Flawed logic: Scouts, execs pick apart rock-solid prospects
I call this the "Yes, but" draft. All I hear are comments about what's wrong with everybody, even at the very tippy-top of the board. Right. I should have these things wrong with me, as they sock away the 60 million -- or billion -- or whatever Monopoly-money number they come up with.
No kidding, though. Flaws abound. ("This is a house without a flaw." "Oh yeah? Then what do you walk on?" Old joke).
I will be quoting extensively the most talkative fellow at this time of year. His first name is Unnamed and his last name is Scout. He's everybody's source, and all I can do is swear to you that a real person issued the quotes, and the reason why he's always Scout (not to be confused with Tonto's horse) is that no one knows who these guys are anyway.
Speaking of "Yes, buts," take Jake Long, for instance. The Michigan tackle is a front-runner in the race to be No. 1 on the board. He's big and powerful, possessing the balance of the mythological giant Anteaus, who was rooted to the ground.
"As nice a fellow as you'd want to meet," says our mysterious source, U.S., "until the whistle blows. Then he gets mean."
With a nasty-looking tattoo on his arm to prove it. Can't really tell what it is ... possibly a herd of swollen mosquitoes ... but it looks pretty mean. But listen to what Unnamed has to say about him, after setting us up with all that praise:
"He can play left tackle, but he's really suited to the right side. He'll be a good left tackle but a great right tackle. Tell me, would you spend all that money for a right tackle?"
No. Absolutely not. I'd save it for my retirement. But saying what he's said about Big Jake is like telling a thoroughbred, "Well, you really do a great job pulling that old wagon, but Churchill Downs? Not quite sure."
Next up, Chris Long. Surely no knock on him. He's a guy without a blemish. Nonstop motor, tremendous productivity. Can't you just see him lining up for Bill Parcells' Dolphins, a standup linebacker-DE in the DeMarcus Ware-Lawrence Taylor mold? Might beat out the other Long for top banana, right?
"Extremely productive," says another U.S. "Won't take a play off. Will wear people out."
OK, let's have the BUT. "But do you see a real burst? Do you see something that really excites you?"
Yes I do, I see a maximum body of work at the end of the day.
"Granted, but how many game-changing plays?"
OK, OK, enough already. I've got a thing about Christopher. I knew him when he was a year old. For five or six years, I dated his nanny, whose name was Carolyn. Let's go to a player who everyone admits is the finest athletic specimen among the higher echelons, Vernon Gholston, a defensive end who was born to rush the passer, and just might -- ssshhh -- sneak into the No. 1 spot. Measurables that are unmeasurable, combine numbers off the charts, 37 reps on the bench press, tying Jake Long for No. 1, 4.65 for the 40, vertical and horizontal jumps that were better than those of 40 and 39 cornerbacks, respectively.
Who ever heard of numbers like that? And on the field he swept in on the passer like a hurricane. He got one of only two sacks Big Jake gave up, which is like breaking up a Roger Clemens no-hitter with a home run. Find a flaw here, I dare you.
"Yeah, against Michigan, against Jake Long," our gloomy source says. "What did he do against Kent State? Invisible. You look at that film and you wouldn't want to draft him. You explain that to me. With all that ability, he still had games where you just didn't notice him."
OK, I get the point. Take Branden Albert, a wonderful offensive lineman from Virginia, a guard for most of the season. My type of lineman.
"I saw two games on tape, Middle Tennessee and Pitt, where he just jolted guys when he got his hands on them," Detroit GM Matt Millen says. "Such powerful hands."
Yes, Albert is a lineman who figures to go very high, but not as a guard. They're projecting him to left tackle. Huh? A projection in your top 10 in the draft? There we go. Another, "Yes but."
"I'd like to see just one team that's willing to draft him and leave him at his right position, guard," says another Unnamed Scout. "He'd be a great guard. He'd play a dozen years in the league."
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the cornerback from Tennessee State, killed the combine workouts, I mean slaughtered them. He had the best mark among the corners in five of the six categories in which he tested. Included in that is a 4.29 for the 40. And he was coming off a lights-out Senior Bowl. Top corner on the board, right? Um, not so fast. The young fella has, you see, only one kidney.
This stems from his childhood. The greatest medical minds among NFL coaches, scouts and owners are puzzled as to how this could affect performance, or susceptibility to injury -- if at all.
One coach I talked to, and I swear I'm not making this up, said, "It's something we've all talked about. But what I want to know, before we'd draft him in the first round, is how he lost it in the first place. No one knows."
And now, we come to the biggest "Yes but" on the board. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. Runs like the wind. Which keeps blowing him into nightclubs. Where, uh, misunderstandings occur, and next thing you know, certain individuals are getting printed and mugged. How high will he be drafted? Oh high ... high ... despite what scouts euphemistically refer to as "character issues."
Fumbling is another problem -- 23 times in the past three years, more than any other runner in the country.
"It's gonna be tough for him in the NFL," our U.S. says, "trying to hold onto the ball with handcuffs on."
Oh my, what a heartless thing to say. I'm going to depart this negative kick right now. No, I'm not going to go into my diary of frustration and desperation, trying to reach all parties concerned within the space of a week or so to get their draft strategy, the nightmare parade of non-callbacks and too many callbacks at once. I dwell on that stuff every year at this time, probably in an effort to drum up sympathy -- and it's even worse now, with so many draftniks joining the circus every year.
But I will go through one of those weird phone calls for you. It's unique. Denver, Mike Shanahan's extension. Dial it after hours, which really is the best time to get these guys, and you hear the following:
"You have been forwarded to a voice mail system. However, the person at 4-3-0 does not subscribe to the system. Your session cannot be completed at this time. Transferring to an attendant. One moment please."
Well, OK. An attendant isn't so bad. At least it's a live voice, even though the owner might be wearing a gown and surgical gloves. But what comes on instead? Play-by-play of a Broncos game. Guess what? I got interested in it. They were driving, but just when they got down to the 10-yard line, it cut out. Heyyyy! Wait a minute.
Maybe it's prophetic. A mirror of the Broncos' draft to come. It's the season of weirdness.