The 32 first-round picks ... with a couple of asterisks.
Over the last couple of weeks, as I prepare to stick my size 14s into Dr. Z's size-55 shoes for the second time as SI's mock drafter, I've been asking NFL people about the pool of picks. Not necessarily where the players are going, but who the 32 lucky college prospects will be. I solidified over the weekend what I'm thinking (subject to change, of course), so here are the 32 players I think have the best chance to go in the first round in 24 days:
Quarterbacks (3): Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow.
Running back (2): C.J. Spiller, Ryan Matthews.
Wide receiver (2): Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas.
Tight end (2): Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski.
Center (1): Maurkice Pouncey.
Guard (1): Mike Iupati.
Tackle (6): Russell Okung, Bryan Bulaga, Anthony Davis, Trent Williams, Charles Brown, Bruce Campbell.
End/Outside linebacker (5): Derrick Morgan, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham, Sergio Kindle, Sean Weatherspoon.
Tackle (4): Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Dan Williams, Jared Odrick.
Cornerback (3): Joe Haden, Kyle Wilson, Devin McCourty.
Safety (2): Eric Berry, Taylor Mays.
Inside/middle linebacker (1): Rolando McClain.
Most likely to fall out of the first round: T Bruce Campbell.
Most likely to be in the first round among those I didn't choose: S Earl Thomas.
Most likely to rise from obscurity on draft weekend: CB/Return man Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Indiana, Pa.)
The NFL is trying to fix the relatively unfixable with its Week 16 and 17 scheduling plans.
Roger Goodell said last week that in an effort to have fewer mail-it-in games at the end of the year, the NFL is likely to implement The Colts Plan (my words, not the league's) by scheduling only division rivalry games for Week 17. He hopes the schedule can be arranged similarly for Week 16, so that only intra-division games will be played in the last two weeks of the regular season.
It sounds good, and it's an effort, certainly. But it's not going to work. At least, it's not going to force the Colts to show up when they already have their playoff spot and seed clinched.
The Colts have had both opportunities in the last few years. In 2007, Indianapolis played AFC South rival Tennessee, fighting for a playoff spot against Cleveland, in the last week of the season. Indy had its spot clinched. The Colts pulled the plug on full effort by the starters, Tennessee won, and Cleveland simmered at Indy's cavalier attitude in a game of playoff significance. Last year, the Colts had two non-division games at the end of the season, with nothing to play for. Indy again played the starters sparingly, and lost.
The Colts simply won't play all out unless the game has significance to them. Is there more of a chance there could be a playoff significant game when it's a division game? Theoretically, yes, but with the Jags and Titans yo-yoing so often from good to non-factor in recent years, some team in the AFC South has to jump up and challenge the Colts consistently for there to be a chance of a 12-3 Colts team meeting a 12-3 division neighbor in Week 17.
Mike Tomlin is sure Darren Sharper will be playing football this year, not talking about it.
Tomlin was two years ahead of Sharper at William & Mary in the nineties, and he became a mentor of sorts to the young safety. I asked Tomlin at the league meetings if he thought Sharper would play this year, or if he'd take a TV job, tired of the beating he'd taken in his 14 NFL seasons. "I think Darren Sharper is playing football until he's not given the opportunity," Tomlin said. "It's in his DNA. It's how he's wired.''
Sharper told me last year he considered going to play for the Steelers last year before he signed with the Saints, but Tomlin said "we never headed down that road in any realistic form or fashion. We're old friends, and I like to keep my friends and business completely separated. I mean, I hosted Darren on his official visit to William & Mary. We grew up together. Sometimes that's not conducive to a healthy business relationship.''
Maybe not. I agree with Tomlin -- I think Sharper's going to play football this year. When I've talked to him before, he's struck me as being a lot like Brett Favre. He's going to play 'til he can't play any more. I look for him to sign with either the Saints or a strong contender sometime in July.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Sometimes you hit a home run in this business. Last Sept. 20 in the Boston Globe, Chris Gasper hit one long gone and hard to find in his NFL notes column. Here's what he wrote, proposing a new end to the overtime in NFL games:
"The team that gets possession first ... can only win on that possession if it scores a touchdown. If it kicks a field goal, then the other team receives the ball, and if it scores a touchdown, it wins in sudden death. If the team with the ball first doesn't score, then the second possessing team can win simply by scoring. If both teams kick field goals and the game remains tied after each has had a possession, then OT reverts to the current sudden-death format, where the first score of any kind wins. The same applies if neither team scores on its first possession. Any type of defensive score on the first overall possession of overtime also would end the game immediately.''
That, precisely, is what happened last Tuesday at the NFL meetings.
NFL Truth & Rumors