The NFL Draft, in Small Bites

Wait, April is for baseball isn’t it? Then why is your son’s entire football team in the living room on a school night? (Those ten-taco boxes are meant for groups, not one teenager!)

And why is your husband’s Packers jersey on the bathroom floor? (because heaven forbid he actually put it in the laundry bin like you’ve asked him 4,000 times…)

Hi. I'm Barrett Jones. You don't know me, but you will when I'm looking down at you on the ground.

Hi. I’m Barrett Jones. You don’t know me, but you will when I’m looking down at you on the ground.

Well ladies, because tonight is pro football’s Christmas. The NFL Draft is the annual three-day, Radio City Music Hall gathering in which teams select eligible college players to join their lofty ranks (and sweaty locker rooms).

Why is the Draft so exciting?

1) It’s pro football, which is awesome. Always.

2) It is not soccer. (OK, I kid. Soccer is great, especially like Tuesday, when Liverpool’s Luis Suarez received a 10-game suspension for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. And it’s not the first time he’s bitten a player! But hey, Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear and now has a Broadway show, so what do I know?)

3) The Draft gives teams a clean slate, a chance to rebuild with “rookies” who can improve the team in the future, if not right away. Last year, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, for example, racked up great numbers starting at quarterback in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts.

How it works
There are 32 NFL teams. The team with the worst record (Kansas City this year) gets to pick first, and so on through the best team (Baltimore), making up one “round.” So, a franchise that limped through last season can literally even the playing field by scoring a collegiate star.

Additionally, teams can trade with one another like sandwiches in a lunchroom–draft round positions, players, or both to fill certain holes on the roster. My Washington Redskins (thankfully) did just that last year, trading multiple future first-round selections in order to nab much-needed quarterback and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, who started, guided us to the playoffs, and won Offensive Rookie of the Year.

(And tore his ACL in the final game against Seattle, but that’s another very, very sad blog post…)

If this is your first time to watch a little of the Draft, you picked a good year. Despite months of hype and speculation, even my esteemed expert pals are befuddled as to the outcome. (Any mistakes below are mine, not theirs.)

“This is the most unpredictable draft I can remember,” says FOXSports.com Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez, who has covered the league for 18 seasons. “There isn’t even a consensus on who the No. 1 overall pick will ultimately be. We usually know by now.”

But there are some great storylines to watch:

Mama’s Boy
West Virginia’s Geno Smith may be the first quarterback chosen tonight, but Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel could change that, says Marvez, who also notes that Manuel’s mom, diagnosed with breast cancer in August and still undergoing radiation, will be in New York tonight with her family for the draft no matter what.

Dion and Dee
ESPN 980 Radio “Redskins Insider” Chris Russell suggests keeping an eye on Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and Alabama’s Dee Milliner. As a teen, Jordan burned 40% of his body in a gasoline accident, an event he says motivates him now to succeed. He could go as high as #2 overall, possibly to Jacksonville.

Milliner is a “wild card” says Russell. The top-rated cornerback played Alabama’s championship season with a small shoulder tear, and recently underwent surgery. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash (which isn’t quite cheetah-fast, but it’s an antelope that’s gonna get away) and performed nearly all other drills admirably. But the shoulder–and five other past surgeries–are still a concern.

Mini Model U.N.
Three more top players are foreign-born: Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner (Germany) and left tackle Menelik Watson (England), along with Brigham Young defensive end Ziggy Ansah (Ghana), will be first-round picks, says Marvez. The NFL has even hired an interpreter to assist Werner’s visiting family tonight.

He’s Baaaack…
Of course, who could forget Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, of the Facebook-girlfriend scandal infamy. Luckily for Te’o, whose performance at the Scouting Combine was sub-par, the negativity seems to be behind him, and he now jokes about the past headlines. In the end, the linebacker will probably wind up going mid-first round, possibly to the Bears or the Vikings.

Big Guys, Bigger Contributions
In the spotlights of quarterbacks and receivers, we often forget about the big guys who are just as critical. Marvez predicts one of two left tackles, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, will be the first player drafted by ailing Kansas City.

My personal favorite (and from my hometown Memphis) is Alabama’s Barrett Jones, a “tough, rugged lineman who played for college football’s best offensive line pro-style,” says Chris Russell. I watched Barrett grow up at my nephew’s high school into a 6-4, 300-pound, 4.0 GPA leader who devotes time helping church and children. (And is an accomplished violinist, shhhh!) Hopefully past injuries, like his teammate Milliner, won’t hurt him.

Small Schools Make the Bigtime
Finally, as a small school grad myself, I have to give a nod to a couple of guys who didn’t play in 100,000-seat stadiums—Joe Flacco and Jerry Rice didn’t either, and things worked out pretty well for them. Missouri Southern 335-pound defensive tackle Brandon Williams, for example, has stood up well with comparable players from larger schools and is expected to go in the top half of the draft.

Mount Union, a Division-III school in Alliance, Ohio, has produced other NFL players, like the Redskins’ Pierre Garcon and Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts III. Now it may add wide receiver Jasper Collins to the list.

I hope this breakdown helps you grasp this (and other sports’) drafts. If not, well, don’t worry…we get to do it all again in a few months for the NFL fantasy drafts. (At least Taco Bell will still be there.)

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