The 2012 NFL Draft: Notes for the Busy Fan

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This is the NFL Draft Guide for those of us who don’t have the dubious luxury of watching decades of tape on college football players leading up to the NFL’s Annual Player Selection Meeting.

We have lives that prevent us from indulging in the apparently endless hours of speculation on team needs, Wonderlic scores, shuttle times and the detailed physical measurements of 22-year-old men. Okay, maybe we speculate a little on that last one. You know, when passing by the local fire station.

But mostly we have jobs, families and friends. It’s not that we don’t care about USC offensive lineman Matt Kalil’s bloodlines or Alabama running back Trent Richardson’s knees. It’s that we haven’t been able to find full idle days for offseason immersion into the upcoming NFL talent pool. We were intending to pick up that nine-dollar “Draft Edition” of our favorite sports’ magazine. We just didn’t have time.

Of course one could point out that, historically speaking, draft picks have a 50% success rate and Roger Goodell could just as productively stand on stage with the many extremely eccentric NFL owners and flip a coin for seven rounds. But what fun would that be?

No. 1 Draft Pick Andrew Luck: Credit Image: © James Conrad/ZUMAPRESS.com

Speculation will meet reality Thursday night at 8PM Eastern time on ESPN and the NFL Network. Let’s review the basics.

Where:  Radio City Music Hall in The Big Apple.

When:  Round One – Thursday 8PM EDT, Rounds Two and Three – Friday 7PM EDT, Rounds Four-Seven – Saturday 12noon EDT.

Who:  Ubiquitous Chris Berman will host Rounds One and Two for ESPN aided by Monday Night Football star Jon Gruden and the Dorian Gray of Draft Pundits: Mel Kiper, Jr. (His hair alone has not moved in a decade.) ESPN has also hired Todd McShay for no other obvious reason than to infuriate the senior Kiper at every possible turn. Expect sniping.

Appearances will be made by former QB Trent Dilfer (he of the 1,000-watt smile) and dry-as-dirt but very instructional former executive Bill Polian (the one who got fired for having absolutely no Plan B should Peyton Manning sustain an injury—oops!).

For the hardcore NFL fans, Rich Eisen, Mike Mayock, Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner will hold down the football fort for the NFL Network. Mayock is the often-caustic but knowledgeable expert. He is unquestionably an acquired taste, but if you can get past the bluntness and utter lack of warmth, his information is second to none. Aside from a sometimes disturbing tendency to obsess on “hip flexibility,” Mayock’s insights are worth your time.

Honestly, the production value and analytical overkill is enough to make your eyes glaze over. Feel free to lapse into conversation with your friends. But make sure that you tune in for off-the-wall comedic comments by ESPN’s Gruden and the NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci.

Analysts who do deserve your attention are ESPN’s Dilfer, Polian and (if we’re lucky) Bill Parcells. NFL Network pundits not named Mayock worth attending are former GM Charley Casserly and former Coach Brian Billick (who is a much better analyst than he was a coach).

Casserly seems to have discovered a heretofore unanticipated sense of humor and is turning into quite the character. He’s kind of Dennis the Menace meets Puck as a middle-aged man. That’s not as scary as it sounds.

Bonus: The NFL Network will have coverage from some military bases, where cheering young Americans make us believe in goodness and that football really is a worthwhile effort in a modern society.

How:  The NFL Draft has gone from being a boring meeting in a hotel ballroom filled with cigars and (one assumes) whiskey to being…an awards show. There’s really no other apt description. Teams turn in cards that look suspiciously like Oscar envelopes and “winners” are announced with pomp and solemnity.

Each team has ten minutes “on the clock” to make their next selection—time for the above TV folk to wax as eloquent as it is possible to wax when discussing vertical leaps, 40-yard dash times and positioning within a team’s defensive scheme.

NFL Commish Roger Goodell will serve as M.C. for Round One. Round Two will be worth watching since retired NFL greats will announce picks for their respective teams. For a list of these memorable stars, check out The Washington Post.

These days head coaches tend to phone selectees just before the pick is announced, but the networks have decided that this ruins the drama and won’t be showing the calls this year. What they will show are a lot of very large young men’s vast array of emotions at the fulfillment of their lifelong dreams.

The Guests of Honor:  Some dramatic thunder was stolen when the Indianapolis Colts announced they will be using their first overall pick on quarterback Andrew Luck. The Washington Redskins, who traded with the St. Louis Rams in order to move up from the sixth to second position in the draft, are almost certain to take Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, who will be referred to as "RG III." So, the nail-biting can't start until the third selection.

One could literally be crushed under the weight of all the analysis available regarding the top-20 draft prospects. NFL.com, ESPN.com and every other sports site boast enough numbers and opinions to numb the brain.

Don’t bother trying to catch up: whichever analyst is holding the mic at any given moment will provide all of the X’s and O’s info a fan could possibly need about someone who has yet to even appear at training camp, much less play a single down at the professional level.

Or go to Bleacher Report, which is planning to post draft profiles of all picks throughout the weekend at the very moment when they are selected. 

Here are things that may not make it on-air:

Andrew Luck: Stanford quarterback: His presence in this draft class pushed Peyton Manning out of Indy. Luck’s father and Manning’s father are (were?) friends. They both played professionally and young Andrew attended the Manning family’s football summer camp.

Ironically, had Luck declared for the draft last season, he would now be a Carolina Panther and Manning might still be in Indy. The way things went down, this architecture major is being seriously expected to fill No 18’s shoes. Yikes.

He looks like a big galoof, but he has a decent sense of humor and is a better athlete than his build suggests. Luck may come from a Texas high school, but his childhood was spent in London and Germany while his dad managed two World League teams.

His best possible professional result will be to be compared with Steve Young’s succession in San Francisco. Oh, and he’s smart. Really smart.

Robert Griffin III: Baylor quarterback: The son of two U. S. Army Sergeants, RGIII will be under no less pressure in the nation’s capitol. A sort of middle-class, military-ethos-trained Boy Scout, he will be compared for the rest of his life to Andrew Luck.

Griffin won the Heisman, but did not play in a professional offensive scheme at Baylor and is being compared (of course) to Michael Vick. If he has to be likened to another mobile, black quarterback—can’t they at least make it Randall Cunningham? Or a skinnier Donovan McNabb? Geez, give the guy a break.

Recently, anonymous scouts accused Griffin of having a reputation for selfishness, sparking concern that the criticism might be racially motivated. As if having a selfish streak is a rare attribute in starting NFL quarterbacks? If that’s the best these nameless snipers can do, then perhaps racism is truly descending into mere pettiness—and wouldn’t that be a good thing.

Picks Three – Six will probably be some combination of:

Offensive Tackle Matt Kalil: USC product who is the younger brother of Panthers’ awesome center Ryan Kalil. The elder Kalil’s prowess was underscored last season in a NFL Network “mic-ed up” segment featuring 2011 rookie quarterback sensation Cam Newton. Newton was clowning for the cameras as he took inventory of his pre-game equipment: “Cleats-check; pads-check; gloves-check; Kalil-check.”

You’ll hear talk about Matt’s size and the fact that he plays too high to manage defensive bull rushers. But it’s really all about family reputation.

His nickname is “The Hammer” because he has some talent in blocking field goals. That could come in handy.

Running Back Trent Richardson: One of five Alabama players who might be drafted in the first round, Richardson is either the next Adrian Peterson or a high-mileage risk with bad knees. They’ll discuss this endlessly, but we won’t know until fall, will we?

Richardson the man is far more interesting. He has two daughters and became a father when he was a sophomore in high school. Reportedly still on friendly terms with their mother, Richardson is determined that they have a better life than he did growing up in a Pensacola, Florida housing project.

The girls live with Trent’s mom in Birmingham, Alabama and have come to see their father play ball often.

"They know when I miss a cut-back," Richardson said. "They know when I score a touchdown. They know what time my games start."   

Trent needs a stout rookie contract. A lot of family members expect his help and the shelf-life of a running back is short.

Wide Receiver Justin Blackmon: This Oklahoma State junior has considerable athletic gifts and won the Fred Biletnikoff Award twice, but not everyone thinks that he plays as well as his gifts would lead one to expect.

Michael Crabtree also won the award twice. I’m just saying.

Blackmon played offense, defense, special teams and basketball in high school. He was also the class president. That’s the most encouraging piece of news yet.

The highest-ranked defender (and possibly a better athlete than the above players who will be drafted higher) is LSU Cornerback Morris Claiborne. Also a junior, Claiborne was the nation’s top CB and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award.

It will be a shock if he doesn’t succeed in the NFL and he may even go third overall to the Vikings, who desperately need secondary help. The hope is that he will be another Patrick Peterson, who was his teammate before lighting it up in Arizona. The bad news is that he was sometimes lazy in college, despite playing against top-drawer SEC receivers.

The media has gotten a lot of play out of his Wonderlic score (4-out-of-50). Hmmm. That’s not good. But every GM and Coach interviewed since the score was revealed have gone on record as not being worried since DB is such an instinctive position. If they say so.

Mom Opal Claiborne thought he was going to be a drummer: "[As a kid], he was always beat, beat, beating on something, so I thought he was going to be in the band.”

The biggest wild card in the top ten prospects is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. With only 19 college starts (where he began his career as a WR), Tannehill has benefited from dazzling offseason performances in front of scouts and general managers.

Experts generally think that he has talent but is a developmental project and shouldn’t be a top-ten pick. However, the modern NFL demands that teams possess the proverbial “franchise quarterback.”

Some team (probably Miami) that doesn’t have one of these passers will reach up the draft to select this young man and pray the whole time that they are backing the Brink’s truck up to his bank.

In the small world way of the NFL, Tannehill’s college coach was former Packers head man, Mike Sherman. Where is Sherman now? Miami. See how that works?

When one types “Ryan Tannehill” into the nfl.com search box, the first three entries that appear all cite ProFootballTalk’s story that the man in Miami pushing hardest for acquisition of the Aggie passer is Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross.  

The owner wants him. That solidifies him as the No. 3 quarterback—with a bullet. 

Does anyone remember what happened to Jeff Fisher when he refused to play owner-favorite Vince Young? Cautionary tale, that.

If Mr. Ross wants Tannehill, the front office should spend their time figuring out what to do with the rest of the draft. One would suggest a WR to replace Brandon Marshall. Or perhaps the celebrity-owned ‘Fins were expecting Tannehill to throw it to himself?

Ryan is a prototypical Texas kid: he played at Big Springs High School in Big Springs Texas. Of course he did. (Is there even such a thing in Texas as “Small Springs, Texas?" Probably not.)

His ESPN interview with Jon Gruden showed him to be an intelligent, attentive and teachable young man. It comes as no particular surprise that Mr. Tannehill intends to be an orthopedic surgeon post-football.

Michael Floyd – Notre Dame wide receiver: Floyd is a physical specimen for sure and, according to Mayock, can truly catch.

Character concerns came into play after Floyd’s multiple alcohol-related incidents. But Justin Blackmon also had a DUI and Floyd has thus far said all of the right things. Time will tell. At least Michael has a degree in sociology from Notre Dame, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Skip Bayless, on ESPN’s First Take, is one of the few going out on the limb and declaring Floyd a better selection. His opinion is that despite being bigger, Floyd is more explosive than Blackmon. Of course, Bayless is ESPN’s resident limb-sitter, so take it with a grain of salt.

This weekend’s news flash was that Cardinals’ WR Larry Fitzgerald would like Mr. Floyd to join him in the desert.  Translation: Fitzgerald would like to see less trip coverage. Regardless of the real reason for Fitzgerald’s endorsement, it instantly gave Michael Floyd a “street cred” that no scout could have bestowed. And that may come into play Thursday night.

"My friend asked me the other day, 'are you going to cry'... 'are you nervous?' I'm not yet," said Floyd. "Waiting to hear your name called that's most nerve racking part"

Teams:

Much as it would be wonderful to report that the Cleveland Browns have suddenly acquired the drafting Zen of the Steelers or that Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll has promised not to do anything crazy (like draft Tannehill after spending almost $16 million on Matt Flynn)—this isn’t going to happen.

The Browns may do something semi-sane like pick Trent Richardson, but you know they aren’t going to emulate the Patriots and trade down as many slots as Robert Kraft will let them.

The Buffalo Bills were the Broadway show of free agency, spending literally hundreds of millions of dollars buying a monstrous defensive line. The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t talking, the 49ers succeeded in keeping most of their stellar squad, the Bears nabbed a star WR (finally) and the Jets…

Just remember that it didn’t take signing Tim Tebow to be heaven-knows-what in their offense to get the Gang Green fans riled up. One hopes that the many bars dotted around Radio City Music Hall will be closed for the duration. Because those Jets fans come through the doors having been over-served.

Why do we care?

How on earth can grownups get this excited, obsessed and intense about an out-of-season sports practice that involves no actual athletic participation whatsoever?

On the one hand, it’s a combination of Fantasy Football and the economy. Look at the incredible ramp-up to the announcement of this year’s Madden Cover athlete. (Calvin Johnson, in case you were at work or something.)

In a nation of individualism, in the era of free agency and in a time where virtually no one has financial security—fantasy sports give the illusion of control. Forget about coaching influence, home-field advantage or team Gestalt—let’s count the number of yards that “our” running back achieved on Sunday.

We “own” players (in our heads) and pick and choose their accomplishments in a vacuum devoid of anything real. The purpose of this exercise is to defeat other “players” who sit on their couches and assemble their own teams made of virtual athletes. No wonder the real NFL players aren’t fans of fantasy.

On the other hand, the draft gives many fans a first glimpse of their team’s future gladiators. A great smile, a humble post-pick interview or an endearing family story lets us all feel closer to our pigskin heroes. And isn’t that what we really want in the modern NFL?

These days we have two loyalties: regional and personal. We cheer for the team of our youth—and for the players that capture our adult imaginations.

Most Americans aren’t Colts fans, but many, many of us are Peyton Manning fans. And how many children in America are confused now that Mr. Tebow is in New York? “Does this mean that we have to cheer for the Jets, Mommy?” That is clearly going to test the very fabric of American fanhood.

But for this weekend, NFL fans everywhere are afforded the opportunity to gleefully make snap judgments about 253 young men living a dream. It’s April and hope springs eternal. For teams, rookies and fans alike.

Barbara Bruno

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