I think one of the more interesting aspects of the NFL draft is how it has evolved into such a spectacular national event. This is due directly to the influence and popularity of ESPN and their ability to successfully market what had once been a very dull and businesslike weekend for previously unseen and unknown NFL team executives. They have, due to their draft coverage, elevated the position of general manager to a celebrity on par with the head coaches themselves. The same can be said for many owners, who have used the draft coverage to enhance their already massive egos.
All that being said, the draft is a wonderful diversion in an otherwise sports-thin spring. As I've commented on before, baseball is just getting started, it's too early in the NBA and NHL (remember them?) playoffs to warrant serious excitement yet, and the real football season is still months away. The draft gives NFL fans a chance to begin generating their fanatic, illogical optimism about the season that is to come. A big-name first round draft pick can get a city excited about a season that won't start for another four months, and the hype carries us through training camp and preseason, especially when said pick shows promise in the summer run-up to the regular season.
Since the coverage is ESPN's baby, I'm going to use their mock draft for my comments. Check back in tomorrow to see if they were right and to see what I've got to say about it.
1. San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith, QB, Utah—Yes, SF needs a QB, and Smith seems to be the top guy with all the skills, but when is the last time a #1 QB picked made an impact? Peyton Manning? Yeah, Peyton's an elite player, but he can't beat the team led by a QB picked in the SIXTH round, namely NE's Tom Brady. Smith is going to get killed this year trying to play as rookie behind an inept O-line and with a weak running game. He should hold out for a HUGE signing bonus, 'cause this year will be no fun at all for him.
2. Miami Dolphins: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Cal—same problems as the #1 pick; remember who got picked right after Peyton Manning? Ryan Leaf. I'm not saying Rodgers will be as huge a bust, but I don't see this pick as a sure thing. My money's on Miami trading down with either Minnesota, Washington or St. Louis.
3. Cleveland Browns: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan—Don't be surprised if Cleveland picks Rodgers if he's available. Sure, Edwards has huge potential, but who's gonna throw him the ball? Trent Dilfer? Please.
4. Chicago Bears: Cedric Benson, RB, Texas—A stupid pick. They've got a decent running game in Chicago. What they don't have is a decent QB. If they want a running back, there's plenty available. If I'm Chicago, I'm trading down out of this spot, too. Plenty of good running backs out there for less money in a lower pick.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cadillac Williams, RB, Auburn—A solid pick if the top two QBs are gone. They desperately need a running back, a difference maker, and either Benson or Williams would fit in well with Chuckie's offense.
6. Tennessee Titans: Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami—Huh? Tennessee's problem is their offense, not their defense. If you can't get a QB to succeed McNair or an elite RB, trade down for more picks.
7. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Williams, WR, USC—Short of trading up to get Braylon Edwards (it's typically delusional of Vikings fans to think he'll drop this far...), this is the pick the Vikings HAVE to make. Nate Burleson is a nice receiver, but he does not strike fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators like Randy Moss did. Williams is big, strong, can jump up and take the ball away. What about speed? Speed, schmeed—he just needs to be one step faster than the defense. Daunte needs another go-to guy, and Williams—in this spot—is just that. If they can trade up, fine, but not if it costs their other first-round pick. They might switch spots with St. Louis, but only if later rounds or future picks are involved. No way I'm giving away an extra first-round pick.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Adam Williams, CB, West Virginia—A shut-down cornerback is a necessity in the NFC West when you're going up against St. Louis and Seattle. This is a no-brainer. But, then again, Bill Bidwell has no brain, so you never know.
9. Washington Redskins: Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn—Not sure why Washington would pick a cornerback this early; they have so many other holes to fill. Joe Gibbs will probably go another direction.
10. Detroit Lions: Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas—they need secondary help to compete with Minnesota and Green Bay, plus help on the D-line.
11. Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware, DE/LB, Troy St.—who really knows what the Tuna will do? He needs more offensive help than defense, though, like another receiver for Bledsoe to throw to.
12. San Diego Chargers: Shawne Merriman, LB, Maryland—Absolutely. Gotta fill that hole that letting Junior Seau go left behind.
13. Houston Texans: Ronnie Brown, RB, Auburn—I don't care.
14. Carolina Panthers: Alex Barron, OL, Florida State—A solid pick, but don't be surprised if they trade with St. Louis so that Rams can take this guy.
15. Kansas City Chiefs: Marcus Spears, DE, LSU—The Chiefs need defensive help everywhere, so if this guy is the best defensive athlete available at the time, go for it. They could also trade with St. Louis in order to get more lower-round picks.
16. New Orleans Saints: Thomas Davis, S, Georgia—They might take Jammal Brown from Oklahoma just to spite the Rams, but St. Louis covets Davis, too, so this accomplishes the same thing. St. Louis would kill to pick ahead of the Saints for this same reason. It's too bad we're not in the same division any more. This was turning into a really nasty rivalry.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina—The Bengals suck. Does it really matter who they pick? Yeah, I didn't think so, either.
18. Minnesota Vikings: Erasmus James, DE, Wisconsin—Or David Pollack out of Georgia, or Spears, Ware or Merriman, if they're available, or even Williamson if Cincy doesn't pick him. There's a lot to be done with this pick, which is why they CAN'T trade this one away to move up ahead of seventh. Even if Edwards and Willams are both gone at seven, they could take Williamson and still be okay, or take the best defensive player and hope Williamson is still here at 18. Just don't trade it away!
19. St. Louis Rams: Jammal Brown, OT, Oklahoma—Sure, if he's still available. I think if they can swing a deal to move ahead of Carolina and take Barron, they will. They have to get help on their O-line before Bulger is road kill on the Ed Jones turf.
20 and beyond—too hard to predict; plus, I couldn't care less about any of these other teams, and I'm sure you're tired of reading by now. My draft wrap-up will, as you can guess, focus on Minnesota and St. Louis, because let's be honest, those are the only two teams I'm rooting for, anyway. See ya soon.