teams for the Sporting News.