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Michael Wilbon

The NFL Draft Is Anybody's Guess

By Michael Wilbon
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page D01

I hate the NFL draft. Actually, it's not the draft I hate; it's the fuss over the draft I despise. What I hate are the blatant attempts at subterfuge that are excused as gamesmanship. In any other endeavor, we'd call it lying. Mock drafts are worse than allergies as a sign of spring. I particularly hate those. And I hate that people watching this junk on TV all weekend act as if they can judge the merits of line play and therefore have some idea of which big, fat guard should be selected by whom when they haven't the slightest clue.

I certainly hate that millions of people hang on every word coming from these silly team "war rooms" even though the executives, scouts and coaches running their mouths have said so many conflicting things in the days leading up to the draft that they've forgotten in most cases even what they've told each other.

_____NFL Basics_____
Team index
NFL Section
_____Mark Maske's NFL Insider_____
Decision Time Nears for 49ers (washingtonpost.com, Apr 22, 2005)
Opinions Differ Over Strength of RB Class (washingtonpost.com, Apr 21, 2005)
49ers Shop for Discount on Top Pick (washingtonpost.com, Apr 20, 2005)

Thankfully, live NBA playoff games can rescue discerning viewers from having to watch one minute of this made-for-TV non-event, whose real value is evidence of the NFL/ESPN marketing power. Having said that, the first six to seven hours of the draft attract more than 4 million viewers while the best NBA playoff matchup tomorrow will be lucky to draw 2.5 million.

There's no sense in taking anybody at face value when it comes to the NFL draft. Reports out of Miami initially were that the Dolphins' new coach, Nick Saban, wanted to take a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick, that he was enamored with Utah's Alex Smith. But once it appeared that the 49ers, picking first, were going to take Smith and not Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Saban's tune changed entirely. Not only did he allegedly start shopping Miami's No. 2 pick, but he essentially said the draft didn't have any depth and wasn't all that great in the first place . . . Of course, there are those in South Florida who think Saban never wanted Smith in the first place and was just running that information out there to confuse the teams drafting around him.

Of course, if "confusion" is the answer, the question must be, "Where do you think the Redskins are headed in this draft?"

Have you ever seen such lunacy? Let me see if I've got this straight: Vinny Cerrato says he was misquoted on the team's own Web site? And both Dan Snyder and Joe Gibbs contradicted what Cerrato reportedly said? Calling the Redskins dysfunctional is a massive understatement. If they don't see the slapstick in this episode, they're the only ones.

The first rule of thumb when following the draft is simply, "Don't believe any denials." Of course the Redskins checked out and are interested in the Auburn quarterback, Jason Campbell. They'd better be. Patrick Ramsey is a great guy and may ultimately turn out to be a playoff quarterback. But he ain't Joe Montana, is he? And of course the Redskins ought to have checked out and be interested in Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards. The Redskins have holes to fill, particularly on offense. Gibbs, Gregg Williams and all the football people may want a cornerback. But I'd bet money out of my own pocket that Snyder would rather sneeze on a cornerback than draft him.

Snyder wants a sexy pick. He wants to make a splash because, in the absence of actually winning anything, it's the bling-bling, the sizzle, the big noise that thrills him. If it turns out the Redskins can get Edwards by dealing a couple of picks to move up, fine. But these two first-round picks, the No. 9 and No. 25, equal five picks. Didn't the Saints do something insane like that to get Ricky Williams? Tell me again how that worked out for New Orleans?

Let's review for a moment a story from yesterday's Detroit Free Press in which Edwards is quoted as saying he got a good deal at $140,000 on a new Bentley. In the same piece, Edwards talks about choosing between Callaway and Titleist for the clubs he'll need to play in all the charity golf tournaments he'll be invited to. He talks about the agents, marketing experts and financial advisors who had to have dinner to figure out how to handle all the money he's going to make. "Basically, [their job] is to make me money," he's quoted as saying. He talks about how handsome he is, how he's the best player in the draft. "I don't think there's any reason why I can't go to the NFL and dominate," he said. Well, good cornerbacks would be one reason, but I digress.

If this kid is as good as he says, why waste time drafting him? Why not just enshrine him?

Oh, and there's still the matter of the $140,000 Bentley. Is it just me, or does this remind you just a little bit of another promising receiver drafted by the Redskins who thought a whole lot of himself, who had a $140,000 car before he had caught a touchdown pass in the NFL? Does the name Michael Westbrook ring a bell? Tell me again how that worked out for the Redskins?

Personally, I'm a Mike Williams guy. I don't remember Williams dropping passes at Southern Cal. But I watch a lot of Michigan games, and as spectacular as Edwards is he also drops passes . . . seemingly a lot of them.

Maybe Braylon Edwards is the real deal and the next Randy Moss or T.O., a total stud of a receiver. But maybe he isn't. Maybe he's just a narcissist. We don't know yet. It's a draft. Gibbs doesn't know. Cerrato doesn't know. Snyder certainly doesn't know. Mel Kiper doesn't know. If folks knew, they wouldn't take Michael Westbrook and Heath Shuler with high, high picks in the draft.

Drafts are to be judged in two to three years, not Monday morning. We're not going to know whether the Redskins did the right thing in this draft right away (unless they deal five picks for one player who isn't Montana or Jerry Rice). We'll know whether they made a lot of noise or not, but not whether they drafted wisely or successfully. Let's not forget that Donovan McNabb, who has taken the Eagles to four straight NFC Championship games, was booed by the Philly fans the day he was drafted.

Luckily for me, as the first round of the draft moves into its third hour, Allen Iverson will be paying a visit to the NBA champion Pistons tomorrow afternoon, which not only will produce a more immediate result, but one I can trust a whole lot more than anything coming from a war room.

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