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It gets more hype than ever, but the NFL draft is still a crapshoot

So you probably know that I was a draftnik before that word was cool. Oh, wait, that word is still not cool. OK, so, to rephrase -- I was a draftnik when it was ESPECIALLY uncool to be one. My buddy Robert and I used to skip school to watch the draft, an astonishingly sad thing to do, looking back.

Now, of course, the NFL draft is probably one of the five biggest sporting events of the year. Every year, people talk about how ridiculously big it has become, and every year it doubles in size again. This year, you know, it's the biggest thing ever. They are breaking the draft up over three days, putting the first round in prime time, bringing in Billy Crystal to co-host with Chris Berman, launching the first manned mission to Mars after the third pick and hoping to spark a national hunger strike if Jimmy Clausen does not get selected in the first four picks. Next year, it's bigger. Apparently, they will unveil dinosaurs.

The thing that amazes me about the draft is not the hype -- at some point, yeah, you get it, this thing is hyped -- but how quickly the whole NFL draft thing dies after, you know, players are actually taken by their teams. There's this huge build-up, and then when the draft's over it's like every football fan in America, all at exactly the same time, goes: "OK, that's done. Let's go to the mall." I mean, if you think about it, the draft is supposed to be the BEGINNING of something, not the end. You are taking a bunch of players who have never played a single down in the NFL, and you are hoping that they can help turn around your team's fortunes. But, it seems to me, people treat the draft like it's a one-time event, the fun is in the picking. How the player turns out seems almost beside the point.

Anyway, in celebration of draft day, I thought that instead of doing the 5,949,483,847th mock draft, I instead would take a quick look back at the last 20 years of drafts, starting with the 1990s.

FIRST PICK: QB Jeff GeorgeBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: RB Emmitt Smith, 17th overallBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: LB Junior Seau, 5th overallBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: TE Shannon Sharpe, 7th round

George was a bad pick that has been properly lambasted through the years. But based on the other quarterbacks available that year -- Andre Ware (7th pick), Neil O'Donnell (3rd round), Scott Mitchell (4th round) and so on -- there really was nowhere great to go. George was the best of the bunch.

On the other hand, the second pick that year was the Jets' selection of running back Blair Thomas -- and that was a true disaster with one of the great running backs of all time, Emmitt Smith, taken 15 picks later. Emmitt was, in my mind, the key players on Dallas' three Super Bowl champs. Thomas scored four touchdowns in four years while the Jets went 26-38.

FIRST PICK: DL Russell MarylandBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: QB Brett Favre, 2nd roundBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DB Aeneas Williams, 3rd roundBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: WR Keenan McCardell, 12th round

To this day, Jimmy Johnson will insist that Maryland was the best pick he ever made as a coach. It's hard to figure by the basic way we judge defensive players. Maryland was never a big sack guy (24.5 for his career) or a big tackle guy. He made one Pro Bowl. He did not make an appreciable number of big plays that anyone seems to remember. But what Johnson believes is that Maryland was so solid, so versatile and so willing, that he was the guy who made the Cowboys defense go. He was the one doing all the bits of dirty work inside so that other guys could be stars. This could be coach talk... it also could be a coach trying to defend what now seems an uninspired No. 1 overall pick. It also could have a whole lot of truth in it. Football, especially defensive football, is not about visible stars as much as it is about a group of players doing their jobs well. Maryland played five years in Dallas, and in four of them the Cowboys finished in the Top 5 in fewest points allowed.

Then he went to Oakland, and played for terrible defenses... so he couldn't do it alone.

Most NFL GMs would probably agree that no single thing is more more important than having a good quarterback. And yet, nobody really seems to know what makes a good quarterback... or how to to develop one. In 1991 the first two quarterbacks taken were Dan McGwire and robo-quarterback himself, Todd Marinovich. Then the Falcons took Favre and they traded him the very next year. Then you had, in order: Browning Nagle, Scott Zolak, Donald Hollas*, Bill Musgrave, Craig Erickson, Paul Justin, Pat O'Hara, Shawn Moore, Jeff Bridewell and Larry Wanke. So not one team that year drafted its own starting quarterback. Not one.

*Hollas is famous -- or at least famous around my house -- for being the starting quarterback for my greatest ever Strat-o-Matic coaching achievement. I was coaching the atrocious 1992 Bengals against the 9-7 Washington Redskins -- I was a huge underdog -- and early in the first quarter I put Hollas in the game. The thing about Hollas was that he could run a little bit. He couldn't throw at all. But he could run a little bit. And Chardon Jimmy absolutely did not know what to do. By the time he figured out what defense to use to stop Hollas, I put Boomer Esiason back in the game... and pulled off the upset.

FIRST PICK: DL Steve EmtmanBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: WR Jimmy Smith, 2nd roundBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DB Troy Vincent, 1st round or DB Darren Woodson, 2nd roundBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: TE Mark Chmura, 6th round

Emtman is one of the all-time busts at No. 1 overall, but to be fair that really was a pretty atrocious draft. The best defensive lineman taken was probably Chester McGlockton, who I will only remember for two things:

1. The day the Raiders were playing Kansas City he, supposedly, told the Chiefs players not to block him too hard because he was going to sign with the Chiefs the next year.

2. He offered the nicest no-comment in NFL history. McGlockton did not talk to the media, but whenever someone would ask him for an interview he would always say, in a perfectly calm voice, "No, thank you."

Emtman is involved in one of my favorite ever college football stories, one I'm pretty sure I've told before. But I'll tell it again... a good friend of mine was a left tackle at Kansas State when they faced Washington and Emtman. You might remember that Emtman was an absolute beast in college -- that should be obvious since he was the No. 1 overall pick, but even that does not begin to describe just how big and strong and fast Emtman was. He was inhuman. Anyway, he played inside a lot at Washington, so my buddy Michael did not block him much. But one time, Emtman came around on a stunt, and Michael was isolated with him.

So Michael set himself and held out his arms and did all the things that he had been trained to do. Emtman then picked him up and threw him out of the way, like he was a giant aluminum can. That's pretty typical, I guess, of Emtman. My favorite part of the story is that when Michael went to the sideline, a coach started screaming at him: "You have to set yourself! Lower you butt! Punch with your hands!" On and on, just screaming, and all the while Michael was thinking: "Um, he picked me up and threw me out of the way. I don't think blocking technique is the issue here."

Once again, the quarterback situation was pretty bleak. The two best quarterbacks to come out of the 1992 draft were Jeff Blake (6th round) and Brad Johnson (9th round). First-rounders David Klingler and Tommy Maddox... not so good.

FIRST PICK: QB Drew BledsoeBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: OT Willie Roaf, 1st round or OT Will Shields, 3rd roundBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DE Michael Strahan, 2nd roundBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: LB Jesse Armstead, 8th round

The Giants really set up their 2000 Super Bowl appearance by taking two excellent defensive players in the same draft. This also was the draft that, eventually, created that remarkable Kansas City Chiefs offensive line of 2002-2005. The Chiefs scored more points than any team in the NFL over those four years. Priest Holmes set the record for most touchdowns in a season. Another year, Larry Johnson ran for 1,750 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. Trent Green made two Pro Bowls. There is no question, looking back, that the key was having Roaf at left tackle and Shields at right guard.

Bledsoe was the best No. 1 overall pick up to this point in the 1990s. You probably didn't know -- I certainly didn't know -- that Bledsoe is sixth all-time in passes completed (3,839), eighth in yards passing (44,611) and 13th in touchdown passes, just three behind Dan Fouts. This was a pretty good quarterback draft. Mark Brunell was sort of a poor man's Bledsoe -- he was a fifth-round pick. Green was the last quarterback taken -- eighth round -- and he had a nice career behind that great offensive line in Kansas City.

FIRST PICK: DL Dan WilkinsonBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: RB Marshall Faulk, No. 2 overallBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DB Rodney Harrison, 5th roundBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: Harrison

You could certainly argue that Bryant Young, taken with the seventh overall pick, was the best defensive player in the draft... especially if you feel, as some do, that Harrison was overrated. Young was terrific, but I think Harrison, for several reasons, was one of the real impact defenders of the last 15-20 years.

I was in Cincinnati in 1994, and back then I used to think that one of the main purposes of the NFL was to pull tricks on the Cincinnati Bengals. I would imagine Mike Brown being at owner meetings and other owners walking up to him and saying, "Man, do you smell that upman?" And Mike would say, "What's upman?" And they would say, "Nothing, what's up with you?" and then run off giggling.

I say this because of the Dan Wilkinson scam. I saw several Ohio State games that year. I saw Dan Wilkinson play. And I have to tell you, not once did I think about him being even an especially good player, much less the No. 1 pick in the draft. I will admit, up front, that I do not exactly consider myself an expert of interior line play. I didn't watch Wilkinson much. Still, if someone's THAT GOOD you would think you would notice it, right? I mean, you would expect the player to be like Ndamukong Suh, you know, singlehandedly blowing up offensive lines, sacking quarterbacks and stopping criminals and defusing bombs all at once. Wilkinson, in my memory, did none of these things. He obviously did something well because he was selected All-America despite making just 44 tackles, 13 of those for loss. The numbers, apparently, could not describe the sheer mayhem Wilkinson created.

The Bengals had the No. 1 pick, and it seemed pretty apparent to those of us who did not know much that Faulk was the guy. He had run for something like 5,493,584 yards at San Diego State. But then, all of a sudden, people started talking about Dan Wilkinson -- suddenly known as "Big Daddy" Wilkinson -- being the No. 1 guy. Really? Dan Wilkinson? Hmm. Interesting. You started hearing people talk about his massive strength -- I will never forget that the Bengals strength coach called him "Freakishly strong." Freakish. Yes. That's what the Bengals needed. And while, no, he had not put up big numbers, you started hearing about the way teams had to block him, with four or five men and a battering ram and an electric fence. The longer the talk went on, the more apparent it became that not only should the Bengals take him but they would be FOOLS if they did not take him.

And so... they took him.

And I suspect that behind closed doors, every single GM and football staff in the NFL laughed their heads off.

FIRST PICK: RB Ki-Jana CarterBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: RB Terrell Davis, sixth roundBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: LB Derrick Brooks, 1st round and DL Warren Sapp, 1st roundBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: Davis

Tony Dungy turned around Tampa Bay football... but really, the key was this draft, when the Bucs got the heart of their defense with a couple of brilliant first-round picks.

I was in Cincinnati this year, too... and the Ki-Jana Carter experience was very different from the Dan Wilkinson experience, at least for me. The day before the draft, I wrote that the Bengals should find a way to get Ki-Jana Carter. I felt sure, absolutely sure, that Carter was going to be a big-time player, a playmaker, exactly what the Bengals needed. Of course, I don't know anything. But when the Bengals the next day actually traded up and got Ki-Jana Carter, I could not help but feel thrilled... they saw it the same way I did! I had been writing a column in Cincinnati for about a year, and I was finally in the flow, finally in the middle of things. The Bengals PR staff even clipped out a couple of paragraphs from my column and handed it out to the writers. I was at the heart of things.

When you're a sports columnist in a town, people tend to think (against most of the available evidence) you have some real power. I would get dozens and dozens of emails and letters every month from people who wondered why I had not yet fired Tony Muser or Dave Shula or Carl Peterson or Herm Edwards or Quin Snyder. I STILL get emails from people wondering when I will fire Trey Hillman.

Of course, you can respond by saying that you're just a silly sports columnist who has no power in such things... but that isn't 100% true. It's probably 95% true. But not 100%. People involved do read the paper. Talk radio sometimes amplifies what you write. Television sometimes builds off of talk radio amplifying what you write. I've written here before that when Kansas State hired Bob Huggins as basketball coach, I asked the athletic director why and he said, "Well, I'll be honest with you... your column about Huggins was really the big reason." No, I don't believe it was the BIG reason, but it's easy to forget that these are human being making sports decisions, and human beings are swayed by any number of things. Allard Baird, when he was GM of the Royals, used to tell me that he never read the paper -- and unlike every other person who said that... I believe him. I believe him because of his reasoning. When I asked why he did not read the paper, he said, "Because I know it would affect my decision-making." See, that makes sense.

My point is, I felt that in some way I had encouraged the Bengals to take Ki-Jana Carter. I was confident that it was a good move, exactly what the Bengals needed, the kind of move that turns around a franchise.

Ki-Jana Carter blew out his knee on his third carry of the preseason.

FIRST PICK: WR Keyshawn JohnsonBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: OT Jonathan Ogden, 4th overallBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: LB Ray Lewis, 1st round, 26th overallBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: LB Zach Thomas, 5th round

And Baltimore, more or less, built its Super Bowl champ with this incredible draft -- Lewis and Ogden, a couple of first-ballot Hall of Famers in the same first round.

I don't think there should be any hard-and-fast rules in sports. Everything is up for debate. But I think it's probably a pretty good idea to never take a wide receiver with the No. 1 overall pick. Every draft, there are good receivers -- almost certainly BETTER receivers -- available later. This year's a perfect example. Keyshawn had a nice career -- 11 years as a starter, three Pro Bowls, four thousand-yard receiving seasons. A nice career.

Later in that first round, Indianapolis took Marvin Harrison, who is going to the Hall of Fame. Then, Buffalo took Eric Moulds, who basically had the same career as Keyshawn. In the second round, the Giants took Amani Toomer (9,497 career receiving yards) and Carolina took Muhsin Muhammad (11,438 yards). The very solid Bobby Engram also went in the second round.

Terrell Owens went in the third round. There's a whole other column out there to discuss whether he's a Hall of Famer, but he has certainly been one of the impact players in the NFL.

Joe Horn went in the fifth round -- he's a four-time Pro Bowler.

Don't take a receiver with the first pick. Just don't. There are receivers to be had later.

This, incidentally, was probably the worst quarterback draft ever. And, to the scouts' credit, they knew it. No quarterback went in the first round. The first quarterback taken was Tony Banks... and as bad as Banks was he was CLEARLY the best quarterback taken in this draft. The closest thing was Danny Kanell.

FIRST PICK: OT Orlando PaceBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: OT Walter Jones, 6th overall or TE Tony Gonzalez, 13th overallBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DE Jason Taylor, 3rd roundBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: DB Al Harris, 6th round

The year before the draft, an editor at The Sporting News called to ask me to write a story about how Orlando Pace was the best college football offensive lineman ever. I'm never entirely sure how stories like that get thought up, but I made a few calls to some college football analysts and pro scouts and, sure enough, found that a lot of people really did think Pace was the best ever.

The interesting thing is that Pace might not even have been the best left tackle taken IN THAT DRAFT. You could certainly argue that Jones, taken out of Florida State by Seattle, was at least his equal. Pace was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Jones was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first team All-Pro. With Jonathan Ogden going in the first round the year before, it's really pretty amazing... this was a golden age for left tackles. Someone should write a book about that, you know, the guys protecting the quarterback's Blind Side.

That year, Tiki Barber was taken in the second round and Ronde Barber was taken in the third. I think, all in all, Ronde has had the better career.

Quarterback update: Another rather dreadful year. The only quarterback to go in the first round was Jim Druckenmiller, who had no chance with that name. The only quarterback taken who became a regular starter was Jake Plummer, who for me had this Memento effect. That is to say, every year Plummer would be starting for the Broncos or Cardinals or whoever, and I would think: "Oh, Plummer's pretty good." And then I would watch him play again, and I would remember: "Oh yeah, he is NOT actually pretty good." And I would think that I should probably tattoo "Plummer is not good" on my arm somewhere.

FIRST PICK: QB Peyton ManningBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: ManningBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DB Charles Woodson, 4th overallBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: C Matt Birk, 6th round

What a draft. Manning, Alan Faneca, Randy Moss and probably Woodson are all Hall of Famers. And then there are a bunch of really good players like Birk and Flozell Adams and Ahman Green and Hines Ward and Olin Kreutz -- 11 players in that draft have been starters for at least a decade, and a bunch of others like Fred Taylor and Patrick Surtain and Matt Hasselbeck were just good football players.

There is an NFL coach... I'm not sure if I've told this story before so to protect the guilty I'll leave his name blank for the moment. There's an NFL coach who I really like who told me the day before this draft that if he had the No. 1 overall pick, he would take Ryan Leaf. This was not an uncommon thought in 1998, by the way. A lot of people thought it was a real toss-up between the brainy Manning and the brawny Leaf. But this coach was particularly adamant. He said he liked the look in Leaf's eyes. That was the look of a winner. I don't suppose I have EVER heard more compelling testimony that football people should not scout a players' eyes.

Anyway, the point was not that he would have taken Leaf -- like I say, lots of people felt that way and anyway Leaf did go No. 2 in the draft, where he created much wreckage for the San Diego Chargers (it still astonishes me that in his rookie year, Leaf threw two touchdown passes... and FIFTEEN interceptions). No, the point was later when I went to bust the chops of this coach, he insisted that he had NEVER said that he would have taken Leaf first, and he would never have said that, and he did not think that, and he knew that Manning was going to be great and so on.

That stuff really annoys me.

FIRST PICK: QB Tim CouchBEST OFFENSIVE PICK: QB Donovan McNabb, 2nd overall or WR Torry Holt, 6th overallBEST DEFENSIVE PICK: DB Champ Bailey, 7th overallBEST LATE-ROUND PICK: WR Donald Driver, 7th round

OK, well, Couch was a disastrous pick. So that would make our tote-board look like this for first overall picks:

Great picks: 3 (Manning, Pace, Bledsoe)Good picks: 2 (Maryland, K. Johnson)Bad picks: 1 (Wilkinson, George)Disasters: 4 (Emtman, Carter, Couch)

I originally had Wilkinson and George as disasters -- but I can't do it. Wilkinson did play 195 games in the NFL and started all four years for Bengals. George started 124 games in the NFL and led the league in passing yards one year.

I can't really break down the 2000s drafts the way I did the 1990s because, as we get closer to present day, it's harder to draw any real conclusions about the players. But while looking at the decade a little bit, I did find this jewel... in 2001 the St. Louis Rams had three picks in the first round. Remember, this was the Rams team about to go 14-2 and lose to the Patriots in the Super Bowl... pretty good. Three great picks there could have set them up for decade domination.

The Rams three picks that year were:

12th overall: Defensive tackle Damione Lewis20th overall: Defensive back Adam Archuletta29th overall: Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett

So what's the point? Pickett and Archuletta were starters for the most part, Lewis bounced in and out but got some playing time. So, eh, not great, but not tragic, either. What's interesting, though, is that each time the Rams picked that year, the player taken immediately AFTER their pick turned out to be a significantly better player.

• Right after Lewis, Jacksonville took three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud.

• Right after Archuletta, Buffalo took Pro Bowler and nine-year starter DB Nate Clements.

• Right after the Rams took Pickett, Indianapolis took Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne, Baltimore took Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and San Diego took Leader-In-The-Clubhouse-For-Sportsman-Of-The-Year Drew Brees.

I think you file this under the whole "NFL draft is a crapshoot" line that always comes out this time of year. Except... I'm not sure that the NFL draft SHOULD be this much of a crapshoot. In baseball, sure, it's easy to understand why the scouts miss so often. They're drafting very much on spec. They're drafting high school players that they hope will be good in five years. They're drafting college players that they hope will be good in three years. They're drafting hitters using aluminum bats who are facing suspect pitching. They're drafting pitchers with elbows... always a negative for pitchers.

But football... well, they're ONLY drafting college players. And they're college players who, for the most part, are playing at a pretty reasonable level... I don't know where big-time college football would rank compared to the NFL, but it's got to be Class AA or so, right? Baseball scouts take a lot of heat. But if they were drafting out of Class AA, I would bet they would get it right a whole lot more.

And yet, the NFL draft is very much a crapshoot. I would say that the 22 best players selected from, say, 2000 through 2005 might be as follows (in alphabetical order):

Jared Allen, 4th round, 2004 draftTom Brady, 6th round, 2000 draftLance Briggs, 3rd round, 2003 draftDrew Brees, 2nd round, 2001 draftLarry Fitzgerald, 1st round (3rd pick), 2004 draftDwight Freeney, 1st round (11th pick), 2002 draftAntonio Gates, undrafted, 2003 draftJames Harrison, undrafted, 2002 draftAndre Johnson, 1st round (3rd pick), 2003 draftChad Ochocinco, 2nd round, 2001 draftShawne Merriman, 1st round (12th pick), 2005 draftJulius Peppers, 1st round (2nd pick), 2002 draftJulian Peterson, 1st round (16th pick), 2000 draftTroy Polamalu, 1st round (16th pick), 2003 draftEd Reed, 1st round (24th pick), 2002 draftBob Sanders, 2nd round, 2004 draftRichard Seymour, 1st round (6th pick), 2001 draftLofa Tatupu, 2nd round, 2005 draftLaDainian Tomlinson, 1st round (5th pick) 2001 draftBrian Urlacher, 1st round (9th pick) , 2000 draftDeMarcus Ware, 1st round (11th pick), 2005 draftWes Welker, undrafted, 2003 draft

Now, admittedly, these are just my opinions. But you will notice... not one of them was chosen with the No. 1 overall pick. And frankly, I don't think there's a particularly compelling argument to be made for any of the No. 1 overall picks -- Courtney Brown, Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning or Alex Smith -- to be on that list.

Look at the group of players again. There are as many players here taken in the second round (Brees, Ochocinco, Sanders, Tatupu) as taken in the top five(Fitzgerald, Johnson, Peppers, Tomlinson). And you can see there are some pretty special players taken after the third round -- heck, there are three undrafted players on the list (Gates, Harrison, Welker). This isn't surprising, if you want to look back over the draft. If you could only choose players third round or later from, say, 1995 to today you still could put together this team:

QB: Tom BradyRB: Terrell DavisRB: Priest Holmes*WR: Steve SmithWR: Wes Welker*WR: Terrell OwensTE: Jason WittenTE Antonio Gates*LT: Jon RunyanLG: Marco RiveraC: Jeff Saturday*RG: Brian Waters*RT: Jason Peters*

DE: Jason TaylorDT: Pat WilliamsDT: LaRoi GloverDE: Jared AllenLB: Lance BriggsLB: James Harrison*LB: Zach ThomasCB: Ronde BarberCB: Donnie AbrahamFS: Antoine BetheaSS: Adrian Wilson

That's pretty good. Every player on that list is or was a Pro Bowler, some are all-time stars. None were taken in the first two rounds. You will notice those with asterisks... those players were not drafted at all.

So even as the NFL draft becomes more and more hyped, even as it soaks up more and more attention, even as more and more people do their own mock drafts, even as teams spend more and more resources on their scouting... there are just a whole lot of misses out there. I realize that the Oakland Raiders are not exactly the model franchise, but for them to take JaMarcus Russell with the first pick in 2007 and sign him to a $68 million contract with Adrian Peterson and Darrell Revis and Patrick Willis and Joe Thomas on the board, that tells you that they probably should probably shut down their scouting department and just buy a few draft magazines.

Look at the 2008 draft. Five running backs went in the first round. The first four were Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall. Stewart has been quite good, Jones and Mendenhall have contributed, McFadden has shown flashes of talent.

The fifth pick, however, was Chris Johnson. And, as you already know, Johnson last year ran for 2,006 yards and in just two seasons has scored 14 touchdowns that covered 20 yards or more -- these include runs and receptions of 52, 57, 58, 66, 66, 69, 85 and 91 yards. That's high school stuff. How could NFL scouts undervalue a talent that good, that fast, that special?

I think in the end they undervalue and overvalue players -- they take Tim Couches and Courtney Browns and miss James Harrisons and Wes Welkers -- because football is both more and less complicated than we generally think. It's more complicated in that there are countless talents that we still do not know how to scout, talents that probably involve vague-sounding things like work ethic and decision-making and motivation and sturdiness and consistency and so on.

At the same time, it's probably less complicated, too. And the less complicating factor is this -- in football, I think, players often tend to be about as good or as bad as the players around them. It's such a team game. I sometimes wonder if teams might not be better off doing just that -- spending less money and effort on scouting and more on coming up with better teaching and development techniques. Sure, James Harrison wasn't drafted -- people doubted his individual talents -- but he went to Pittsburgh, where they know exactly how to coach linebackers, where they know how to place linebackers in positions to make plays, where they know how to prepare linebackers to be their best in games.

Meanwhile, that same year, David Carr was the first overall pick -- scouts almost unanimously loved his ability -- and he went to a Houston team with no offensive line, and he got sacked 76 times his first year, and 49 times his third, and 68 times his fourth (all league-leading totals) and he played for a team that did not know how to develop a quarterback and a team that had no history with good quarterback play.

In other words, the New England Patriots seem likely to have a good draft no matter who they take because they will coach those players up and put them in a winning atmosphere. And the Detroit Lions seem likely to have a lousy draft no matter who they take because they are the Detroit Lions

Of course, things change. That's the fun part of sports. Maybe the Lions have it figured out now. Maybe the magic runs out on the Patriots. That's why we keep watching. This year the No. 1 overall pick was Oklahoma's Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford. And while I like Bradford... I think that was a mistake. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska's dominant defensive lineman, is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, a Warren Sapp-level disruptor who seems even more motivated to dominate. I think Suh should have been the first pick.

And the point of all this? I have as much chance being right or wrong as anybody else.

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