(A rambling, excuse the typos and syntax, rant on this year's draft)


It is the annual Player Disbursement Meeting. Television calls it The Draft.

“The” meaning the most watched meat-market spectacle in sports. This process used to be held in closed conference rooms. Now, with the advent of cable sports needing endless hours of programming, it is televised. And this created a new media industry: the speculation/draft guru market. Non-scouts, semi-scouts, retired scouts, Cub Scouts, any person could publish their scouting report of the college beef and project which team(s) would choose which player. After a couple of minutes, the experts engaged in the lively debate with beat reporters over a teamÕs weaknesses and needs. The camera would pan to the the low level team executive in the auditorium beading sweat as his team was on the clock. The bat-phone in front of him would ring, and his sole job was to write down the playerÕs name on the post card and had it to the league official. The Vikings have screwed up even this simple process in the last two drafts. (In the old days, if the clock ran out, you effectively PASSED on a selection. In the minefield of modern public relations, the NFL cannot have its team PASS on a Top 10 selection. So current rules have other teams running up with their selections if a team in front of them fails to pick a selection in time.)

This year's draft coverage will be different. It will be BORING. Last year's ESPN gabfest turned not into the minute detail of player-scouting-development projection analysis, but more into the sportscaster personal gabfest and cliche driven over-producted canned film pieces. This yearÕs talent pool as shallow as a mudpuddle on a hot Arizona day.

The teams in the top ten are desperate, DESPERATE as a housewife, to trade their covented pick to move DOWN in the draft order. Why? Because the player agents use last yearÕs signing bonus money to slot their clientÕs signing bonuses for this year. There is no comparsion to talent. It is all draft position and how much the number one guys signs for in the end. The whole compensation system is backward: by drafting unproven players and paying large multimillion dollar signing bonuses teams are paying for potential; when signing free-agent veteran players, they are paying for past performance.

From the players' perspective, the only guarantee is the up-front signing bonus money. Teams this year do not want to pay these growing signing bonuses. Especially when the money takes away from the teamÕs budget for retaining existing players they know and like. Teams are squeezing more money from the labor side of the collective bargaining equation. Like most sports leagues, each team (and the league itself) is leveraged to the hilt. Owners want profits. Signing bonuses are the easiest way to increase or retain profits. Each year some team/owner does something really dumb, and that cascades the draft into a rabid chaos for a few minutes.

San Francisco 49ers have been on the draft clock since the Super Bowl, and management has given no clue to what their final selection will be on Saturday. The teamÕs choice is sitting in California, but not available. Matt Leinart, the USC quarterback, would have been the consensus number one selection in this yearÕs draft class. However, Leinart decided to return to USC to win another championship or another Heisman. So, the 49ers, a team in disarray since the original managing partner got booted due a Louisiana gaming/contract probe, has turned over the reigns of power like sod in a Napa vineyard, has the bad choice of two lesser quarterbacks to fill a need. Aaron Rodgers (Cal) is the mediaÕs consensus choice at Number 1. Late rumors have Alex Smith (Utah) as rated higher on the SF draft board. (Each team allegedly has a draft board or itemized rating of each player available. Some teams rank players by position, others by most talent, and some teams blend the ratings to post a draft list. When a player is taken, the name is stricken from the final draft list. When your on the clock, the team owner and GM look at the final draft list to see who is the highest ranked player left. That is supposed to be the selection. The “best available” football player need not fill an urgent need; it is the talent/scouting organizationÕs best guess at who will make the best football player during their career. The best available player cliche is also cover for fan abuse when a team desperate for a QB picks a RB instead. The GM goes on television and says, “Hey, RB slipped down to us --- we rated him better than the fanÕs QB choice. We picked the best available player to make our ballclub better and deeper in talent.” Just before draft day, the beat reporters cull their sources to get a feel of how the draft really will progress.

Most teams lie and tell reporters the wrong information to smokescreen the competition to believe something else so a player can FALL to their draft position. If a competitor is drafting one slot ahead of you and both teams want a RB, the lower team may pump up RB-B as the one they want in the media, hoping that RB-A will fall to them when the competition picks RB-B. The top of the draft has focused on quarterbacks because quarterbacks are the focal point of both team and fan interest. The team is a reflection of the QB. The QB is the star marketing tool for the team. A good QB will make a poor team look better. A bad QB on a good team will make the team bad. This year's sleeper or riser on the board at QB is Jason Campbell (Auburn). The Redskins flew to his campus to make a private workout. (Another smokescreen, perhaps?) Some scouts have indicated that they rate Campbell ahead of both Rodgers and Smith. The draft gurus peg Campbell as worth only a second round pick. None of the name quarterbacks have the pedigree of a Manning. That is why the 49ers would love to trade the Number 1 pick for 2 lower draft choices.

Two lower draft choices increases the chances of getting a player who can actually play football. Keeping the number one increasing the BUST tag if the player fails to meet expectations of the owner, the media or the fans. But no other team wants to move up to help the 49ers out of their jam. Teams have learned their lesson about being TRAPPED with high draft picks; top ten picks demand top dollar. It is not worth it to have a top ten selection if there is not a real immediate IMPACT player who can start from day one for your team. There is no impact player in this yearÕs draft warranting a top 5 selection (and the $5-15 million dollar signing bonus). That is why the Dolphins (#2), Browns (#3), and Bears (#4) have all shopped their picks, too. Tampa Bay (#5) has too many needs to pass on selecting. Minnesota (#7 & #18), Arizona (#8) and Detroit (#10) have a history of making odd selections which put the draft experts into a tizzy fit of criticism. Dallas (#11 & #20) make moves on draft day because the owner, Jerry Jones, is a wheeler dealer, but without is main axle (Jimmy Johnson), Jones has been spinning his wheels the last few years.

Now, if the general managers had their real independence, their choices on draft day would go as follows:

1. San Francisco PASS
2. Miami PASS
3. Cleveland PASS
4. Chicago PASS

However, the commissioner would storm the stage, stop the draft clock, and threaten the team representatives to make a selection by firing a Thompson submachine gun over the heads of the crowd. Any team that would PASS would be immediately replaced by Auburn (school that besides Campbell as the #3 QB, has three projected Top 10 picks: Carnell Williams RB, Carlos Rodgers CB, and Ronnie Brown RB).

So the Draft must go forward, come Hell or high water.

1. San Francisco: The world expects the team to take a quarterback. Locals probably prefer the local kid, Rodgers, over the Ute, Smith. However, if the team had some guts and played it conservative, they could stun the draft crowd by selecting the best offensive lineman, Alex Barron (FSU), to hopefully anchor the offensive line for ten years. One would call that a foundational pick. But most GMs and owners do not draft offensive lineman #1 (some not even in the first round). A mild stunner would be to pass on a QB (and wait for Campbell to drop to the second round) and take the best cornerback, Antrel Rolle (Miami). One can never have enough good cornerbacks in a league where the West Coast offensive style of three wide-outs and pass catching TE is the rage. In the final analysis, the club will do what is expected, not necessarily what is right: A. SMITH, QB, UTAH.

2. Miami: Has a new coach with lots of old problems. Ricky Williams --- AWOL; no running game. A.J. Feely --- not a good feeling at QB. Depleted of draft choices, and gaping holes to fill from the Wannie era, Nick Saban would love to swap picks with the Vikings, Redskins, Cowboys, anybody (including Auburn) to move down and acquire more bodies for camp. But under the target sight of the commissionerÕs firearm, the Fish will have to fry with their pick: R. BROWN, RB, AUBURN.

3. Cleveland: Rocks. (Not since Ian Hunter). Rocks, as in load of . . . the Neo-Browns have a habit of screwing up their draft board so badly one thinks they believe they are the Bengals with no stripes. Maybe they will follow the draft magazines and pundits who believe the only impact player in the draft, the best player available, WR BRAYLON EDWARDS (Michigan). Cleveland makes the selection to the approval of the media telecasters; but in reality, they have screwed up. Edwards projects as David Terrell, Jr. A lot of hype, a tall body, but no pure football skills (route running, getting separation).

4. Chicago: The Monsters of the Midway have turned into the Melvins of the Mall by trading away from making tough choices (or paying big signing checks). This is the highest draft pick in years, and it scares management. The teamÕs GM, Jerry Angelo, gambled badly by having only one real quarterback, Rex Grossman, in camp. Grossman got hurt; the team collapsed in the worse display of offensive since pre-school flag football. Awful would be a compliment. New offensive coordinator, Ron Turner, head coached the Illini football juggernaut . . . to no-where. His college offense - - offensive. Awful. He is from the three yards and cloud of dust school, but preachs the West Coast offense. The last offensive coordinator said the same thing. The correct pick would be Rolle, the cornerback, or even Barron to fill a glaring need (the offensive line set a team RECORD for sacks allowed last season.) The fans want Mike Williams, USC WR. But the scared management staff will make the easy pick: CEDRIC BENSON, RB, TEX. The report is that Benson is a big back that can carry a load. It appears this selection would be A-Train II. Anthony Thomas was run out of town. (Can anyone remember R. Salaam and C. Enis, the other great RBs drafted early by the Bears?) The better pick would be WR Williams, who sat out a year because he thought he was eligible for the draft early, but the courts said no to Maurice Clarett, because he can MAKE PLAYS.

5. Tampa Bay: The Bucs suddenly grew Oakland Raider old. The team needs a youth movement, and thatÕs why theyÕd like to swap two firsts for the number five selection. No takers. Many people believe that the Bucs will go with RB Carnell Williams of Auburn. If coach John Gruden is not sold on Chris Simms as his next QB, he could take Rodgers if he falls to number 5. If Gruden thinks there is more offensive talent than defense, the quality pick would be on the defensive side. A good cornerback, such as Rolle or Pac-Man Jones (West Virginia) would not be out of the question. Pick: ROLLE, CB, MIA.

6. Tennessee: Turnover. As in roster. Plenty of open slots, and an aging, injury prone QB, Steve McNair, needing a back-up. Coach Jeff Fisher is a Buddy Ryan defensive coach. If Rolle is available, that would be his pick. But since ownership has spent head coach money on the new offensive coordinator, Norm Chow (of USC), the team will be lobbied internally to select an offensive player: MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, USC.

7. Minnesota: The Vikings get scalped (and not ticket). Since vacating Randy Moss' locker, the Vikes had hoped WR Williams would fall to them at number 7. (Unless they package their two firsts and trade with Cleveland or Tampa) With Williams gone, the Vikings are in no-man's land. They donÕt need a QB or RB (the best players top on most team boards). The players they call out now will be called ÒreachesÓ by the analysts (drafted too high for their talent level). The next best WR on most boards would be Troy Williamson (SC) but the team will surprise us (again): PAC-MAN JONES, CB, WVA.

8. Arizona: Also used to make weird selections. Dennis Green was hired to right the ship, but one man cannot lift a barge sunk deep in the desert sand. Here is where the “herd mentality” comes into play. Cornerbacks will start to be picked quickly by the middle of the round, so the Cardinals will look on the board now and select their highest rated DB: CARLOS RODGERS, CB, AUBURN. Although their sun-baked fans will boo on passing on alleged #1 QB Rodgers.

9. Washington: In the Joe Gibbs second term, he has found out that it is easier to change tires in the pits, then changing spoiled college players in the pros. He still sees the NFL through John Riggins glasses. In a surprising retro-move, he will draft the biggest hog in the feedlot: ALEX BARRON, OT, FLA ST.

10. Detroit: Also has a habit of doing the unexpected on draft day. McMillen and Company have been the sit com of the NFL North for years. If the team is not convinced on Joey Harrington, do they pull the trigger on CalÕs Rodgers and rebuild again?? Or do they go for a productive running back when defensive is the real need? CARNELL ÒCADILLACÓ WILLIAMS, RB, AUBURN. “We did not expect him to be there when it was our turn,” is the projected quote from Matt Millen.

11. Dallas: Jimmy Jones will look into the tea leaves of his purple Kool-Aid and still see that defensive is the real priority for the Cowpies. But then Tony Romo will stop by and say “Hi,” leaving the owner biting his lower lip over his quarterback situation. Rodgers has fallen 10 slots. Is he the value pick at number 11? But then Drew Henson will stop by and say “Hi,” leaving the owner biting his lower lip over his quarterback situation. Or should the Cowboys stink another year to be close to #1 to take Leinart? He nearly bleeds to death then selects DERRICK JOHNSON, LB, TEX.

12. San Diego: Has an interesting counterproblem. The team has two quarterbacks and only wants one ( Rivers or Brees). Trade Rivers to Dallas for #11 and #20? Probably not. So the team settles on answering a football question (the first real one in the draft). Is the defensive trend going toward the 3-4? Should we go with the trend? If so, who are the undersized quick DE/oversized rover LBs in the draft? Demarcus Ware (Troy St) and S. Merriman (Maryland). With another pick in the round, the Chargers try to strike lightning by going counter-trend: MARCUS SPEARS, DE, LSU.

13. Houston: Unlucky pick #13? The Texans have had an awful time when drafting/trading for offensive tackles. Don't go against the shooter is a Las Vegas motto. If Barron is still available, the team would pick him. So they continue the rush on the corners with F. WASHINGTON, CB, NEB.

14. Carolina: The Panthers need line help. But that doesnÕt stop them from following the herd mentality: B. MCFADDEN, CB, FLA ST.

15. Kansas City: The Chiefs are in a malaise. The preseason polls always have the team better than reality. Reality has set in. The team needs impact players on defense. DAVID POLLACK, DE, GEORGIA.

16. New Orleans: Remember the entire-draft for Ricky Williams Dikta deal? Both are gone from the French Quarter for good; and the trade with Miami looks better now with Williams out of the league. Here we get to the fundamental best player available on their board philosophy. It can be on either side of the ball. And no one will know until the name is announced. It may be a person who can play two positions just to compromise: D. WARE, LB/DE, TROY ST.

17. Cincinnati: The Bengals want Thomas Davis, safety, Georgia. No one knows why because some mock drafts have no safety being drafted in the first round. Cincinnati has a defensive minded coaching staff, and a young gun QB in Carson Palmer. Owner pans out over wants to give Palmer some more ammo: MARK CLAYTON, WR, OKLA.

18. Minnesota: Back and probably confused due to the previous selections after their first pick (Jones, CB), will have to, be forced to, will have no doubt about it, take a wide receiver at this pick. TROY WILLIAMSON, WR, SC.

19. St. Louis: The Domers have fallen greatly since the run-and-run big offensive attack under Arena footballer Kurt Warner. Proponents of the 3-4, speed, multiple sets and bulging Randy Martz coaching style will go for S. MERRIMAN, LB/DE, MD.

20. Dallas: The soap opera returns to Dallas, and guess what? Jimmy Jones will look into the tea leaves of his purple Kool-Aid and still see that defensive is the real priority for the Cowpies. But then Tony Romo will stop by and say “Hi,” leaving the owner biting his lower lip over his quarterback situation. Rodgers has now fallen 19 slots. Was he the value pick at number 11? Is he a value pick at number 19? But then Drew Henson will stop by and say “Hi,” leaving the owner biting his lower lip over his quarterback situation. Or should the Cowboys stink another year to be close to #1 to take Leinart? He nearly bleeds to death then selects HEATH MILLER, TE, VA.

21. Jacksonville: Has glaring needs on defensive. Would like to get back on the super bowl tack. The draft team will probably notice by now that all of the first round caliber cornerbacks are gone except one. It narrows down the selection process: MARLIN JACKSON, CB, MICH.

22. Baltimore: The Old-Browns have had a good record at making sound choices in the draft in the past five years. Inotherwords, their selections have played better than other teams. The Ravens will look for a feisty football-type player. MATT ROTH, DE, IOWA.

23. Seattle: The Seastalks are on the verge of a regime change. So the coaching staff may roll the dice with a narrowly defined situational player. In the over-coordinated defensive schemes (one-two gap; line zones; line blitzes), the theoretical minds like Ògap quicknessÓ over brute size in order to disrupt the offensive play. The focal point of gap attacks is DT (2 ways to rush QB). This is also the thinest position in the entire draft. So look for a coach's pick here. The quickest gapper for the Coaching Gipper is MIKE PATTERSON, DT, USC.

24. Green Bay: Now Bret Farvre has been on the retirement rocking chair for 3 drafts in a row, but the Pack has yet to pull the trigger on an heir to the throne. The Redskins pick next and the rumor is that the Skins will take Auburn QB Campbell with that selection. Now Cal's Rodgers has fallen to the tail end of the first round, too. Does Green Bay like either one of these guys? Probably not. The Pack will play run stop instead with TRAVIS JOHNSON, DT, FLA.

25. Washington: Joe Gibbs is back from the War Room restroom. If he can keep his crazed owner from making the selections himself, Gibbs has a chance to pick up another foundational player. He has taken the best rated roadgrader at #9 (Barron), and despite the media reports, the Skins will pass on a QB to stay the course with Patrick Ramsey. The debate will be whether the team should balance its picks (OL then DL). No, another retro pick of another new Hog. But the choice will be between OT Jamaal Brown (Okla), Khalif Barnes (Wash) and C/G David Baas (Mich). Baas can fill in in two positions and was the nationÕs best snapper. Good snapper is hard to come by in D.C. Pick: D. BAAS, C/G, MICH.

26. Oakland: Traded a veteran CB and draft picks to get into the first round. Al Davis has not been this worked up over anything since suing Los Angeles and the NFL.. Or was it Oakland and the NFL? Davis has a player he wants badly enough to get into the first round. One must pre-suppose the player is not Rodgers or Campbell, already projected to be gone by the second round. One must also pre-suppose that it would not be a CB, since they are projected to be gone in the mid-round. Who would be OL Barnes? No one but Joe Gibbs get salivated over big linemen. So it has to be a skill position player, like a WR or a QB. WR Roddy White of UAB float your boat? WR Reggie Brown of Georgia? Whatever was Big AlÕs Big Plan will change because he will want to make a headline by taking A. RODGERS, QB, CAL to create the standard Raider position-training camp controversy.

27. Atlanta: The Falcons would have liked to have selected a cornerback here. But to reach for a second rounder may be their only choice. So here is another classic case of the best person on the board, or who's draft stock has fallen to us? The highest rated players still left on the board are probably (in no real order): Campbell, QB; White, WR; Erasmus James, DE, Wisc; J. Brown, OL; Barnes, OL; Matt Jones, WR, Ark. Or take a look at a bunch of linebackers still on the board and take your remaining favorite: B. RUUD, LB, NEB.

28. San Diego: The charge is back with the Chargers. If they have their D-lineman in Spears, here is the balance draft approach as the team will probably go offensive line. Stay with the West Coast press releases: K. BARNES, OL, WASH.

29. Indianapolis: The Bolts should have, could have, been a super bowl contender. High power offensive and a ton of money rapped up in Peyton ManningÕs arm. The team is shopping its star running back, E. James (just as the Seahawks are shopping S. Alexander). But there are no takers. Now, this could be a “message move.” Draft a RB to get James the message that he is not needed anymore in the long term plan. Message moves usually turn out bad for the player and team chemistry. What talent is left at position is not first round caliber: F. Gore (Miami) could have been a top five pick except for knee blow-outs, and is projected to be a late first DAY selection; J.J. Arrington (Cal) is undersized RB; Ciatrick Fason (Fla) canÕt break a tackle; and M. Barber (Minn) is more a special teams returner than featured back. It would probably make more sense to trade James to Seattle for Alexander. Best player available for a need position will be the selection process: LUIS CASTILLO, DT, NORTHWESTERN.

30. Pittsburgh: Here is a team that losing players to free agency every year, but continues to find young guys to step it up. The analysts will say that the team has no glaring weakness, and the best available tag will be used once again. J. BROWN, OL, OKLA.

31. Philadelphia: The Eagles got over the NFC playoff jinx to get waxed in the Bowl by New England. Terrell Owens is the center of misattention in the City of Unbrotherly Love. He wants a new contract. Fans want to give him a bus ticket out of town. Could the Eagles trade T.O. to, say, Minnesota, for one of the Vikes upper picks? No, the team just got rid of one headcase. Could the Eagles trade T.O. BACK to the 49ers (under new management, sort of, in theory)? Now that would be the screaming headline of the day as the commissioner comes to the microphone with the Number 1 pick, and ESPN has the split screen of Rodgers and Smith in the green room. Taggy says not a name but the phrase of the day, “We have a trade.” Hushed silence over the crazy NYC MSG crowd. Chris Berman will blubber something under his breath. Then Tags will say, “The 49ers have traded their first round selection to the Eagles. The Eagles are on the clock.” Unbelievable, the ESPN desk will gasp. The Eags need no QB; the draft turns into utter chaos of paper flying around the set; Mel Kiper Jr. has a heart attack of joy. (If this happens, all the selections above are back up in the air. Now THAT would be good television--- an unexpected twist in a live reality show. The agentÕs grief when neither Rodgers or Smith are taken at #1 would be PRICELESS.) Then a moment later, with a rye grin, Tags will announce, “The Eagles have selected Shaun Cody, Defensive Tackle, University of Southern California.” The Philly fans in the stands will howl in anger, and the Giant fans will snicker. Cody is not even the top rated d-lineman they will scream at the top of their lungs. Fix!! Fix!!! But none of this will happen; it is only a dream. The Eagles will keep the 31st pick and select S. CODY, DT, USC. Interesting how some things come to pass in many different ways.

32. New England: We Are The Champions. Again. Tedy BruschiÕs medical offseason has most predicting that the Pats will select a linebacker just in case their captain cannot return. That is a logical selection. D. Blackstock (Va), Kevin Burnett (Ga) or M. McCoy (San Diego St.) would be available. But who has fallen to the bottom of the first round? E. James, DE, Wisc; R. White, WR, UAB; J. Campbell, QB, Auburn? None light the fire of must-haves. New England has the luxury of a good team of players who want to play and win; the egos and Pro Bowl honors are left at the doorstep. They could think best available position not taken, safety, with T. Davis, (Ga), J. Burnett (Neb) or B. Pool (Okla) The Pats can gamble here and take a reach or rehab project if they believe it will pan out in a year or two. It is called stockpiling for the future. Surprise selection: F. GORE, RB, MIAMI.

So where does that leave the projected first rounders? Taking a pay-cut in being selected in the second round. (However, stats show that more second rounders make it than first rounders. Maybe it is because second rounders have something to prove.) After the first round, all eyes will be on the glamour position of QB to see where Campbell will land: Miami, Washington, Dallas or Green Bay. But the scuttlebutt is that the best pure quarterback in this yearÕs class will be the 4th QB taken: Kyle Orton, Purdue. He may not be the second coming of Drew Brees, but he has mastered the same college system. If Campbell goes to Miami, look for the Bears to think deep about Orton as insurance against Grossman getting hurt again. (The Bears will take Orton if they think the Packers are interested; that is what occurred during the draft when the Bears took Grossman). It is all speculation and educated guesses in a field that has no rhyme or reason. It does not translate to wins or losses, either. The game is still played on the field and not in the draft room.

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