ESPN Insider final Mock - Merriman at #13 Round 1 1. San Francisco 49ers (2-14) Alex Smith* | QB | Utah There isn't a lot that separates Aaron Rodgers from Smith. There are concerns about the schemes in which both prospects played at the college level. Rodgers has the better arm, but Smith has the bigger frame. What it all comes down to, though, is that new head coach Mike Nolan seems to have fallen in love with Smith's intelligence, charisma and overall intangibles and who can blame him. The 49ers haven't made a final decision yet, but we are getting the strong sense that Smith will be their final choice. They will work hard to have a deal in place by Saturday, but contrary to popular belief, we're hearing the team will consider drafting him even if he's unsigned. Stay tuned. Other scenarios: The 49ers are still trying to get a deal done for Smith, but his agent, Tom Condon, who also did the deal last year for Eli Manning (Giants), is understandably not budging. He wants the deal for Smith to follow traditional slotting procedure, which means he's looking for at least a small percentage more than what Manning got from the Giants. Due to the 49ers' concern that they won't get a deal done for Smith, they've also contacted several teams about a trade-down possibility. The most likely scenario is with the Buccaneers at No. 5. That would allow them to acquire extra picks and still get a future starting QB in Rodgers with the fifth selection. If they can't get a deal done with Smith and can't trade down, Rodgers or WR Braylon Edwards become possibilities. 2. Miami Dolphins (4-12) Ronnie Brown | RB | Auburn New head coach Nick Saban and his staff have addressed needs along the offensive line and throughout the defense via free agency. The team also has decided QB A.J. Feeley is the starter for at least one year, in which he will be evaluated within the new scheme. That leaves running back as the top need, and Brown as the most deserving candidate. Cedric Benson (Texas) might be the more powerful runner, and Carnell Williams (Auburn) might be the most elusive, but Brown is the best overall running back in this year's draft. Brown is big, strong and fast enough to carry a heavy load in the NFL, and he also possesses considerably better skills in the passing game blocker and receiver than those of Benson and Williams. Other scenarios: Trade down with Buccaneers and still get a running back such as Auburn's Williams. Trade down with Vikings and address the defense OLB Derrick Johnson (Texas) and DC Antrel Rolle are leading candidates. Draft QB Alex Smith if he doesn't go to the 49ers at No. 1. 3. Cleveland Browns (4-12) Braylon Edwards | WR | Michigan The top prospect on the Browns' board evidently is Edwards. Even though they have greater needs at offensive tackle and quarterback, new general manager Phil Savage isn't going to stray from his draft philosophy of selecting the best available player, regardless of position. Edwards has an outstanding combination of size and speed, and he's a flat-out playmaker when the ball is up for grabs. His ability to stretch defenses could make up for a lot of other sins along the offensive line and at the quarterback position. Other scenarios: The Browns' draft board starts with Smith and Edwards. If both are gone by No. 3, the Browns will desperately try to trade down. If they do trade down, the team is rumored to have heavy interest in Texas OLB Derrick Johnson and Georgia DE David Pollack. Reportedly, new head coach Romeo Crennel is pushing for Johnson at No. 3, but Savage thinks that's too high. If Smith and Edwards are gone and the Browns can't get a deal done to move down, Johnson is the odds-on favorite to be the pick. If the Browns trade down and Johnson is off the board, Pollack becomes the odds-on favorite. If the Browns trade down and Johnson and Pollack both are off the board, Florida State OT Alex Barron would have to become the priority. 4. Chicago Bears (5-11) Cedric Benson | RB | Texas The Bears have enough young talent on defense, but they desperately need more playmakers on offense. If they wind up keeping this pick, they'll likely have a difficult decision to make between Benson, RB Carnell Williams and WR Mike Williams. Mike Williams fits the value, but he might not give the Bears the vertical presence they're looking for opposite free-agent acquisition Muhsin Muhammad. While Carnell Williams ranks higher on most draft boards, Benson is the better fit for new offensive coordinator Ron Turner's power running scheme. The team brought in Thomas Jones a year ago when Terry Shea was implementing more of a Rams- and Chiefs-like scheme, which emphasized versatility at the running back position. Now that the focus has shifted, Benson becomes a much better fit than Jones as a 25-30 carry-per-game "bell cow" at the running back position. Other scenarios: If Auburn RB Ronnie Brown fell to No. 4, he most likely would be the pick. We're told the team rates Benson over Carnell Williams and Mike Williams over Edwards. If Benson and Mike Williams are both on the board, the Bears would have a tough decision, but we think they are leaning toward Benson. The team also will consider moving down, but the deal would have to be sweet. No matter where they wind up, drafting a playmaker at running back, wide receiver or tight end is a high priority. 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) Carnell Williams | RB | Auburn The Buccaneers could go in several directions with this pick, including RB, OT, OG, QB, WR, DT or DB. If Rodgers is available here, the decision will be much harder. Williams still needs to improve as a blocker, but he's the shiftiest and most elusive of the big three RBs (Brown and Benson), and he has the hands to become a legitimate weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. It also won't hurt Williams' chances that Gruden fell in love with him while coaching him at the Senior Bowl. Other scenarios: Get a reasonable deal done in order to secure QB Smith. At this point, it seems it would require trading up to the No. 1 spot, and that is a highly unlikely scenario. Trade up to the No. 2 overall pick and select RB Brown. Stay at No. 5 and take the best available running back in the following order: Brown, Williams or Benson. Stay at No. 5 and take the best available wide receiver: Edwards or Williams. Stay at No. 5 and draft QB Rodgers. Trade down, acquire even more picks and take the best available RB or WR. Stay at No. 5 and draft a defensive player OLB Johnson and DC Rolle are leading candidates. 6. Tennessee Titans (5-11) Aaron Rodgers* | QB | California This one obviously comes as a surprise, but don't rule it out. If our information is correct and Smith becomes the top overall choice, Rodgers could experience a slide. The Bucs are a possibility at No. 5, but we hear they have their hearts set on the Cadillac Williams if Smith is out of the picture. The Titans obviously are set at QB for 2005 with Steve McNair as their starter, and they also have depth with Billy Volek as his backup. But if Rodgers slips to them at No. 6, don't be shocked if they pull the trigger. McNair's longevity is in question, and Rodgers eventually could provide an upgrade over Volek. For a team clearly in rebuilding mode, drafting the best available player is the smartest route to take. Other scenarios: Select WR Mike Williams. Select DC Antrel Rolle. Select DC Adam Jones. Trade down, continue to stockpile draft picks and consider the best prospects at WR (Troy Williamson and Mark Clayton), CB (Carlos Rogers and Marlin Jackson) and OT (Alex Barron and Jammal Brown). 7. Minnesota Vikings (from Raiders) (8-8) Troy Williamson* | WR | South Carolina The Vikings have few needs to address, and thanks to the Randy Moss trade can really focus in on them with two first-round picks. This projected pick might come as a surprise with Mike Williams still on the board, but the Vikings are looking for a vertical threat, and Williamson gives them more deep speed than Williams. Williamson is a player on the rise after running in the 4.3s at the combine. He has the size, long arms, hands and explosive speed to quickly develop into a deep threat in the NFL, and he could eventually team up with Nate Burleson and Travis Taylor to form an impressive young trio of wide receivers. Other scenarios: RB Ronnie Brown is rated ahead of Williamson and Mike Williams, so in the unlikely scenario that he fell, the Vikings would draft Brown, despite their log-jam at running back. If they get a reasonable deal, they could move into the top five and select WR Edwards, who they rate as the No. 1 WR in this class. Stay at No. 7 and select WR Mike Williams. 8. Arizona Cardinals (6-10) Derrick Johnson | OLB | Texas We still contend the Cardinals and Bills will get a trade done with Buffalo, dealing OT L.J. Shelton for RB Travis Henry, before or on draft day. Bills general manager Tom Donahoe's request to flip-flop second round picks (Nos. 44 and 55) in addition should be matched. For the Cardinals, the thought process is to address one of their biggest needs with Henry taking over as the starting running back, while also giving them the freedom to draft the best available defensive player at pick No. 8. While cornerback is clearly their biggest defensive need, don't be shocked if Johnson is the pick. The depth at the cornerback class is much greater than at linebacker, and the team could use an elite player in the linebacker corps after making Ronald McKinnon, LeVar Woods and Ray Thompson salary-cap casualties in the offseason. Johnson still needs to become more physical and learn to take on blocks, but he has Derrick Brooks-like potential and immediately would upgrade the athleticism and playmaking skills of the Cardinals' defense. Other scenarios: If the Cardinals get a deal done for Henry, they have the luxury of drafting Johnson because they can still draft a quality prospect from a deep cornerback position in the second round. If they get Henry and wind up drafting Rolle at No. 8, the team would continue to address the defense in the second round. If they don't get a deal done for a running back, the team would draft its highest-rated prospect at the running back and cornerback positions RB Brown, DC Rolle, RB Benson, RB Carnell Williams, DC Carlos Rogers and DC Jones. If that's the case, the team would use its second-round pick on the position that it didn't address in the first round. If QB Rodgers slips to the Cardinals at No. 8, they would debate all possible options but would likely pass on him in favor of a defensive player or running back.