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NFL draft offers hope but threatens despair

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Neil Reynolds | 14:18 UK time, Wednesday, 21 April 2010

When the annual NFL Draft begins in New York on Thursday, the St Louis Rams get a chance to make the first selection from the leading college players in the United States.

While that can be an enviable position to be in - particularly when the draft class is as strong as it is this season - it can also be a risky one. Despite having scouted prospective players for literally hundreds of hours, NFL teams never quite know what they're getting until their new signings step onto the field and play for the first time at the highest level.

For a perfect example let's travel back to 1998. Media speculation ahead of that selection process was dominated by two quarterbacks - Peyton Manning of the University of Tennessee and Ryan Leaf, who enjoyed a stellar college career at Washington State.

Experts were divided over who should be the first overall selection of the Indianapolis Colts. Both young men appeared to have all the physical tools needed to be successful in the NFL and, at first glance, there seemed to be little between the pair.

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Watch a run-down of six of the top prospects for the NFL Draft (available to UK users only)

The Colts eventually opted for Manning with the first pick, leaving the San Diego Chargers to grab Leaf with the second selection. The pair met as rookies and I was at the game in Indianapolis. Neither was outstanding during a contest in which the Colts ran out 17-12 winners but Manning did appear to be the more poised and composed of the two.

Fast forward 12 years and the results offer up a startling contrast.

Manning has thrown for 50,128 yards and 366 touchdowns, he has one Super Bowl win under his belt, winning Most Valuable Player honours during that victory in 2007, and he has been voted the league's MVP a record four times. In short, he is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Leaf played in just 25 games during a miserable four-year career with the Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. He threw more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns before being kicked out of the NFL.

He briefly coached American football and golf on the college level at West Texas A&M and was recently arrested for fraudulently obtaining prescription painkillers, to which he had become addicted. He now lives in Canada, where he is serving 10 years of probation while selling package holidays.

When the clock starts ticking in round one, the Rams are expected to make an instant millionaire of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. The young passer is extremely accurate and has seen his stock rise in recent weeks after some strong off-season workouts.

While Bradford is undoubtedly talented - he won the Heisman Trophy as college football's best player in 2008 - his selection will be based more on the fact that the Rams desperately need a top-notch passer, and quarterback is the most important position in the game.

Take a look at the last 10 Super Bowl winners, eight were led by outstanding, in-form quarterbacks.

After Bradford is taken with the top pick, the opening round could, as usual, turn into a case of big being beautiful.

While fans clamour for headline-making selections from the skill positions such as quarterback, running back and wide receiver, NFL general managers and coaches cannot resist offensive and defensive linemen, who can help them win the battle in the trenches.

Two who could disappear off the board very quickly are defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh, of Nebraska, and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. They are being eyed closely by the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who pick second and third respectively.

Suh is a physical beast who has shown he can sprint faster than Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, despite weighing in at close to 22 stone. He is quick, athletic and has proven he can deliver bone-crunching hits on opposing quarterbacks.

With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, big, talented offensive tackles who can help quarterbacks remain upright are worth their weight in gold. As many as nine offensive linemen could feature in the 32 picks that make up round one.

There will still be a smattering of skill position players in the opening round. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is bound to interest a few, including the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and even the Minnesota Vikings; C.J. Spiller, of Clemson, is the top running back available and teams will look long and hard at Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Bryant is a classic example of clubs wanting to find out as much about a player's maturity and drive as they do his hands and foot speed.

Ryan Leaf and Peyton ManningRyan Leaf is considered to be the biggest draft bust of all time, with Peyton Manning one of the great successes

He was suspended for much of the 2009 season for lying to the NCAA over his relationship with mentor and former NFL player Deion Sanders. Bryant was also rumoured to have skipped team meetings and classes during his college career and was even reported to have been late to several games.

The talented but mercurial receiver had the chance to shine on the field during his own personal workout in front of NFL head coaches and scouts in March. But things didn't quite go to plan as he forgot his boots.

Needless to say the incident prompted some rather negative press - and rightly so.

If Bryant can forget his shoes on the day he knows he is running for every team in the league, can a coach confidently expect him to absorb a 300-page playbook? I would have my serious doubts.

Having lost Brandon Marshall to the Miami Dolphins last week, the Denver Broncos are likely to show serious interest in Bryant.

But as Leaf proved, there are no sure things in an NFL draft. A team could be disappointed with their first round selection but then might find themselves a Tom Brady type in round six. The three-time Super Bowl winner was the 199th player taken in the 2000 draft.

This much I do know - the NFL draft always signals a ramping up of preparations for the new season. And it will be no different in 2010.

All 32 teams will compete in mini-camps in May and June and will gather again at the end of July for intense preparations and preseason game action ahead of the new campaign, which kicks off on Thursday 9 September, with the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints playing host to the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of last season's NFC Championship game.

The first full slate of games takes place the following Sunday, with the pick of the bunch being the opening of the new Meadowlands Stadium in New York, where the Giants will play host to the Carolina Panthers.

Following three rounds of playoff action, two teams will compete for all the marbles when Super Bowl XLV is played at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas on 6 February 2011.

We still have a little way to go, but I can hardly wait for the new season to begin. And hopefully by the time the 2010 campaign does kick off, my team will have some solid draft picks ready to compete from day one.


  • Comment number 1.

    Jimmy Clausen to the Vikings?! That would be awesome. I think the Vikings really need to pick up a corner or safety at some point and add to their secondary.

    For me, where Tim Tebow ends up is going to be one of the main stories coming out of the draft. Where do you think he'll end up?

    Also, who are your team? And who do you want them to draft?

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree, as a big Vikes fan Clausen would be a great pick-up but I doubt he'll fall as far as 30. I agree with you in that the secondary is the most pressing need. I'd love it if Taylor Mays fell to us but it's more likely we'll get a corner like Patrick Robinson, Kareem Jackson or Devin McCourty, I'd be pretty happy with that. Getting a long-term replacement for Pat Williams would help too.

    Also, great blog as alway Neil, personally I see Dez Bryant as a huge bust risk but one team is bound to take a punt on his potential in the first round, maybe Oakland with Al Davis' history of gambling with the Raiders' top picks. Before the Brandon Marshall move I'd have said your Dolphins might take him.

  • Comment number 3.

    Neil, I dont disagree there are serious concerns regarding Dez Bryant's maturity but im not sure there is really that much there for teams to be worried about (no drink, drug or law issues). A certain Viking WR tested positive for a recreational substance at last years combine which would be more of a red flag.
    Bryant is a ridiculous talent and can come in and be number 1 WR straight away and could force his way into the top 5 WR in the game in a couple of years. If Bryant slides down the draft one of the teams in the 20's will be getting the steal of the draft.

    If Baltimore were to draft him at 25 it would be good luck AFC North defenses, Bryant, Boldin, Mason, Stallworth, Heap and Ray Rice as offensive weapons.

  • Comment number 4.

    Robert C... my team is the Miami Dolphins and I am hoping we get some help on defense. I really like Earl Thomas at safety or Dan Williams as a big space-eater at NT in the 3-4 defense. I would take Sergio Kindle as well, particularly following the defection of Jason Taylor to the Jets.

    Depending how much value teams put on the QB, we could end up seeing more than just Bradford and Clausen go in round one. Someone might come back in at the end of round one and grab Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy.

    If teams view Tebow as an every-down QB, then he might interest the likes of Washington (Shanahan still wants a young guy he can shape), Buffalo (Trent Edwards has not gotten it done but, to be fair, his OL has not helped) and Jacksonville (they are not completely sold on David Garrard being their long-term guy).

    But other teams may be looking to add Tebow as a Wildcat/occasional playmaking option... he might appeal to a creative offensive mind like Sean Payton at the Saints.

    I did get so brave as to post a mock draft a few days ago, with the only stipulation being that I was not allowed to get into the complicated trades, of which there are sure to be a few in the opening round. You can check it out here

    Ravens_defense_etc etc... I agree on Dez Bryant - he is not necessarily heading for a world of trouble off the field - I just think some teams will have a red flag next to his name because it may take him time to adjust to a position in the pros that is notoriously tough for rookies. But his upside his huge.

  • Comment number 5.

    Some teams definately will red flag him, Jaguars have apparently crossed him off their draft board completely.
    I believe teams should adopt more of a "what can we do to help this kid off the field" approach because the production is there on it. I read Bryant had 19 receiving TD's in 2008 and the rest only contributed 6 receiving TD's. You can't argue with that production (even if it is just college) and players like this should be held in far higher regard than the physical specimens (take note Al and the Raiders).
    Miami's draft is an interesting one and they are in a great spot. I think there could be a signifcant couple of trades with these guys tonight. Possibly move down a couple of spots and get Kindle before the Giants are up and then try and get back in to the first above the Chargers to grab Mount Cody. That would fill 2 immediate needs on defense on the first day and then try and get a safety like Nate Allen tomorrow.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think Miami definitely want to trade down... they would love to find a way to get a 2nd round pick back this year, in what is a deep draft.

    At very least, they would like to pick up extra selections lower down, knowing they could still find a player to fill their needs at the bottom end of round one.

    Agree with what you're saying on athletic ability v football ability. Jason Pierre-Paul is getting a lot of attention for doing 14 back-flips on You Tube. Last I heard, back-flipping is not the best way to get to the QB in the NFL.

    And Bruce Campbell boasts TE-like speed and immense strength at offensive tackle... but there must be a reason he only enjoyed one full season as a starter in college.

    I agree that much more emphasis should be placed on a player's football ability and on what he achieves on tape, rather than how athletic he proves to be at the Combine.

  • Comment number 7.

    "And Bruce Campbell boasts TE-like speed and immense strength at offensive tackle... but there must be a reason he only enjoyed one full season as a starter in college."

    Loads of mocks have him going top 10 (well 8th selection) and others have him slipping out of the first round, this is what the Raiders bring to the table though. If not the Raiders, Packers or Cowboys may see value at their selections late in the first round.

    As for JPP, i see Vernon Gholston all over again and even Rex Ryan couldn't get him playing well. Players like these may eventually come good as the potential is certainly there but do teams really want to pay top 10 pick money for 3 years before seeing any kind of return on the field.

    Neil, do you see a Rothelsberger trade being completed today?

  • Comment number 8.

    "Neil, do you see a Rothelsberger trade being completed today?"

    That is a very interesting question - it is not beyond the realm of possibility. But what a brave move that would be... not many teams dump such a big-time star in their prime.

    But the Steelers have always been a class organisation and I don't think they have much time for Big Ben right now. He clearly has problems and if a team offered them good value... you never know!

    That would certainly be the headline news of the draft. And then there would be the small matter of finding a replacement capable of being one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the NFL.

    The better move from Pittsburgh might be to impose some curfews on Big Ben, get him some counselling and telling him he is one strike away from being out on his ear.

  • Comment number 9.

    It would definately be the headline and i still can't believe the Steelers are looking to get rid of him.
    Classy from the organisation but with the lack of real quality QB's in this years draft (bar possibly Bradford) its a questionable move for their on the field play. Do they really want a rookie behind that O-line?

    All that being said this may just be the Steelers way of showing Ben no one player is bigger than the organisation.

  • Comment number 10.

    Suh is going to be one hell of a player at the next level. As a Vikes fan I'm already not looking forward to facing him twice a year for possibly the next decade: part of me is still holding out a glimmer of hope the Rams will look at how bad they were on 3rd down defense last year and think Suh is too good to pass up on. :D

  • Comment number 11.

    Good read Neil and I agree with the majority of your mock as well.

    I really hope Clausen doesn't get past us at 9. Dan Williams is a sensible pick though, I can live with that or if any of the top-tier tackles fall. Just as long as it doesn't leave us open to any Tebow-shaped shenanigans. When has Buffalo last done the sensible thing in the draft though...

    Please god.

  • Comment number 12.

    "pick of the bunch being the opening of the new Meadowlands Stadium in New York, where the Giants will play host to the Carolina Panthers."

    Surely Donovan McNabb opening against Dallas in a Redskins jersey is a bigger draw? All right I'm biased.

    What odds can I get on the Skins taking Tebow at 4? Just seems like a Redskins kind of thing to do.

  • Comment number 13.

    What do you think about the Bears' prospects this season.

    They have invested in defence in signing Julius Peppers and have bolstered their running back corps with Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna from the Chargers.

    Their first game is against the Lions at home but their next three games are against the Cowboys away, before hosting the Giants and then a road trip to the Packers on Monday night. Also I do worry about our O-Line especially last year when Cutler kept making mistakes and got the most picks last season.

  • Comment number 14.

    Great blog about a sport i m not interested AT ALL in but the daft system scored :)

    Any way NFL could be so much better as a sport if they got rid of the defensive and attacking teams. Dont think too many NFL stars could keep up with your average Rugby U or L player They run for 80min...Same 15 who attack and defend.

    Hope your team does well!

  • Comment number 15.

    Rebel, Rugby League, Union and American Football are three different sports with many similarities and differences, the fact that AF is broken down into offense and defense means the players on those sides of the ball have to have more specialised skills which don't translate to the other.

    As an avid follower of the NFL and a Leeds Carnegie season ticket holder in the GP I'm of the opinion there is little between the groups of players in terms of athleticism, the suggestion that the average NFL player couldnt run for 80 minutes is laughable, many of the young players coming out of college were multi-sport athletes at some stage, playing basketball, baseball or hockey as well as AF, meaning not only that they had to put in the hours of practise required for each, but also have a dirth of natural athletic ability.

    Anyway, drafts over, Tebow to the Broncos..... discuss....

  • Comment number 16.

    Tebow gone before Clausen aye that's a puzzler. I don't understand that pick at all. Plenty of time for him to develop though (into a bust).

    Seriously ambivalent about Bills pick, great player but there were still two solid tackles on the board and the best (and only one of three true) NTs in this years class. I know Nix teams have tended to build the trenches in the later rounds but yebus. How is Spiller going to hit homeruns against 8 & 9 man fronts cause we don't have the protection, or QB, to throw the ball? Bye-bye to Marshawn Lynch I guess. Hope they pass on Clausen now and can do some wheeler-dealing to get Saffold and Cam Thomas.

    I know Tebow going and Clausen falling are going to be the stories, but what is Tyson Alualu doing at 10??? I watched every college game he played and that looks a colossal reach to me.

  • Comment number 17.

    Hey, Neil, glad you surfaced this week! Been waiting to see what you'd say about the draft.

    There's always a few shocks, and this year seeing Tebow come in so soon is the big one. (I saw one Bronco fan comment that it made sense because now Orton and Quinn look like they suck somewhat less) That said, Josh McDaniels knows a thing or two about developing QBs, so I'll not be as quick as some in trashing the selection. But to see him go ahead of Clausen and Colt McCoy, who look like proper NFL material, very surprising. And Detroit for my money have definitely made out with the best pick available.

    You however must be thrilled with the Brandon Marshall trade... and can I say, when you wrote the piece on Chad Henne, I stuck my neck out to say the Dolphins should try acquire Marshall... (okay so he wasn't a free agent, but still, great trade)

    And lastly, let me post this link for NFL junkies. Probably the funniest thing I have read so far this year, but loaded with some great advice too on the draft:

  • Comment number 18.

    "Any coach who tries to tell you that he knew this or that late-round college quarterback was going to be an NFL star is a ****ing liar. If you saw Tom Brady at the 2000 combine workout, you’d have thought he was auditioning for a role in a musical about gay milkmen."

    Hehe. Cheers Mr George, that article is brilliant.

  • Comment number 19.

    Tom Brady could barely run in a straight line in the Combine when he was coming out of college. Looked like a journalist trying out - not like a man destined for greatness.

    Tebow might be a reach but the Broncos love his potential, desire and will to win/succeed. And they can always find ways to get him involved in Year 1 while keeping Orton as the starter. Brady Quinn might be the eventual odd man out.

    Clausen's stock has slid in the past week or so but Minnesota might be tempted to grab him with the 2nd pick in the 2nd round.

    As for Brandon Marshall to Miami... I like the business the Dolphins are doing. Effectively from this draft already, they have got Jared Odrick, got their 2nd round pick back by trading down and I think Marshall is better than anything they could grab in 2nd round this year or next.

    He is a genuine No.1 WR and gives Henne a class target to work with.

    Interesting round 1 though! I never saw the Raiders going ILB when they needed an OL and while CJ Spiller is talented, I thought the Bills needed to grab an OL. And the DT drafted by the Jaguars has potential and could become a real stud... but NO ONE saw him going 10th overall.

    Bring on round 2 - should be some trade offers for the Rams to have a think about when it all gets started.

  • Comment number 20.

    Some more of my random thoughts on the opening round of the NFL Draft

  • Comment number 21.

    Just want to point out that the Raiders picking a player they don't especially need... okay. No-one knows much about who the Jags have picked, but Spiller was thought to be a cert for the Seahawks, and completely agree that not seeing the Bills beef up the OL was a surprise.

  • Comment number 22.

    ILB wasnt a great need for the Raiders, but McClain is a massive upgrade on what they had, not only that but hes a great locker room influence (Who'd have thought the Raiders take a positive character?) hes a defensive leader and a beast of a player, great pick IMO.

    They can address the OLine later in the draft, but lets be honest if they pursist with Russell they could play behind the Colts OLine and still not win.

  • Comment number 23.

    I don't think the Raiders will persevere with JaMarcus Russell for too much longer, particularly following the trade for Jason Campbell.

    They have to pay Russell $9.45m if he makes the team this season - but if they cut him loose they only have to pay him $3m. He has to take a major pay cut to stick around and, by all accounts, he is not planning to do that. You don't pay $9.45m for a backup.

    The Raiders will go with Campbell and then would probably rather have Bruce Gradkowski provide the spark coming off the bench. I doubt they will invest more than $9m in Russell being the 3rd string QB.


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