The Unpredictable NFL Draft

Where would the Colts be right now if they decided to draft Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning, as many so-called experts predicted?How about if these same Colts drafted Ricky Williams over Edgerrin James? Scouting players for the NFL Draft is certainly not an exact science. Despite the endless hours that scouts, coaches, and general managers pour into analyzing every facet of hundreds of collegiate prospects, many mistakes are made. Have you ever heard of Russell Maryland, Steve Emtman, or Ki-Jana Carter? What kind of impact have Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Alex Smith had on the league? These players have all been number one overall picks within the last 15 years. Meanwhile, Terrell Owens, one of the best wide receivers in the league, was selected in the third round. Antonio Gates, the best tight end in football, was signed as an undrafted free agent. Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football, was drafted in the sixth round behind such quarterbacks as Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, and Tee Martin.

Mel Kiper could ramble on for hundreds of hours, but he will never figure out how to measure the heart of Doug Flutie or the intelligence of Kurt Warner, both undrafted free agents. Nor could he have known about the incompetence of Ryan Leaf or how much Ricky Williams smoked throughout his collegiate career. The NFL combine could measure the strength and speed of potential draft picks, but the success of players in the NFL goes beyond these physical talents. These intangible qualities cannot be taught and are difficult to detect. Going into the 2000 draft, there was no evidence that Tom Brady would become an elite quarterback in the league, much less a starting quarterback. Nor could one have predicted that Ryan Leaf would wilt under the pressure of the NFL. There are many uncertainties in the draft and many difficult calls for teams to make that could determine the fate of their franchise for years to come. Look at the Giants for instance. They believed so whole-heartedly in the talents of Eli Manning that they were willing to give up two picks that ended up being Pro Bowlers Phillip Rivers and Shawne Merriman. Manning has turned out to be a decent quarterback at best. There aren’t too many Giants fans who would make that same trade again.

Once in a while, a player emerges whose talent is so extraordinary that his future success in the NFL is undeniable. These immense talents, such as Peyton Manning and Reggie Bush, can be predicted as sure-fire Hall of Famers before they play an NFL game. The Colts rejected the predictions and desires of some draft experts and pounced on the opportunity to nab Manning. As for the Texans, well, unfortunately the same cannot be said for them.

This year’s NFL draft certainly doesn’t have the same flash or appeal that last year’s draft had, but the class of 2007 includes an abundance of talented players and several hidden gems that will emerge as superstars. With the first pick in the NFL draft, the Raiders will be desperately seeking a quarterback. Put simply, Oakland’s offense was anemic last year, largely due to the fact that they did not have a quarterback to pass the ball to Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. LSU’s JaMarcus Russell seems to fit the bill perfectly for Oakland. Russell has an impressive combination of speed and size as well as strong leadership qualities that played an intricate role during his success in Baton Rouge.

Perhaps the most talented player in the draft is Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. At 6’4” and 225 pounds, Johnson has the physical ability to make an immediate impact in the league. The Lions may be a little bit hesitant about taking him with the second pick; however, considering the fact they have drafted three wide receivers in the top 10 over the last five years only Roy Williams has been successful. Charles Rogers, the second overall pick in 2003, was recently cut by the team. Mike Williams, the 10th overall pick in 2005 is now struggling to stay on the Lions.

ESPN will spend days scrutinizing the strengths and weaknesses of the top players in the draft; however, based on the last 10 years, there is a good chance that the best player will be announced far after most fans stopped caring, somewhere in the fifth or sixth round. In 10 more years this player, who will probably from a mid-major conference school, will leave experts wondering how he could have slipped under everyone’s radar.