The Rams, TV, Tim Tebow, and the West Coast: A different draft season.
All credit to Don "Donnie Brasco'' Banks of this site for tipping us all on this: The first pick of the second round this year will be the most valuable first pick of a second round in NFL history. The NFL will begin the draft with round one on Thursday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m. ET, with rounds two and three set for 6:30 p.m. on Friday , and the final four rounds kicking off Saturday at 10 a.m.
Think about being the Rams: In a very good year for draft prospects, teams will reset their draft boards after the first round, look up and see that one of their top 12 or 14 players is still on the board. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Cal running back Jahvid Best. Texas pass-rusher Sergio Kindle. Idaho guard Mike Iupati. One of the leftover good tackles -- maybe Anthony Davis of Rutgers.
The desperado Rams will need the pick, obviously, because they need players. But some teams will want that pick badly; I'm sure of it. And some team just might pay through the nose to get it. You only have to look at last year to see how this could develop.
At the end of the first day of the draft, a couple of Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum's closest aides starting hounding him to go get the first pick in the third round from Detroit. There on the draft board was the 19th-rated player by the Jets, Iowa running back Shonn Greene. New York could sit at number 76 and hope Greene was there, or it could overpay to take the pick from Detroit. The Lions wanted a three, four and seven for the Jets to move up 11 spots. Tannenbaum hated to do it because it was a ransom, but you can see how valuable a player Greene turned out to be; he'll likely open 2010 as the Jets' starting running back.
That was a third-round pick, number 65. The Rams' pick is 33 overall, in a much better overall draft. Imagine if they have three or four players they like there and would risk moving down eight or 10 spots -- but the asking price to do that is a 2011 first-round pick. Stranger things have happened when a team gets desperate. St. Louis will also have the edge Saturday morning, with the first pick of a new day, but the ransom won't be nearly as high for that pick, obviously.
Now for the network story. NFL Network and ESPN will have the built-in tease of all time for day two of the draft -- provided, of course, that Tim Tebow is not chosen in the first round. I'd say it looks unlikely he goes in round one, but you never know how his stock will rise and fall in the next seven weeks. You think you're sick of Tim Tebow now? Wait 'til the late SportsCenter on that Thursday night, then all day Friday in advance of the second and third rounds. Where's Tim Tebow going? The suspense builds! Tune in tonight for day two of the NFL draft!
Tebow's going to be in a tough position -- as will his agent, Jimmy Sexton. How much access does he give the networks to the vulnerable Tebow at that point? They'll be frothing over Tebow. Not that this is going to help Tebow in the eyes of the public. My e-mail and Twitter followers seems to feel about Tebow the same way they feel about Brett Favre: They're sick of him. Tough balancing act there.
I imagine what's been a trickle by fans to this point will be an open faucet as draft weekend gets closer. West Coast fans are ticked off that draft weekend has been ruined for them -- at least ruined if they want to have normal workdays. With the draft beginning at 4:30 p.m. West Coast time Thursday and continuing Friday at 3:30 PST, I understand the anger of left-coasters at the NFL. But if the ratings sing -- as is the case with so much in the NFL -- this format will become permanent.
I'm not a big combine guy, as you may know, but I do know NFL teams are pretty happy with what they saw of the running backs here.
When players started boycotting combine workouts 15 or so years ago, there was one year when the top seven backs did nothing at the combine, on the advice of their injury-fearing agents. The tide's turned. This year, 27 of the 29 backs ran the 40-yard dash and did the physical tests all players do at the combine. The two best backs by acclamation also were two or the fastest: Clemson's C.J. Spiller (4.33 seconds in the 40-) and Cal's Jahvid Best (4.35) both ran a little better than expected.
I was encouraged to see a guy I like a lot, Stanford's big back, Toby Gerhart, run a 4.53, a little better than people thought he would. Anyone who watched Gerhart play last season and who would think he can't play in this league and play at a high level just doesn't know football.
Disappointing runner: all-purpose back Dexter McCluster of Ole Miss. He ran in the 4.5s. Not good for a guy who weighs 171. He sure plays better (and looks faster) than that.
Let me take you into one interesting thing I saw at the combine. Walking through one of the downtown hotels Friday, I ran into a team doctor I know. He told me he'd examined lots of offensive linemen in his years coming to the combine, but Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell was the best physical specimen he'd ever seen. And when he ran a 4.78 40, one of the fastest by a lineman ever, Campbell's stock shot up all over town.
But the most sobering note about Campbell came from Gil Brandt, who helped invent the event years ago and works it every year for the NFL. Brandt said Campbell hadn't received a single all-conference-team vote last year. If a guy's a first-round prospect, would he unanimously NOT be all-conference? I'm not saying the sculpted 6-foot-6, 314-pound Campbell won't be a good player, but he's sounding like a Raider pick to me. Great athlete, questionable production -- like last year's Terp picked first by Oakland, wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey.
"I know I didn't get any honors,'' Campbell said, "but I feel my self-accomplishments were better than winning a medal or anything else.''
What, exactly, is a self-accomplishment?
The Mike McGuire Cause: Five For Fighting.
That's what I'm calling my fundraising effort for McGuire and his 135 fighting troops in his Havoc Company, 40th Engineers, which will be deployed to Afghanistan later this year. Mike and his men are preparing in Germany for their deployment, and I asked Mike just before the holidays if there was anything I could do for him and his troops. At first he said, "We're fine.'' Then he said it would nice if the base that will likely be invented for his company -- as are many in remote areas of Afghanistan -- could have some or the comforts that the big bases have: a TV with video games, and weight equipment for the soldiers in the company to use in their downtime.
So I have partnered with the USO, with an assist from "Five For Fighting,'' the band of American singer-songwriter John Ondrasik (who graciously loaned me the name).
It's Five For Fighting, because I'm asking for $5 for this project. A manageable $5 -- or whatever you'd like to give.
I am asking you, if you are able, and if you have followed the courageous McGuire over the past five years in this column, and enjoyed getting to know him, to link to the USO's page for the benefit and consider helping McGuire's soldiers, who go to war later this year. It'll be McGuire's third deployment in the area.
Just follow it to the USO page designed to make it easy for you to give $5, or send $5 by mail, for a mini-recreation center with video games and weight equipment for the men fighting for our liberty.
I met Mike five years ago at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game while on my training-camp tour of NFL teams. I was at the game alone, struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, also at the game alone, and by the fifth inning I wasn't watching the game anymore. I was listening to the riveting military story of McGuire, then 34, now 39.
His company specializes in ridding the landscape of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan, so others in the military can do their job safely. If you're seen "The Hurt Locker,'' you know what Mike and his men do. They put their lives on the line for 12-hour shifts every day. "We're trained to do a job and to do it well,'' McGuire says. "We just focus on the job, not on the danger -- though we're not kidding ourselves. We know how dangerous it is.''
I talked to McGuire on Friday, the one-year anniversary of the death of a New Jersey soldier, a Cpl. Connelly, in his care. "In the last week I've been sleeping horribly,'' he said. "Subliminally, maybe I knew this day was coming. But you just have to keep going. The rush of finding something in the road and knowing you've saved lives is a great feeling.''
He's grateful to have heard from many of you over the years. "We've got a lot of pressure on us every day we're deployed,'' McGuire said. "To have the people back home think enough of us to help with some equipment to enjoy our down time is absolutely awesome.''
And thanks to "Five for Fighting,'' starting a tour tonight in Burlington, Vt. "Anything for the soldiers overseas,'' Ondrasik said. Anything -- starting with your $5 donation today. And if we get more than the money needed to help McGuire's platoon, we'll help others, hopefully scores of platoons and companies.
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