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NFL Draft: Nothing is ‘safe’

The National Football League can guarantee a handful of things: Training camp holdouts, Rex Ryan’s innate ability to overcompensate, overvaluing and overspending by Daniel Snyder, oblivious fan expectations in Oakland, and a few others.  The biggest thing the NFL cannot guarantee: success, particularly by that of an individual player.

Jamal Reynolds, Johnathan Sullivan, and Robert Gallery were each considered the most ‘safe’ and closest things to a guarantee pick in their respective drafts of 2001, 2002, and 2004.  It is never a good thing when Robert Gallery is the most successful NFL player on a list and very few NFL fans could tell you where or even who the other two players are.

Obvious draft day mistakes are extraordinarily difficult to sniff out and the real evidence will not rear its hideously intriguing face until years later.  Analysts can critique all they want but ultimately it is impossible to predict the dozens of variables that will surround that player over the next decade.  There were numerous scouts that gave Tom Brady no shot in the National Football League.  And there were numerous scouts that anointed Reynolds, Sullivan, and Gallery the next big things for the teams that drafted each.  There were even people that denounced the Packers for passing up on a defensive playmaker such as Luis Castillo, Mike Patterson, or Brodney Pool in 2005 in favor of ‘wasting’ their 1st Round selection on a backup quarterback in Aaron Rodgers that would potentially ride the bench for the next half dozen years.  Could the Packers have justified taking one of those three in hopes of building a Super Bowl contending team in Green Bay? Absolutely.  Could Castillo, Patterson, or Pool have become Pro Bowl players and Aaron Rodgers have gone on to become an average QB in another NFL city? Absolutely.  Quarterback is the most highly scrutinized and dependent position in all of sports, thus the easiest to dissect and painfully predict.

Further, Andrew Luck is a tremendous talent with every conceivable intangible to lead the Indianapolis Colts to gush over his future.  Is he a guarantee? Ryan Leaf was also gushed over.  JaMarcus Russell had his adamant supporters and even David Carr was expected to take the NFL by storm.  Whoops.

Not including practice squads or injured reserve there are 1,696 active players in the NFL during the regular season.  There are another 1000+ on the coaching staffs, in the front offices, and on the athletic training teams. That is a remarkably large number of moving parts on each team and a remarkably large number of variables that impact those around them.  David Carr had all the talent in the world as a rookie from Fresno State with the expansion Houston Texans as the 1st overall pick in 2002.  An expansion team’s supporting cast is not expected to be a who’s who of future Hall of Famers or even highly-prized seasoned veterans.  Confirmation: The Texans yielded an astonishing 76 sacks that year.  Whether or not this beatdown on Carr became a staple in his future production, or lack thereof, is impossible to discern but it probably made him a tad gun shy and understandably so.  If a blue chip Major League Baseball prospect is plunked every sixth AB in his rookie campaign, he may get a little antsy in the batter’s box come year two.  Because of the number of players, coaches, snaps, and in this case sacks involved each season it is virtually unfeasible to accurately predict a 22-year-old’s future as a professional football player.  But isn’t that what six figure-earning scouts are for?

Scouts are indeed employed for a reason.  They know the game.  They know the players.  And they understand what it takes to become an elite or even adequate contributor to their organization and are more often than not spot on with their guess…it’s nothing more than an educated guess.  Had the New Orleans Saints selected Marques Colston from football powerhouse Hofstra University in the 1st Round of the 2006 NFL Draft at #2 overall or even in the 2nd Round at #43 overall, those scouts would have been berated, ridiculed, and everything else in-between.  Instead the Saints selected him with the 252nd overall pick, three picks shy of becoming Mr. Irrelevant, and Colston is coming off his fifth season with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.  While there were not any elite or guarantee wide receivers that year, he was selected over 200 picks behind those glorified with monster upside and considered safe picks in Chad Jackson (who?) and Sinorice Moss. 

I could write for weeks on each of the players anointed the franchise saviors or the ones that drew ire and blank faces from ‘experts’ (Mel Kiper Jr.’s blank stare following the Raiders’ selection of Michael Mitchell was easily the most priceless in draft history) but the educated and realistic football fan should realize the NFL Draft does not guarantee success or reflect impending failure.

Bottom line: There are no guaranteed successes in the National Football League and there are no guaranteed failures.  Andrew Luck is a once in a lifetime prospect but don’t bet the farm quite yet. And finally, what are the characteristics of the main goals of parity and fan interest across the National Football League? Unpredictability and competitive balance and nothing better to fulfill those two than the NFL Draft.

By Andrew Doughty


Image: Chris Trotman/Getty Images