Revised Draft Is Long On Linemen, Not Time

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 26, 2008

The NFL unveils its new and, league officials hope, improved draft today in New York, hoping to speed its way through a set of proceedings that should include early runs on linemen, cornerbacks and running backs.

Commissioner Roger Goodell overhauled the draft format, reducing the time limit for picks in the first and second rounds, after enduring the longest first round in history last year. The draft, headquartered at Radio City Music Hall for perhaps the final time, begins three hours later than usual -- at 3 p.m. -- and only the first two rounds take place today, with the rest of the seven-round affair tomorrow.

Goodell will step to the podium this afternoon and announce an opening selection with little drama to it. The Miami Dolphins signed Michigan tackle Jake Long to a contract Tuesday to make him the first overall choice. The St. Louis Rams will be on the clock after that, readying for the first unknown pick in a draft that might lack a bit of star power but, according to talent evaluators around the league, contains more than sufficient talent.

"There is a lot of quality in the draft," Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson said this week.

The talented players are bunched most prominently on the offensive and defensive lines. The Dolphins are beginning their rebuilding at left tackle by giving Long a five-year, $57.5 million contract that includes $30 million guaranteed. There could be a half-dozen tackles taken in the opening round. But that number could be eclipsed by the number of defensive linemen taken.

"Defensive end, you're probably looking at five first-rounders and defensive tackles, maybe three," said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans.

Louisiana State defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and defensive ends Vernon Gholston of Ohio State and Chris Long of Virginia are prime candidates for the draft's early selections. Dorsey could go second overall to the Rams or perhaps to the New Orleans Saints, who are said to be interested in trading up from 10th to second. Such deals for early picks have become increasingly uncommon, however, and Peterson, whose team has the fifth and 17th overall choices, said he wasn't counting on seeing such trades.

"History tells us it won't happen," Peterson said in a telephone interview early in the week. "It's cost prohibitive for those teams that might want to move up, not only in terms of cash but also in what you have to give up. I don't think it's the way the system was intended, but it's the way it is. We're paying and guaranteeing these players a great deal of money, and nobody really wants to be drafting in the top 10. You have a chance to get a heck of a player if you're right. But if you're wrong, it's costing you a great deal."

There could be some high-profile trades involving players in the league. Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen and suspended cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones were dealt in recent days, and there has been trade speculation involving Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard and prominent wide receivers Chad Johnson of Cincinnati, Roy Williams of Detroit and Anquan Boldin of Arizona.

Cornerbacks and running backs are expected to be in demand in the opening round as well. Other significant story lines today will involve the destinations of the draft's top quarterback, Boston College's Matt Ryan, and leading tailback, Arkansas's Darren McFadden, plus the jockeying between rivals who have the sixth and seventh overall choices, the New York Jets and New England Patriots.

But in what could be the final draft based in New York for some time -- the league's contract with Radio City Music Hall is expiring, and Goodell said other cities will be considered -- the most notable feature of all could be the pace.

Teams will have 10 minutes each to make their first-round picks, down from the previous limit of 15. They'll have seven minutes to make their second-round selections, down from 10, and the same five minutes for their choices in rounds three through seven.

The league implemented changes after last year's first round lasted 6 hours 8 minutes. Eventually, the NFL might make the streamlined first round a prime-time event on a Friday. For now, league officials would be satisfied with a quicker tempo.

Teams spend months preparing for draft day, and most are ready for any scenario to unfold. But if they do make trades during the first round this time, they might have some hurrying to do.

"That 10 minutes, I know when you're waiting for somebody else to pick, it seems like it's a long time," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. "You're sitting there, and you guys watch that 10 minutes go by, and it seems like a half-hour. And that's what it seems like for us when somebody else is on the clock. [But] when it's your pick and you're on the clock, those 10 minutes seem like about 45 seconds sometimes."

Both Belichick and Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said teams were conducting more extensive trade talks before draft weekend, to be ready today if something comes up.

"For the people that are watching it on TV, it will be more exciting," Newsome said, "but I don't think it is putting any added pressure on us because all of the pre-work is already being done as far as getting ready when we go on the clock."

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