By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2010; D04
The NFL draft becomes a prime-time event Thursday, and the league probably couldn't have picked a better year in which to make the move. This is a draft that is considered deep in talented players and full of intrigue, and there could be plenty of quarterback-related drama featuring Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow.
The league's three-day format for the draft has the first round being held on Thursday evening. The second and third rounds are to come Friday night and the remainder of the seven-round draft comes Saturday. Previously, the draft was held over two days and began on a Saturday.
"We look at it as a great opportunity," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at last month's annual league meeting. "The idea of being able to take it from a Saturday afternoon start to starting it in prime time on . . . Thursday night, we think is just going to expose it to a much broader audience and we've got a lot of marketing and entertaining ideas that I think we are going to implement over those three days. We think it's going to be a terrific thing for our fans. Our clubs seem to be very excited about it. Our clubs are going to take advantage in their markets by having their own draft events. We're very excited about it. We think it's going to be great for everybody."
Some of the draft's participants are taking a matter-of-fact approach to the new arrangement.
"That's what it is," New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said at his team's pre-draft news conference last week. "So we'll be there Thursday. We'll be there Friday. We'll be there Saturday."
Teams with picks early in the second round potentially could benefit from the overnight break following the opening round, giving them longer to negotiate potential trades with other clubs.
"Historically, I agree with you that there was more trade movement in a restart round," Belichick said last week. "We've already received calls relative to our second-round picks. So teams are interested in those for one reason or another, and that isn't surprising to me."
The St. Louis Rams have the top overall selection Thursday and are believed by executives throughout the league to be poised to use the choice on Bradford, the Oklahoma quarterback who has been impressive during the pre-draft evaluation process and appears to have eased concerns about his surgically repaired throwing shoulder.
The Rams lack a franchise quarterback. They released veteran Marc Bulger this offseason, and Bradford could become the centerpiece of their rebuilding effort. However, the Rams haven't given any indication at this point that they'll reach a pre-draft contract agreement with Bradford to ensure that he'll be their selection, and there remains the possibility that they could trade the pick. The Cleveland Browns have acknowledged speaking to the Rams about the possibility of trading for the top choice to select Bradford.
What seems likely is that Bradford will be the first player taken, whether it's by the Rams or a team trading for the pick.
"I think everyone dreams about being number one," Bradford said at the NFL scouting combine in February in Indianapolis. "I'm preparing for this process to show these teams all I have. But it's not up to me at the end of the day. It's up to them."
There will be additional quarterback-related intrigue even after Bradford is taken. Clausen is likely to be the second quarterback drafted, but opinion seems divided about whether the Notre Dame product will go in the top 10 or drop into the later stages of the first round.
Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships at the University of Florida, but predictions about the round in which he'll be drafted have varied widely. Some within the league suspect he could go late in the first round. Others contend he won't be taken until the third or even the fourth round. Of course, all it takes is for one team to regard a player as a first-round pick for that player to be a first-rounder.
Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma are virtually certain to be top-five choices, and some have called them the two best players available.
"They're two great football players who are going to be great in this league," Rams Coach Steve Spagnuolo said at the combine.
Defensive tackle and safety usually aren't considered premium positions on draft day. But Suh, McCoy and Tennessee safety Eric Berry all could be chosen very early.
"I think it's a very good draft," Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said at the scouting combine. "It's a very sound defensive draft at all positions."
The Washington Redskins, who have the fourth overall choice, potentially could begin a first-round run on left tackles by taking Oklahoma State's Russell Okung or Oklahoma's Trent Williams. Either player could protect the blind side of recently acquired veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb. Fellow offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga of Iowa, Anthony Davis of Rutgers and Bruce Campbell of Maryland could be taken relatively soon thereafter.
"As long as you have right-handed quarterbacks, that whole blind-side thing will be richly rewarded," said former San Francisco 49ers guard and center Randy Cross, "and rightly so. It's valid."