It is the last whiff of an ante-bellum institution, it is the last childhood memory of dividing dodgeball teams by captains selecting choices one at a time. Both traumatic. Saturday, an annual collectively bargained conscription begins in New York City as the NFL conducts its draft of new players. New meat for the Sunday sports buffet.

Who will be the number one choice? The star of the day, the instant multi-millionaire. The one with more “up side”than bust potential.

This year is interesting in the fact that at least three of the top picking teams want to trade their high draft position so as to not select the projected Top five player. The reasons are simple. The top choices get high signing bonus money. The number one, if a quarterback, could command $10-15 million signing bonus. With salary cap considerations, bleeding budgets, an economic downturn, and the salad days of billion dollar television contracts on the wane upon renewal, many teams don't want to spend a ton of money on a young man who may turn into a disastrous bust. Also, the media attention is so acute, at the local and national level, with draft gurus, stat masters and draftnik commentators, a general manager will get reamed no matter he does, especially during those Top Ten choices. Those choices are supposed to be “impact” players, Pro Bowl career candidates, a major PR and money making assets. Return on investment is key. Trade a top pick for two lower first round selections increase the general manager's chances in the draft crapshoot on a star by 100 percent.

Normally, the chic position player is the quarterback. He is the immediate center of attention. In the limelight, he is most likely to implode like a solar system. Teams with dismal records, like the Bengals, have thrown away high picks on quarterbacks in the past, and have gotten toasted the team colors over time.

What is a general manager looking for? What is the hardest NFL talent to find?
What do teams desire the most?

A shut down cornerback? A stud left tackle to protect that star QB? A bullrushing defensive tackle? A speed run outside linebacker? A game breaker wide receiver? A five tool running back (rushing, catching, kick returns, punt returns, trick play passing)? Those are the type of players that a franchise can build upon.

The “franchise player”tag is more economic than talent in the NFL. The 2003 NFL draft is devoid of any franchise player, an immediate starter who will be able to book a trip to Honolulu All-Star contest on Monday after the draft. None of the alleged top quarterbacks show the basic mechanical skills to be top notch. Footwork, release points, and the intangibles of the game have the collective quality of a journeyman second stringer. There are no running backs worthy of a first round selection.

So one could use the first round pick to pick the weakest position but that would waste the selection. The best available player defense is what coaches like to use to justify taking a player and not a positional need on day one. Here is a general ranking of the positions that are hardest to fill with quality starters: CB, OT, QB, WR, DT, DE, RB, LB, C, S, G, TE, K, FB then P.

The consensus is that the five “best” players on the board are CB Newman (KSU), CB Trufant (WSU), T Gross (Utah), WR Rogers (MSU) and WR Johnson (Fla). Detroit (#2) and Houston (#3) want a big WR. Cincinnati at number one is torn between the choice of Heisman winner Palmer (QB) or Newman (who has a shoulder injury). One does not want to lose a player to injury before training camp either, it would show a major flaw in an organization's medical-scouting department. The Bears at number four have been wavering between big defensive tackles, and the Cowboys at number five may go cornerback.

The draft is like a Sunday football game. Someone calls a play (a selection) and the next teams have to react, on the clock, to the play call, and cover their own jobs with their selection. There is a lot of drama, opportunity for boos and head scratching the calls --- just like during the regular season. A simple hobby of predicting talent has turned into a multi-facet, wire to wire televised flesh fest with draft gurus who created their profession from thin air by crunching 40 yard dash times, bench press reps and one line downside evaluations.

Who will be the number one selection? Who should be the number one selection?

If the Bengals were smart, they would try to trade the selection. Palmer is overrated, Newman is hurt, and this team has a new defensive minded coach who could use all the bodies he can find during summer camp. Trade the pick for additional draft choices. But you need another team desperate enough to overpay to move up to take that number one choice. Very few will do so. There is not one superstud that everyone wants. In fact, owners have been grousing about the recent star quarterbacks, Curt Warner and Tommy Maddux, were not even drafted! The pressure on the draft room honchos is huge. But the most probable situation is that the Bengals will be stuck with the number one pick. (That is an “oxymoron”.) The fans want a quarterback, the coach wants a stud lineman, the owner wants the best cheapest player that can help him sell tickets, and the league wants someone they can market like Michael Jordan. All those desires are directly opposite of each other; pulling the selection process a part like string cheese in Green Bay.

The draftniks generally predict the following: 1. CIN--Palmer QB; 2. DET -- Rogers WR; 3. HOU-- Johnson WR; CHI--Robertson DT; and 5. DAL -- Newman CB. Palmer only had one good season in college; Rogers tested positive for drug masking agent at combine work-out; Houston needs linemen to block for their star QB but want speedy receivers; the Bears are playing more smoke screens that those three yard slip-screens fan scream about; and Dallas has the Parcells circus to deal with on draft day. The teams may be so worried about not picking the WRONG player, that the selection clock could run out and they forfeit their selection!! That is a PR nightmare, and the Commissioner would probably have a hissy-fit meltdown on national television, but in some rational, common business sense, not selecting an expensive, overrated or injury prone player makes more fiscal sense.

The best long-term prospects are not the names bantered about for the Top Five. Those players who will fall into the second tier, Top 10 to 15, or the second round, may have longer careers than the hyped players. The long term, conservative choices would include the following names: Trufant CB, Kennedy DT, Gross OT, Fargas RB (because this position is so weak this year), Clark TE and Faine C.

But with all selections, it is who drafts you is as important as where you are drafted in the selection lottery. If you are a stud wide receiver, but the offensive coordinator does not like your work ethic, or the coach wants a run until they drop offense, your skills will fade.

If not working, the high maintenance football fanatic will be submerged on the sofa all weekend as ESPN broadcasts the color and commentary of the NFL draft, feet resting on a cooler of beer, a subsandwich flaking onto the carpet, and dog-eared football magazines tossed about the room. It is a football fan's off-season nirvana.


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