Risky business

Here's a piece of advice for anyone out there who is feeling really smart: Write down some sports predictions and keep them handy. You'll feel like an idiot within a matter of months, guaranteed.

I was reminded of this phenomenon during some routine spring cleaning earlier today. Shuffling through a stack of index cards, I came across one marked "Don Banks, SI.com." Beneath this heading was a list of the Southeastern Conference football players he projected as first-round draft picks for 2008.

Banks, who pens the "Inside the NFL" column for Sports Illustrated's website, posted this particular projection on Jan. 24 under the heading "Mock Draft No. 1." Being a diehard SEC football fan, I made note of the players from league schools who made the list.

Since Banks is a highly respected writer, I scanned his picks to see how he had done. As I read the first few picks, I came to the conclusion he is exceptionally knowledgeable. By the time I finished, I wondered if he has someone who helps him get dressed in the morning.

In short, Banks suffered the same fate that befalls just about everyone who tries to predict what will happen in the wide world of sports. He wound up with egg on his face.

Whether it's an NFL Draft, an NCAA basketball tournament bracket or a Major League pennant race, projecting any sporting event months in advance is a risky undertaking for the average amateur. It's best to leave projecting to the professionals – guys like ... uh, Don Banks.

To his credit, Banks came out of the starting gate quite well. He pegged LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey to be the first play chosen in the 2008 NFL Draft. A lot of people thought Dorsey was the best pro prospect available, so that was a credible pick. Dorsey wound up being the fifth player selected, so Banks missed his projection by just four spots. That's very good.

Warming to the task, Banks nailed his next SEC projection. He pegged Arkansas running back Darren McFadden to go to the Oakland Raiders with Pick No. 4. That's exactly what happened. Don Banks, take a bow. You called that one four months in advance.

Things started to unravel a bit after that, however. Banks pegged Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves to be pick No. 6 in Round 1. Groves was not selected in Round 1. In fact, he wasn't chosen until the middle of Round 2, lasting until the 52nd pick overall. You missed that one by 46 spots, Don, but everyone burns the biscuits once in awhile.

Alas, Banks burned the biscuits again with his next SEC projection. He had Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson going to the Chicago Bears with pick 14 in Round 1. Unfortunately for Banks, the slow release Woodson exhibited at The Combine workouts soured most NFL scouts on him. As a result, a guy Banks projected to be among the first 20 picks barely went in the first 200. Woodson lasted until Round 6 before being chosen with pick No. 198.

Banks rallied strongly at this point, pegging Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey as pick 23. Harvey, the kind of pass-rush specialist that pro teams prize, went with selection No. 8 in Round 1. That was 15 picks earlier than projected but still in the ball park.

Banks' powers of prognostication began to fade out again, however, when he tabbed LSU receiver Early Doucet as pick No. 24. In a year when not one wideout was chosen in Round 1, Doucet wound up lasting until pick 18 in Round 3, the 71st selection overall.

Perhaps Banks should stick to projecting the draft status of Arkansas running backs. In addition to correctly forecasting Darren McFadden as the No. 4 pick, Banks came awfully close on backfield mate Felix Jones. Banks pegged Jones going to the Dallas Cowboys with pick No. 28. In fact, Jones went to the Cowboys with pick No. 22. Way to rally, Don Banks.

I'm tempted to stop here but I can't in good conscience. Banks projected one more SEC player as a Round 1 pick in that fateful Mock Draft No. 1 he posted on Jan. 24. He had LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith going to the Super Bowl champ New York Giants with pick 31.

As SEC fans probably recall, Highsmith was not taken in Round 1. Or Round 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7. The Tiger standout didn't just drop out of the draft's first round; he went into full-blown freefall.

Don Banks, sitting at his computer in late January, could not have foreseen this. Nor could anyone else in the media business.

That's why I don't try to project the NFL Draft four months in advance. And that's why I never, ever write MY predictions down on index cards.


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