Snap Judgments (cont.)
You could certainly understand it if the Rams want to lean toward taking a quarterback like Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick, given that you've got a losing franchise in desperate need to rejuvenate its fan base and maybe even secure itself in the St. Louis market. And then there's the potential new ownership situation for the Rams, with a quarterback probably being an easier sell than defensive tackle in that case.
But Spagnuolo told me this weekend that he and St. Louis GM Billy Devaney are wary of falling into such a mindset and will do their best to avoid it.
"Billy and I have talked about this and we've just kind of done one of those [looking straight ahead, with blinders on] type of things," Spagnuolo said. "We've been told to operate that way and do the best thing for the future of the football team, not a knee-jerk reaction, not something for the potential new owner, none of that. Just full bore ahead. I know it sounds like you couldn't do that, but that's what we're doing, and that's how people want us to do it. We'll take the best player. No matter the position.''
The quirky stuff you learn at the NFL combine never ceases to amaze me. South Florida receiver Carlton Mitchell isn't the first prospective draft pick to talk proudly about his mom at the combine, but he's the first one I can remember to do so because his mom works as part of a professional boxer's corner team.
"She's a cut woman," Mitchell said of his mother, Angela Mitchell, who works for boxer Antonio Tarver and others. "She started with a few amateur fights, and then has always been very close to Antonio Tarver. I don't know exactly how it worked out, but all of a sudden she's working his corner. She's worked Roy Jones and other fights. It's very exciting. I see her and she's smiling, having a good time. I love it. She lives to brag about me. I brag about her."
If the NFL doesn't work out for Mitchell (he ran a strong 4.49 in the 40 on Sunday), he will not be going into the family business. "I have a weak nose," Mitchell said. "My nose is very sensitive. I have a long reach, but playing basketball I'd get elbowed in my nose and start bleeding."
NFL club officials lined up this week to bemoan how many of the draft's top quarterbacks weren't throwing at the combine, saying that a bad performance can't really hurt you here but a good showing in the Sunday afternoon workout can really help you.
But then a mid-round prospect like Oregon State's Sean Canfield goes out on the Lucas Oil Stadium field and struggles to get much going, and you wonder how his shaky showing won't leave a negative impression in the minds of most NFL personnel evaluators. We're all human and we largely make our judgments based on what we see.
No matter what NFL coaches and GMs say, I kind of understand why the top-rated quarterbacks aren't eager to throw to unfamiliar receivers in an unfamiliar setting here in Indy. In some cases, there's far more to lose than to gain.
The absolute most bizarre moment of my four-day stay in Indy came Friday night as I was walking along a fairly deserted stretch of one particular downtown street, headed for Jillian's sports bar and some dinner with friends. Head down in the freezing cold, I was passing a guy on the sidewalk and happened to glance up and meet his eye at the last instant: It was none other than Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
We exchanged somewhat hasty hellos without ever breaking stride, and then it struck me that there was Manning, the most recognizable player in the NFL, walking all alone on the streets of Indianapolis on a Friday night. No entourage. No car waiting to whisk him away. No Colts fans even aware that their hero was among them. Manning was wearing blue jeans, a fairly casual jacket, and no hat in the winter chill.
I couldn't help but think that Tom Brady likely can't just go out for a walk in Boston without attracting a mob scene, and the same is probably true for Donovan McNabb in Philly, and Drew Brees in New Orleans, too. But the good folks of Indy obviously allow Manning to move around town without requiring his own personal security detail. Which I think is pretty cool of all these well-mannered Hoosiers.
Sometimes there's an almost Super Bowl media day feel to the interview sessions here at the combine. The following exchange occurred Saturday between a reporter and Bradford, who is of Native American descent:
Reporter, who had been trying to shout out the following question for at least five minutes: "You being a Native American, would you have reservations about playing for the Redskins? (Did he really have to say 'reservations?')"
Reporter: "Would that present problems if they draft you?"
Bradford: "You know, I'm not going to address that issue. That's not something I'm going to worry about now. If that's something I have to face later on down the road, I will, but there's really no reason to address that right now."
Reporter: "But you wouldn't ask them to not draft you for that reason?"
Bradford: "Um, no." (And there was much laughter).
Bill Belichick's favorite TV analyst, Charley Casserly, made the boldest statement of the entire combine, labeling this year's first-round talent the strongest he's seen since the fabled Class of '83, when quarterbacks John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly led a star-studded group.
"This is the best first round I've seen since 1983," said Casserly, the former Redskins/Texans general manager who now works for both CBS and the NFL Network. "In talking to general managers throughout the league, decision-makers, I think it's the result of two things:
"Last year, there was a concentrated effort to keep players in school. Conversely, both sides in the labor negotiations have talked about a rookie wage scale (this year), so when you have those two things working, players without a motivation to stay in school (will come out early). You have a perfect storm to have the best junior crop you've had since all the way back to '83, and I think this is the best first round I've seen going into a draft since 1983.''
As far back as November, an NFL personnel man I trust started telling me the junior class in this draft would be stacked, and that a record 20-22 underclassmen would populate the first round. After spending the past four days at the combine and hearing the assessment of various NFL officials, I'm more convinced than ever the hype is right in this case.
With combine weekend wrapping up, now we start to turn our attention to free agency, which starts at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. But no one knows what to expect out of this year's NFL veteran meat market, and many people inside the league believe there will be a lot of disappointed players whose phone never rings next weekend.
One veteran agent I talked to said some wildly uninformed players actually still hold out hope that the league and the union will reach an agreement on a new labor deal by March 5, restoring the old free agency system and the salary cap. But trust me, the chances of that happening evaporated in May 2008, when the owners announced their intention to opt out of the current CBA.
"The situation with free agency definitely puts more emphasis on the draft," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said this week. "There's not many ways that you can improve your team for the long haul other than the draft. Most of the players who are going to be available in unrestricted free agency are going to be players who are 29, 30, 31 years old. It places a lot more emphasis on getting the player right ... because you're not going to have a whole lot of start out time with him. There's a lot more urgency in the unrestricted class, and you need to make sure you make good decisions."
NFL Truth & Rumors