There's pressure on everyone to figure out which draft picks will prosper and which will bust in their NFL career. There's pressure on the players too -- particularly the highly drafted ones. The 10 people on draft weekend who should be feeling the most heat:
1. Billy Devaney, GM, St. Louis.
And not only because he's on the verge of bypassing two franchise defensive tackles at No. 1 when his team doesn't have even a borderline Pro Bowl DT on the roster now. Devaney has to take Sam Bradford if he feels Bradford's a franchise quarterback, and this team does feel he has the kind of star quality on and off the field the Rams can build around. But the pressure will be on the Rams to turn around a franchise with a league-worst 6-42 record over the past three years. That begins by spinning gold out of the first pick of day two of the draft, the 33rd overall.
Inside the Rams, they're treating the first Friday pick as one of the most significant in franchise history, and they hope to get either a great player or, more likely, a passel of draft picks. Teams will have 19 hours to re-stack their boards at the end of Thursday night's first round in advance of the 33rd pick at 6 p.m. EDT Friday. When the Lions had a long night after the second round of 2009 to ransom off the first pick of the third round, they got the Jets to pay three draft choices to move up 11 spots and pick Shonn Greene. Privately, the Rams know they'll be able to ask for a 2011 first-rounder plus another pick, or a second-rounder plus two or three other bodies or picks for number 33, because some team is going to look at its board and see its 11th or 13th player overall is still sitting there.
2. Josh McDaniels, coach, Denver.
He's traded Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler in his first 15 months on the job. He and GM Brian Xanders have the 11th, 43rd and 45th picks to start the replenishment, and I expect them to at least take a quarterback by pick 45 to compete with Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. It's all well and good for McDaniels to have his own program and to be making decisions to get a bunch of his own guys in there. But if this year ends without a quarterback of the future in place in Denver, and the Broncos hired McDaniels thinking at the very least he'd run a great passing game, well, the fans (and the owner) are going to be pretty disappointed.
3. Mike Holmgren, president, Cleveland.
Tom Heckert was hired in Cleveland to make the calls on draft day, but Randy Lerner didn't bring in Holmgren as the highest-paid franchise architect in football to stand behind a curtain on draft day and say, "That wasn't my call.'' Whoever Heckert picks will be on Holmgren's résumé, and with a franchise-defining crop of them (the Browns pick seventh, 38th and three more times in the third round), Cleveland has to come out of this draft a remade team.
4. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame. I don't know where he's going -- he was a last-second change on my mock draft for SI (which will be on SI.com on Wednesday); I previously had him going No. 9, to Buffalo -- but wherever it is, he's going to have a lot to prove about his game on the field and off. Clausen has had to answer all the questions about not being a good leader and his teammates supposedly hating him and all that, and I like what Clausen told a team interested in a first-round quarterback when asked about this.
"Coach,'' Clausen said, "after a while, you hear so many bad things about yourself that you'd go crazy if you paid attention to any of them. So I just shut it out and played.'' The coach he told that to loved it, and it convinced him to be a Clausen buyer, perhaps, on draft day.
5. The front-office rookies with two high picks: Trent Baalke, interim GM, San Francisco; John Schneider, GM, Seattle.
These guys are in places with strong head coaches, and Mike Singletary and Pete Carroll will exert their will on their respective drafts. I think the Seahawks, at six and 14, and Niners, at 13 and 17, both want to trade down for more picks. The decision that could be the diciest for the two young front-office mavens with quarterbacks as a position of interest: What happens if Jimmy Clausen is there at 13?
I know for a fact the Seahawks covet Clausen. They wouldn't seem to be a team with a quarterback desire in the first round, not after making the deal with San Diego for prospect Charlie Whitehurst. But they may not be able to NOT pick him if he's there at 14. Ron Wolf always taught Schneider in Green Bay that you never turn down the chance to pick a franchise quarterback.
6. Bill Belichick, coach, New England.
With the exception of picking up an aging Alge Crumpler, the Patriots have left the vast majority of their offseason work -- acquiring a pass-rusher, tight end and wide receiver -- to the draft. This doesn't have to be a home-run draft for them, but they have to hit some doubles, particularly after last year's lottery didn't result in much impact from high picks.
But the good thing for the Patriots is they ought to be able to get a good tight end (position of strength here) with one of their four picks in the top 54, and they could have a tough call to make on wideout Dez Bryant, who might be there when they pick at 22. So if the draft falls right for them, it could be a great two days for New England. But there's pressure to come up with players who will help the Patriots beat back the Jets and Dolphins right now.
7. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona.
He didn't play last year after injuring his back and having disk surgery last fall. Though he's been given a clean bill of health by two doctors, Gronkowski is still looked upon suspiciously by tight-end-needy teams, at least one of which has told SI.com that he's off their draft board. This team said it suspects spinal stenosis, a potentially crippling injury. "I don't have that,'' Gronkowski told me. "I've heard that, but all I can say is my doctors told me they fixed the problem with my back and it will have no effect on my career. I don't have spinal stenosis.'' I see Gronkowski -- a first-round lock before the injury -- going in the second round, but he could drop to the third if the fears about his back continue to flare.
8. Bruce Allen, GM, Washington.
One pick in the top 100. That's it -- number four overall. The 'Skins are all over the place, trying to trade up to number one to take Sam Bradford (only a faint chance of this), trying to trade back to fatten up the barren second and third rounds. I do know this: If they trade up to take Bradford, they'd better use Donovan McNabb as a chip to get some protection for Bradford.
9. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida.
You know what I've found about Tebow in the past month? Everybody wants him -- until it comes to actually drafting him and doing something with him. Could he go to New England as a tight end? I guess so, but he'd hate that. Could he go to Minnesota, Cleveland, Denver or Philadelphia, with coaches who really like him, and intern for the starting QB for a year or two? Maybe. But he's the story of the draft, like him or not.
10. Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech.
As I detailed in MMQB a couple of weeks ago, teams have a devil of a time projecting who's going to be able to rush the passer in this league, and Morgan added to that debate in Tech's bowl game against Iowa. He had three tackles and no sacks against a good offensive line, most notably tackle Bryan Bulaga (not matched up against him on every snap, but occasionally), and scouts had to go back and wonder if Morgan's the guy who had 31 tackles for loss/sacks in 2009, and whether he might be able to play a 3-4 outside 'backer, or if he's strictly a 4-3 defensive end. Morgan likely would be a better 4-3 end because he's not great in coverage. He enters Thursday as a sure top-half-of-the-first-round pick, probably around 10, 11 or 12. But he won't be a lock. No pass-rushers are.
Now for your e-mail:
• STRATEGY AND THE THREE-DAY DRAFT. From Patrick McGovern of Boston: "I was wondering with the draft moving to prime time if it could affect certain teams' normal draft strategy. For instance, normally the Cowboys, at 27, might try and move out of the first round to get more draft picks. But with the draft in primetime, would a team be scared to trade out of the first round knowing they might disappoint a fan base who tuned in for what is now a primetime event.''
The one team I'd suspect wouldn't want to deal out of the round for that exact reason is Jerry Jones' Cowboys. But I think if they get a great offer to deal down six or eight spots, they'd definitely take it -- then be the stars of round two, also in prime time on Friday.
• AN EXCELLENT POINT. From John of Jamaica, N.Y.: "A red carpet on draft day? Any wonder why these athletes feel a sense of entitlement? They've accomplished nothing at the professional level. The league demands humility on the field, whereas a red carpet cries, "Look at me!" ''
Your email speaks volumes. This is the NFL. If something can be made into an event, the NFL will figure it out.
• I WOULDN'T WORRY ABOUT IT IF I WERE YOU. From Lee of New Orleans: "Is there a risk that if the Steelers trade Ben Roethlisberger that it sets the precedent down the road that if a good player wants out of an organization, all he has to exhibit is some classless behavior and they'll look to deal him?''
Ben Roethlisberger is not being traded, unless he screws up again. Trust me.
• DO THE READERS WANT THE NEW DRAFT? From David of Philadelphia: "Do you get the sense that your readers are excited about the new format? I think this is the classic case of "too much of a good thing." One of the charms, I thought, of the NFL draft was that draft Saturday was a perfect mid-point between the end of the last season and the start of the new one -- and a great opportunity to "visit" with the NFL in that time. Moving the opening rounds to Thursday and Friday really ruins that effect.''
I'm on record as saying I loved the Saturday draft. But let's let the fans speak after the weekend, and let's see if the prime-time ratings show such a love for the draft that they don't care when it is -- they're still going to watch the thing in droves.
• YES. From Jake Bainbridge of Plainwell, Mich.: "Do you think Jimmy Clausen has more NFL upside than fellow Domer Brady Quinn?''
I do. I think Clausen is a more accurate thrower, and not as frenetic in the pocket as Quinn is.