With the NFL draft less than a week away, the members of the cult of Mel Kiper are buzzing with excitement. Their high holy day is coming. That blessed day when their fearless leader will finally emerge from his basement book-selling operation to appear on national television. With his NFL draft guide clutched in his sweaty palms,

Kiper will ascend to ESPN’s altar in Madison Square Garden to preach to the masses. He will discuss draft strategy, praise the good picks, and condemn the bad ones. He will analyze trades, bench-press numbers, and the state of Jerry Jones’ psyche. He will judge each and every player, and determine whether they are worthy of entrance into the NFL’s brotherhood of jocks. He will argue with Joe Theismann. Constantly. Like Billy Graham for the football fan, he will do everything short of proclaiming the resurrection of Joe Montana. Although he may claim that David Carr is the second coming.

It will be a completely ludicrous display. Yet I’ll admit addiction. I’ll suck up everything the helmet-headed one has to say. I’ll believe every word as if the man were a prophet. Unfortunately for me, and the rest of us draft junkies, Kiper isn’t usually much more accurate than anyone else. More often than not, my guess is as good as his as to who will make it, and who will shake ‘n’ bake it.

With that spirit in mind, here’s my offensive position-by-position analysis.

Offensive line: The offensive line is one of those areas where a first-round draft pick usually always ends up being a first-rate talent. Powerhouse football schools like Miami, Nebraska and Texas provide the NFL with these plump protectors every year. This year is no exception. Where do the top three lineman come from? Why, Miami, Nebraska and Texas, of course. And they’ll provide more meat next year. When it comes to fattening the hogs, nobody does it better than the Hurricanes, Huskers and Horns.

Top of the class: Bryant McKinnie, Miami

Solid picks: Mike Williams, Texas; Toniu Fonoti, Nebraska

Might surprise: Joaquin Gonzalez, Miami

Tight ends: Tight ends are unique in that their importance is reliant on the values of their coaching staff. Some teams center their offense around their tight end, while others simply ignore the position, utilizing their tight ends as extra linemen. This year’s crop looks to be excellent, with a good mix of sure-handed receivers and devastating blockers. At least two should go in the first round.

Top of the class: Jeremy Shockey, Miami

Solid pick: Daniel Graham, Colorado

Might surprise: Jerramy Stevens, Washington

Wide receivers: This group is one of the draft’s strongest assets, due to an extremely strong group of underclassmen who decided to forgo the rest of their collegiate careers. One of the most interesting players among the group is former Hawaii Rainbow Warrior Ashley Lelie, whose freakish physical abilities appear to outweigh the fact that he played in the less-than-powerful WAC conference.

Top of the class: Donte Stallworth, Tennessee

Solid picks: Ashley Lelie, Hawaii; Jabar Gaffney, Florida

Might surprise: Marquise Walker, Michigan; Antwaan Randle El, Indiana

Running backs: Want to succeed in the NFL? Then you need a solid ball carrier. You can win without a stellar quarterback, but if you intend to go anywhere, you can’t do it without a good running back. Just look at the running backs of the last 10 Super Bowl champs. Great backs like Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis and Marshall Faulk come to mind. That means everyone is looking for running back’s, and that can cause certain guys to go higher than they should. On the other hand, there are plenty of gems to be found in the middle rounds. Some teams, most notably the Denver Broncos, always manage to find studs somewhere around the fifth round.

Top of the class: T.J. Duckett, Michigan St.

Solid pick: William Green, Boston College

Might surprise: DeShaun Foster, UCLA; Maurice Morris, Oregon

Quarterbacks: Here it is. What we’ve all been waiting for. The Joey Harrington Question: Where will Joey Harrington be drafted? I see you’re disappointed. Kind of a lame source of intrigue, I agree. But if you look closer, it becomes more interesting.

Many scouts rank Harrington as high as the near lock for the No. 1 pick, and David Carr of Fresno State could go anywhere from third to 20th. He’s a solid selection, no doubt about it, but many of the teams near the top of the draft board simply don’t need a signal caller. He could very easily go to Detroit at No. 3, but they already have a promising young quarterback in Mike McMahon. He could also go to Cincinnati, where quarterbacks go to die. My bet, however, lies with the Washington Redskins. I just don’t think Daniel Snyder will let Steve Spurrier start the season with Danny Wuerfful as the man. Snyder likes high-profile players, and Harrington was a Heisman finalist who’s an accomplished jazz pianist. What more could a multibillionaire ask for?

Top of the class: David Carr, Fresno St.

Solid picks: Joey Harrington, Oregon

Might surprise: Patrick Ramsey, Tulane

That wraps it up for today. Look for me again on Friday, when I complete the gamut of draft previews by bringing you my mock draft for the first round.