Rest assured, it won’t be the last time I’ll be blown away over the course of the next two weeks. The NFL Draft is always full of shocking developments. Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers slipping into the evening hours of Day One, the Colts taking Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams, the Vikings getting skipped twice and dropping two slots in the first round — shock and awe is what the NFL Draft is all about. It wouldn’t be the last weekend of April without a few stunning moments.
1. Josh Freeman slip-sliding away … all the way into the second round. The last time a player invited to attend the draft sat in the green room all the way into the second round was 1996. That year was considered an especially rich one for running backs, with Eddie George, Lawrence Phillips, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Mike Alstott, Stephen Davis and Tshimanga Biakabutuka all considered first- or second-round picks.
“Lectric” Leeland McElroy, a star out of Texas A&M, was expected to go in the top 15. After Phillips, Biakabatuka and George were selected in the draft’s first three hours, pick after pick went by with McElroy, seated there at Madison Square Garden, just watching his afternoon fade into night. After ESPN featured his personal workout tape roughly 100 times — 10 after every pick in which he wasn’t selected — the Arizona Cardinals finally drafted McElroy with the 34th overall pick.
I fear there’s a decent chance another Big 12 player — Kansas State’s Freeman — suffers the same fate next weekend. With the Jay Cutler trade now in the books and Byron Leftwich signed by Tampa Bay this week, the number of teams in need of a quarterback in the first round dwindled to two or three. Detroit is going to take Matt Stafford at No. 1 and Mark Sanchez won’t slip past San Francisco at 10.
Where does Freeman fit in the first-round puzzle? Go through the first round, pick by pick, and no team other than Detroit or San Francisco really needs a quarterback in the first round. And if they do, Freeman’s not even a sure bet to be that guy. Do the Jets really take Josh Freeman if a top-flight receiver is on the board?
Freeman, who was invited to attend the event, could very well be this year’s Leeland McElroy. Get used to seeing the footage of his workout tape on loop. Either way, here’s to hoping his pro career goes a little better than “Lectric’s,” who was out of the league by 1999.
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey being drafted before Jeremy Maclin. I said it last week and I’ll say it again: Every year, whether it’s Mike Mamula, Vernon Gholston or Troy Williamson, a player gets the Sidd Finch treatment and rides such a wave of hype that a team gambles on him earlier than anyone expected. Heyward-Bey, a solid but unspectacular receiver at Maryland, is currently riding the crest of that momentum. A 4.3 forty time will do that.
Maclin, on the other hand, a two-time All-American and the NCAA’s leader in all-purpose yards in ’08, isn’t getting the same sort of buzz. Despite a very strong Pro Day workout last month, teams may be reluctant spending a top-10 pick on a guy who played in what was primarily a spread college offense. His breakaway speed, ability to be the deep threat or a slot receiver, and kickoff/punt return skills should be enough to prove his doubters wrong, but you never know. Heyward-Bey — bigger, stronger and potentially faster than Maclin — could very well be drafted before the Missouri superstar.
3. Michael Crabtree slipping to Oakland at No. 7. Two years ago on this same week, I wrote what at the time was viewed as a “controversial” column for this site. I said, despite being the hands-down best pro prospect in the entire draft, Adrian Peterson would slip to the No. 7 pick, where the Vikings would be the beneficiaries of such a “catastrophic fall.” I was called an “idiot,” I was told I had no idea what I was talking about and was all but asked to stop writing altogether by Lions and Browns fans whose teams held the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively.
Two years later, Peterson’s probably the top running back in the NFL. No one — scouts or fans — who watched the kid in college is the slightest bit surprised by that. But, based on team needs, Peterson slipped past six teams.
The same could very well happen for Crabtree, the hands-down best receiver in this draft, next Saturday. If St. Louis, which has greater needs at offensive line and spent a second-round pick on Donnie Avery last year, passes on the Texas Tech superstar, there are three straight teams with No. 1 receivers already making big money on their roster that follow. In order: Kansas City (Dwayne Bowe), Seattle (T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and Cleveland (Braylon Edwards). Cincinnati has far greater needs on its defensive and offensive lines than at receiver.
That leaves Crabtree at No. 7, where he can join recent offensive first-round picks Darren McFadden and JaMarcus Russell in Oakland. Two years from now, Crabtree could very well be considered the best receiver in the league. That doesn’t mean he can’t slip to seventh overall in next Saturday’s draft.
4. Not a single Miami, Michigan or Notre Dame player being drafted on Day 1. Remember 1971? Pretty good year, right? The French Connection won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, John Lennon’s “Imagine” tore up the pop charts and Apollo 14 took flight. It was also the last year Miami, Michigan, and Notre Dame failed to have a single player among them selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Thank you, Wikipedia!
Good days are supposedly right around the corner for Randy Shannon’s Hurricanes, Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines and Charlie Weis’ Fighting Irish, as each school brought in solid recruiting classes this winter. But for now? It looks like it will be a quiet April 24-25 for three of the nation’s top football programs. The first Miami, Michigan or Notre Dame player to be drafted will likely be Michigan DT Terrance Taylor. And that probably won’t come until around 2 p.m. on Sunday, somewhere in the third or fourth rounds. Eek.
5. Not one, not two, but three different Connecticut players being selected in the first round. My apologies to natives of the Nutmeg State, but it’s still somewhat strange that in the same year Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame will be shut out of the first and second rounds, longtime football dead zone Storrs, Conn., boasts three first-round prospects. Darius Butler is one of this draft class’s top five corners, William Beatty is one of its top six offensive tackles and running back Donald Brown could be the third running back off the board.
Michigan + Miami + Notre Dame = 0. Connecticut = 3. And we’re not talking the NBA Draft? Even Connecticut natives have to admit that’s a bit bizarre to read.
6. Nothing whatsoever happening on the Plaxico Burress front. I don’t think Plaxico Burress plays a single snap next season. Despite rampant rumors linking him to just about every team in the NFC, I think Burress will be unsigned by the end of the draft weekend and isn’t going to end up on any NFL team in time for the 2009 season. The legal issues, his off-the-field baggage, a stubborn management team — it all adds up to a Plax-less season, in my eyes.
7. A Mel Kiper, Jr.-Todd McShay vicious verbal war resulting in fisticuffs. OK, so this probably won’t happen. I’ve spoken to McShay about his relationship with Kiper in the past, and it turns out that the two draft pundits actually don’t dislike each other at all. In fact, they respect each other immensely. Isn’t that disappointing? It’s like learning there’s no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny.
But man, oh man, wouldn’t some real tension be something special? Picture this scene unfolding: Late Saturday afternoon, the first round is dragging a bit and Hakeem Nicks is drafted before Percy Harvin. Kiper goes into some aside about why Percy Harvin is dropping on everyone’s boards, and McShay rolls his eyes. Kiper spots it and goes after his colleague. Soon, they’re arranging a meeting in a schoolyard in Bristol. It’d be the channel’s highest-rated boxing match in years. John Clayton could officiate.
8. The Patriots trading up … again. Never count Bill Belichick out. In a draft in which the Patriots have six of the top 100 draft picks, they could package multiple picks to move up in the first round for a player they really have their eyes on. Prospects the Pats could be intrigued enough by to potentially ship the 23rd and 34th picks for? I’d think Texas terror Brian Orakpo, USC linebacker Brian Cushing or Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins might all be worth the bounty. Knowshon Moreno sure would be scary in a Patriots jersey, too.
9. An over-the-top New Jersey feel to Saturday afternoon. New Jersey gets a bad rap. Sure, I’m a native and am obviously biased. But when it comes to top football talent, Texas, California, Ohio and Florida always get the most respect.
Jersey deserves some love. In this year’s draft, there are seven New Jersey natives expected to go in the first round alone. Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, Boston College’s B.J. Raji, USC’s Brian Cushing, Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins, Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno, Connecticut’s Donald Brown and Rutgers’ Kenny Britt are all natives of the Garden State. Cue the Bruce Springsteen tunes and “Sopranos” reruns. We’re looking at a potential wise-guy weekend in NYC.
10. A safety-free first round. Three years ago, the safety position was truly all the rage. Michael Huff and Donte Whitner were selected in the top 10, and Tennessee’s Jason Allen went to Miami at 16th overall. In 2007, four safeties — including LaRon Landry at sixth overall to Washington — were selected in the first 24 picks. Last year, Kenny Phillips went to the Giants as the last pick of the first round.
The 2009 NFL Draft? I don’t see zilch coming from the safety position in the first round. What’s with the sudden decline in the safety spot? Who knows? But aside from Western Michigan’s Louis Delmas, Oregon’s Patrick Chung and Mizzou’s William Moore, there’s no other safety that I can see going in the first 50 picks.
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