The 1995 draft will roll back the clock, back to a simpler time when you picked a guy because you needed him, when the "best available athlete" was someone in the Olympics and a "projection" was something for a screen. The full bite of free agency has been felt, and the harsh reality is that when you draft a player nowadays, you get only four years, five tops, out of him before he's fair game for the corporate raiders. No more projects or best available athletes. "We have to look at what we need, period," says new Seattle Seahawk coach Dennis Erickson.
"You set your board now, and the names you put up are keyed closer to need than ever before," says Pittsburgh Steeler college personnel coordinator Tom Modrak. You don't want to be left in the cold in four years."
Who will suffer? Players like Steve McNair of Alcorn State and Kerry Collins of Penn State, who are talented quarterbacks but who need time to develop. Both will probably go lower than expected. Unless some team trades up for McNair, he could fall to Minnesota in the 11th spot. Collins is much admired by Carolina, which owns the draft's first pick, but the Panthers may trade that choice if they feel they can get Collins later. Suitors will be calling Carolina until draft day to vie for the first pick and dibs on Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter.
Overall, it's a high-quality draft, "the best in seven or eight years," says Tom Boisture, the New York Giant player personnel director. The first round is the largest it has ever been, with 32 selections, because the two expansion teams, Carolina and Jacksonville, will each get an extra pick. Nonetheless, players who would have been first-rounders in previous years will drop to the second on Saturday. Here's how I see the first round going:
1. PANTHERS (or trade)
Ki-Jana Carter, RB, PENN STATE
Will someone make Carolina an attractive enough offer to give him up, or will the Panthers keep the pick and pass mi Collins?
Tony Boselli, T, USC
Highest-rated O-lineman since Anthony Munoz...well, O.K., since Tony Mandarich.
Kevin Carter, DE, FLORIDA
If Houston can't sign veteran WR Haywood Jeffires, it'll take WR Michael Westbrook instead of Carter.
Michael Westbrook, WR, COLORADO
If he's gone, will pick Ohio State's speedy Joey Galloway or UCLA's J.J. Stokes.
Reuben Brown, T. PITTSBURGH
Strictly a need pick. He's the best after Boselli.
J.J. Stokes, WR, UCLA
They need wideouts badly, but if Kevin Carter's still available, he'll be tough to pass up.