The day is finally here. Tonight at 7 p.m. all of the analysis, evaluation and conjecture will end (temporarily) and the hopes and dreams of 32 young men will come true. It is the first round of the NFL Draft, and for fans
of everyone except the Jets it is another day of hope that your team is trending in the right direction, and for the players selected it is a lucrative stop along the way of what they hope will be a Pro Bowl career.
Unfortunately, for many of the players selected tonight, history tells us that this will be the best night of their professional careers, that they will never deserve nor receive more adulation as professional football players than they will tonight. They just don't know it yet.
I will be live-blogging the first round of the NFL Draft right here on "Hair Balls" tonight, so there are thousands of words to be typed by me later tonight. For now, I want to post a cautionary tale for fans and players as they take in the draft tonight.
Rewind to Draft Day 2007.
The Oakland Raiders hold the number one overall pick in the draft. Theoretically, this should be the easiest pick to get correct. You have every player available to you, and the players worthy of being selected this high (and paid that much) are the most thoroughly evaluated and scrutinized.The floor on a player selected first overall should be at least average in the NFL, otherwise why not just let some of your fans who watch a shit ton of football decide who to take? Why pay a general manager millions of dollars to screw it up? But I digress...
Back to 2007, the Raiders, with the first overall pick, selected LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who at that time had last been seen on a football field torching Notre Dame's (highly flammable) secondary for over 300 yards in a Sugar Bowl romp on New Year's night 2007.
We all know how that story ended for JaMarcus the football player (not well, out of the league within three years), and for JaMarcus the human being, sadly, it feels like there are going to be a few more pathetic chapters written (purple drank, anyone?).
But to fully convey the absurdity of the inexact nature of tonight's proceedings, go ahead and check out the YouTube of the telecast of the Russell selection, complete with the equally absurd Chris Berman and the ever present (and absurdly coiffed) Mel Kiper Jr. (Zapruder-style breakdown below):
Highlights of that video:
0:27 -- Chris Berman's first thing he points out about Russell is that they had just shown a highlight of him throwing 60 yards from his knees, like that's somehow a skill that is remotely applicable in the NFL. (Sadly, back when Al Davis was running things, "throws 60 yards from knees" was probably at the top of the Raiders' Russell scouting report.) Amazingly, Tom Brady has managed to succeed in the NFL without being able to heave the ball 60 yards from a kneeling position. The funny thing is that if you go to YouTube and put "JaMarcus Russell" in the search box, the pull-down menu's first two choices are "JaMarcus Russell throws on knees" and "JaMarcus Russell sacks himself." True story.
0:52 -- Kiper immediately points out that the Raiders "could have taken Calvin Johnson," and the only thing more chilling is the fact that you know the explanation for why they were right in taking Russell over Johnson is forthcoming. And here it is... 0:56 -- "...JaMarcus Russell is gonna immediately energize that Raider nation, that fan base, that football team, on the practice field, in that locker room..."
1:03 -- "...three years from now you could be looking at a guy who is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league...." (Note: This is followed up by a comparison between Russell and Brady Quinn, which is funny on so many levels, probably most of all because last year Quinn finished the season as a backup to a guy who couldn't complete 50 percent of his passes...and he was still a thousand times more desirable than JaMarcus Russell.)
1:20 -- "...his mobility is underrated**... (** nonexistent)
1:29 -- "....you're talking about a two- to three-year period once he's under center, look out because the skill level he has is certainly John Elway-like...."
Seriously, that might be one of the most epic evaluation fails by a supposed expert. Russell was clearly one of those prospects where they should have gone with the "Sean Pendergast, don't overthink it" method. My analysis back in 2007? "JaMarcus is FAT and LAZY, and generally fat and lazy guys don't make good quarterbacks." Score one for my method.
1:53 -- Berman lists all the number one overall quarterback picks going back to 1998: "1998, Peyton Manning, home run....1999, Tim Couch, not so much a home run...Michael Vick in 2001, exciting, we'll see...2002, David Carr, onto his second team....2003, Carson Palmer, we think he'll be great....2004, book's still out on Eli...2005, Alex Smith..."
2007, JaMarcus Russell....purple drank.
Several funny things about this list and Berman's analysis:
1. Peyton was coming off his first and only Super Bowl win, so it was easy then to say "home run" and move on. It would have been interesting to hear what it would have sounded like in 2006 before Peyton won a Super Bowl, if Berman would say "home run, but we're still waiting" or "can't win the big one" or something to that effect. (Most likely, Berman would have said, "Can someone get me a meatball sub?")
2. This draft took place before we knew that Michael Vick liked to kill dogs for fun. Never has a retroactive "we'll see" unfolded in more drama. Actual. Jail. Time. End of story.
3. "David Carr, onto his second team." Ouch, Texans fans.
4. "Carson Palmer, we think he'll be great..." Well then you, Berman (you and whoever else "we" was), were wrong. In fact, it's funny, the failure of Russell indirectly (but not that indirectly) led to the Raiders needing to trade two high picks for Palmer to quarterback their team (with Jason Campbell place-holding for a while).
5. I think the book is now in on Eli. He's good.
6. Ranking the number one overall quarterbacks of the 1998-2007 Era: 1. Peyton, 2. Eli, 3. Vick, 4. Palmer, 5. Smith, 6. Carr, 7. Couch, 8. Russell. If I could somehow rank Russell four millionth out of eight, I would.
2:15 -- Steve Young chimes in saying Greg Knapp (Raiders offensive coordinator at that time) thinks JaMarcus will thrive in the Raiders' "quick hit" offense. The reference to "quick hit" makes me wish, for comedy's sake, that Russell got busted for weed instead of purple drank.
The video ends with a shot of Calvin Johnson and Berman growling, "...the Lions are on the clock."
Yes, kids, there was a time where four minutes of television time went by and no one questioned a team passing on Calvin Johnson so they could take JaMarcus Russell. That's the NFL Draft.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.