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NFL ready for Draft drama

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Neil Reynolds | 14:13 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011

One of the most fascinating events in the American sporting calendar is the annual NFL Draft begins at Radio City Music Hall in New York later today.

And we'll be making history as we cover the opening round live for the first time from 0030 BST on Friday on BBC 5 live sports extra. Darren Fletcher and I will handle proceedings from London while Greg Brady does all the donkey work from the Big Apple.

This year's draft takes place against the backdrop of negotiations, lockouts and legal wranglings between the owners and the players that threatens to derail the 2011 season.

The two sides are struggling to find common ground when it comes to sharing revenue from their $9 billion-per-year business. There are, of course, many other issues being discussed, including player safety, player movement and benefits and health care for retired players, but it basically comes down to the share of the financial pie.

Auburn University's Cam Newton is expected to be the first overall pick. Photo: Getty

America's favourite sport has been dragged through the mud in recent weeks and even President Obama has chipped in with his two cents-worth. The very latest in this ever-changing legal landscape is that a judge has ruled against the owners and lifted the lockout, meaning league business should continue as normal for now.

The NFL owners are not finished just yet, however, and will take their case to the Court of Appeals in May. While this situation is far from settled, I genuinely think there is too much at stake for both sides to endanger the 2011 season and the NFL will kick off on time with the New Orleans Saints' visit to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday 8 September.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the draft - which sees teams pick players in reverse order based on the previous season's final standings and makes for compelling drama.

It turns the leading college players into instant millionaires and can turn even the most hardened head coaches, general managers and scouts into quivering wrecks.

You can do all the scouting and research in the world but that won't guarantee an athlete is going to succeed at the game's highest level, rather than getting lazy after signing a mega-dollar deal, which usually includes a healthy bonus up front.

Meanwhile, you could take a chance on a long shot in the lower rounds who becomes a star. It can be a total lottery.

The Oakland Raiders thought they were getting a future legend when they selected quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick in 2007. He could fire a football 70 yards downfield with a mere flick of the wrist and had all the physical tools needed to be a star.

But it turned out he lacked commitment, got lazy after inking a $61 million deal that included a bonus of $32 million just for signing on the dotted line, and was out of the NFL after just two-and-a-half seasons. If you want to know just how far Russell has fallen in recent times, he has just been fired by his life coach!

The New England Patriots famously hit on a late superstar in 2000 as they waited until the 199th pick overall before choosing an unassuming, low-profile quarterback out of Michigan by the name of Tom Brady.

The now-infamous list of quarterbacks taken before Brady featured Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn. Carmazzi, Martin and Wynn played in NFL Europe and weren't even good enough to throw incompletions! The other three - most notably Pennington and Bulger - have had their moments.

But Brady has won three Super Bowls, appeared in another and is still considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

This year's opening round could see five or six quarterbacks picked early, yet we should not be fooled into thinking this is an indication of quality in the college ranks.

The leading six passers - Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder - all have question marks against them but at least 10 NFL teams (mainly picking in the upper half of the first round) are in need of a "franchise quarterback" so they are likely to be drafted higher than they might otherwise have been.

JaMarcus Russell's failure at Oakland proves the draft can be a risky business. Photo: Getty

The NFL heavily favours the passing game so if you have an elite quarterback, you have a shot at glory every single season. You would have to go back a long way to find a team that won the Super Bowl without a superstar quarterback - probably the Trent Dilfer-led Baltimore Ravens in 2001.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the first overall pick at around 0100 BST, it is expected he will send Newton from national champion Auburn University to the Carolina Panthers.

But Newton is a young man who divides opinion. Some scouts marvel over his cannon arm and the fact he is the best running quarterback since Michael Vick, while others say he is selfish, egotistical and unable to lead his team-mates in the heat of battle.

The other big winners in tonight's opening round should be defensive linemen. Up to 13- led by the likes of Marcel Dareus, Nick Fairley and Robert Quinn - could fill the 32 picks that make up round one.

If quarterbacks are the stars of the NFL it makes total sense that a high value be placed on those who can make the lives of the glamour boys a total nightmare.

The quarterbacks will always garner lots of headlines but in terms of this year's draft, it could very well be a case of big being beautiful.

While we watch the finest products of the student game in the US, the British Universities American Football League continues to go from strength to strength with more than 60 teams and close to 4,000 players and coaches involved each and every weekend.

I was at the National Championship Game in Leeds earlier this month and was impressed by the standard of play as the Portsmouth Destroyers edged past the Birmingham Lions in a 21-20 thriller.

But the most surprising aspect of the day? The teams played for the Neil Reynolds Trophy. I kid you not. Move over Vince Lombardi; you're not the only one to have a championship trophy named after you!


  • Comment number 1.

    here's some stupid questions:
    I realise the team with the worst record get first pick etc... but how is the record worked out if teams have equals win-loss ratios?
    Do the SB winners automatically go last? Or is it done on regular season games?

    I've been a fan since the mid 90's (a cheesehead thanks to Favre) but never really followed the draft.

  • Comment number 2.

    The order is based upon the win loss ratio firstly. Teams with equal records are then separated based upon the strength of their schedule (so how hard was their season based on the teams they played) and the team that played the weaker schedule get the higher pick (as it means they did badly against poor teams). If that doesn't split them then conference and division results are used. If it is still a tie then a coin toss is done.

    Superbowl winners automatically go last as they are the best team of that year. The teams that do not make the playoffs know their draft position after the final week of the season (barring ties etc). Teams that make the playoffs are then ranked by their progress in the playoffs. So for example the superbowl runners up pick at 31, the AFC and NFC championship runners up will be picks 29 and 30, and so on.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Neil

    I've been reading and watching most of the hype on the NFL website, and was just wondering if you agreed that if Blaine Gabbert was to drop to number 7, that the 49ers should pick him up? I think that we're not far off being a really good football team, and we'd be better served strengthening in other areas i.e CB and OLB. Surely Patrick Peterson (although i'd be amazed if he was still on the board) would be a better option. Failing that maybe Prince Amukamara would be equally beneficial.

    I can see Alex Smith signing for at least another season, if only for the chance to work with Harbaugh, and if not, there must be a possibility of a McNabb or more likely Carson Palmer in the bay area next season. Surely a better option would be to get through this season, I've a feeling that we may trade up next year to try and get Andrew Luck from Stanford, if we arent that low by the end of the season anyway!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Can't wait for the draft. Haven't followed it as much as I have done the past two years but I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. What makes it so exciting is the always present and always unpredictable trades that occur. Do not be surprised to see a team jump up the board to pick up a "franchise quarterback" like the Jets did with Sanchez two years ago. My guess would be Minnesota jumping up the picking order because they desperately need a qb.

  • Comment number 5.

    @ Jimmy2times: Can't see Cincinnati allowing Palmer to leave. It sets a precedent for other players (a bit like Fernando Torres) to demand a trade when the team isn't performing well but they still have years left on their contract.

  • Comment number 6.

    According to ESPN earlier today Cincinnati are already preparing for life after Palmer. Evidently they are not expecting him to back down although owner Mike Brown is more likely to make him sit out the season as opposed to trading him which says more about how stubborn Brown is than how much he cares about winning.
    Ironically he could be replaced by his younger brother Jordan but more likely to be a veteran via free agency (assuming of course that the 2011 season and FA actually happen). Matt Moore Alex Smith or Vince Young are probably the best fits

  • Comment number 7.

    as a relative newcomer to american football, i have watched the last 2 superbowls and am now getting into the game more, there are a few issues i dont understand regarding the draft. when a team picks a player does the player then have to sign for that team or can they refuse and hold out for another team to pick them? can they reject the contract offered, as some teams may not be in the financial position to offer a lucrative contract to the best players in the draft? And finally, how many picks does each team get, is there a limit?

  • Comment number 8.

    @Dave Harris and Jon

    I'd probably throw Kevin Kolb into the mix as well, with hindsight. Clearly he won't be an Eagle next season. I'm not totally opposed to Alex Smith re-signing, even if he has proved a bust thus far in his career. There has been no stability in our franchise, which clearly hasn't helped.

    On a different note, who are your teams, and what are you expecting/hoping for tonight??



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