You know what I can’t do? I can’t offer anything approaching expert analysis of the NFL draft. Why? Because it’s a full-time job, and I’ve already got one of those. And, yeah, I wish my full-time job involved scouting and assessing college players seeking to enter the NFL, but it doesn’t. What I can do is offer my impressions — as a fan, as a long-time observer of the league and the draft, and as general know-it-all — of what I observed over the weekend and what I think might happen with a few of the players selected. If you find some value in that, read on. If not, go to one of the usual places and find the expert analysis you’re looking for.
Let’s start with coverage. And that amounts to me saying I don’t think I’ll ever watch the draft on ESPN again after having listened to Sirius NFL Radio’s coverage this year. I ended up listening to the draft on Sirius after having watched it on ESPN for years and years due to circumstances that made it impossible for me to spend Saturday in front of the TV (specifically, I’ve been redoing my porch and if I want it finished before summer rolls around for real, I can’t afford to miss a minute of potential work time — even when it means not watching the draft and getting rained on like fucking Noah).
The broadcast couldn’t have been better. Adam Schein, who I listen to daily on the Afternoon Blitz, did a phenomenal job of hosting. No surprise there for me. I don’t love Schein. He’s a bit of a radio guy for me (which is to say he sounds like what he is — a guy who went to Syracuse to learn how to be a radio host, and did, and now sounds like a guy who went to a big communications school to learn how to be a radio host — which, when you were raised on ’70s FM underground radio, can’t help but hit you as a bit slick and insincere, even when you think the host in question is probably entirely sincere). But Schein is certainly a fine radio host. He’s great on the air daily, because he knows how to keep things moving and he makes his callers feel like their contributions are valued (which does exactly what it’s intended to do — keeps the callers calling and makes the rest of the listeners feel like they’re a part of the show too). And he was perfect on draft day, making sure all the assembled experts — from Schein’s weekday partner John Riggins to Cris Carter to Pat Kirwan and Gil Brandt — were part of the discussion leading up to and following each pick. And that discussion was great. Far more often than not, the panel predicted exactly who would be picked by each team and explained why that player would be the pick and what the implications were for the team. They also spelled out in detail — and with compelling arguments to support their positions — whether they believed each pick was the right one.
Sirius also got lots of draftees on the radio shortly after they were selected. The interview with Aaron Rodgers, the Cal quarterback who was supposed to be a top pick and ended up going to Green Bay at 24, was worth the whole day by itself. (Mr. Rodgers, while clearly delighted to be going to the Packers, is not happy about having been bypassed by 23 teams and plans to make as many of them as possible pay for the insult once he takes the reins from Brett Favre in a year or two.) All in all, a great way to take in the draft.
As for my thoughts on the draft itself, well, here’s what little I’ve got concerning the teams I care about (and a few others where something actually comes to mind).
I know there are a lot of Patriots fans who are nonplussed (and a few who are actually disheartened) by New England’s selection of Logan Mankins in the first round. I’m not. Here’s why: First, I’ve heard Brandt singing the guy’s praises a few times and if there’s one thing about pro football I know for absolute certain it’s that Gil Brandt is still the greatest scout in the history of the game. Second, there are no better assessors of talent currently working in the league than Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. And the fact that they took a guy who was projected as a second- or third-round pick at 32 tells me they saw something in this guy that’s so special that they weren’t willing to chance letting him go elsewhere. O-line means an awful lot to the Pats, and they had a big hole to fill with the departure of Joe Andruzzi in free agency. Obviously, they believe Mankins is good enough to merit a first-round pick. And given what I’ve seen over the last four years, I’d can only take their word for it. The rest of the Pats’ draft looks as solid as any other to me, but what the hell do I know?
I’m very excited about Oakland’s first- and second-round picks, Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt. Guess I couldn’t call myself a Raiders fan if I weren’t partial to speedy guys, and these are two speedy, speedy corners. Although NFL.com has Washington’s 40 time at 4.48, I’ve seen it listed elsewhere at 4.25, which is lightning fast. And Routt, who was a track star in high school and college, was projected by some experts as a first-round pick. So that’s nice. Says the end is near for Charles Woodson, a guy who has become king of the underachievers, a guy who has lost all discipline. And, with luck, it means new life for Oakland’s secondary, which has been a serious problem the past two seasons.
Other than that, there are just a few things I know in my gut from having been a fan for so long.
One of those is that Rodgers is certainly going to turn out to be a better NFL quarterback than San Francisco’s #1 pick, Alex Smith. And Jason Campbell, the guy Washington grabbed at 25, is gonna be better than either of them, though it may be a while before he gets a chance to prove it since the Redskins are determined to continue to challenge the Raiders for the title of league’s most disorganized team. How do I know this stuff? Well, I know Rodgers will turn out to be better than Smith, because he was considered a potential #1 pick himself and because San Fran passed him up largely because had they picked him over the higher-priced Smith it might have looked like a money move. I also know Rodgers will be better than Smith because he then slipped all the way to 24, and whenever the top 23 teams in the NFL draft agree on a player whom the outside experts like, they always turn out to be wrong. And I know Campbell will be better than both of them because no one even considered drafting him ahead of those guys even though he’s generally seen as equal in raw talent — and, again, draft consensus among NFL teams is virtually always wrong. (I also know that someone picked in the second round or later will go on to have a better career than at least two, and possibly all three of those guys. Maybe it’ll be Oakland’s third-round pick, Andrew Walter or New England’s seventh-round pick, Matt Cassel. Probably not. More likely, it’ll be Cleveland’s third-round pick Charlie Frye. Or maybe not. But it’ll be someone.)
Similarly, I know that Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who went to Tampa Bay at 5, will turn out to be better than his Auburn Ronnie Brown, whom Cleveland grabbed at 3. That’s not because Cadillac started ahead of Brown at Auburn, but because Brown got drafted first and the guy you could’ve taken is always better than the guy you took. It’s a simple fact.
I’m very sad to see that the New York Jets drafted kicker Mike Nugent in the second round. It was nice to know you could count on the Jets to blow big kicks at the end of games. Those days, it would seem, are over.
I’m equally sad to see that Denver appears to have figured out that you can’t get by with a one-man secondary. That’s too bad, because I really, really liked knowing that however good they made their offense, Denver would never be a true factor because of their defensive weaknesses. I don’t think they’ve solved all of their problems on D, but they’ve clearly discovered that they exist, which is the first step.
And I’m glad to see that Pittsburgh doesn’t really seem to feel the need to address the loss of Plaxico Burress in free agency. (No, I don’t think gangly fourth-rounder Fred Gibson is gonna get the job done there.)
And, one last thought (for today at least). With the exception of Matt Jones, the college quarterback turned wide receiver, who went to Jacksonville at 21 in the first round (and who I believe is gonna be a huge force in the NFL — I was very relieved the Jags grabbed him before the Steelers could), the player I’m probably most interested to see on the field is Brandon Jacobs, the Southern Illinois running back the New York Giants grabbed in the fourth round. Jacobs, who transferred from Auburn rather than compete for carries with Williams and Brown, is fucking gigantic: 6′ 4″, 256 pounds. But he’s fast for his size, running a 4.56 40. He’s mostly a third-down back (though he could line up at H-back — or at tight end if he’s got the hands he’s supposed to have), and even if that’s all he does, he could be a major factor for the Giants. He should really help Tiki Barber, who, incredible a season as he had in 2004, could use a little relief. I can picture Jacobs breaking through the line and picking up some serious yards a few times a game. (This kid averaged 6.7 yards per carry in college, so he’s got the ability to explode.) And, let’s be real here, if this giant gets into the secondary, it doesn’t much matter how much faster than him the DBs are, because he can probably keep moving with two or three of those guys riding on his back. Could be exciting to watch.