I love this time of the year in professional football.
The starter's gun has been fired, commencing that crazy season that signals the march to the college football draft.
The last weekend in April is still 13 weeks away, but the air is rife with all manner and variety of draft talk.
The bowl games have been played. The All-Star games have been played. All the flesh merchants, a.k.a. National Football League general managers and scouts, have probed and evaluated just about everyone who is anyone on the college football panorama.
Even though the Super Bowl has yet to be played – and isn't it about time the NFL gets rid of the idiotic two weeks between the conference championship games and the big game itself? – the college draft machine grinds away in high gear.
And this is just the beginning. After Sunday, the fun downshifts into yet another gear.
'Tis the time when everyone is an expert. Everyone plays NFL general manager. Everyone knows exactly who the Browns should go after and who they should avoid.
'Tis the time when the fans actually believe Phil Savage puts on his best poker face and plays games with his NFL general manager brethren. (It's all about the perception, you know.) Like the other 31 GMs don't play the same games.
Yeah, but my guy is smarter and shrewder and sneakier than your guy. He works in more mysterious ways. Yeah, right.
'Tis the time when mock drafts spin out of control. Mocks used to be fun when maybe four or five self-anointed gurus had them. Today, the guru pool has swelled to the hundreds. It seems as though everyone has an opinion on what will happen April 28-29 in New York and has an overwhelming desire to share. Such sites now proliferate (pollute?) the Internet landscape.
Some are legitimate. Those that employ former NFL scouts and/or personnel directors can be taken seriously. But a preponderance of Web sites are run by hobbyists looking to make names for themselves. Most don't know much more than you and me.
Nonetheless, fans take this stuff seriously. Why? Because it's fun to see what others are thinking.
Scouts, GMs, personnel people and some of those gurus gathered this past weekend in Savage's hometown of Mobile to watch the Senior Bowl all-stars. The NFL Network was there to provide visual evidence of what was going down. Fans got a chance to see some of the individual workouts and then the game Saturday, which wasn't much of a game.
Every story involving Savage and/or the Browns immediately was placed under a microscope and given a whole new life on this Web site. Savage's every interview was watched or listened to almost breathlessly. Alerts to his interviews pockmarked these boards.
Fans looked for the minutest clues as to how and what Savage was thinking as he tries to pull the Browns from the morass in which they have wallowed since the return in 1999. They hung on every move he made, every word he spoke, searching for a deeper, hidden meaning.
When a Browns scout took Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith aside for a little mid-week chat, replete with visual evidence, it was big news. Huge news. Never mind the fact that maybe a dozen other teams also chatted up Smith.
The early push by some OSU zealots to see Smith wind up with his hometown team slowed to a crawl with the news that he checked in at the Senior Bowl at an even six feet tall (or was it 5-11 and 5/16) and a chunky 220 pounds. Sounds more like a running back than a quarterback.
And after the way he threw the ball against Florida in the BCS championship game and Senior Bowl, running back might wind up as Smith's best position in the NFL.
Other camps were pitched as the fans trumpeted their favorite players.
There are those who believe a feature running back is a must for the Browns and Savage would be crazy not to go after Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. The guy's a stud. So what if his career has been interrupted several times by injuries. A latter-day Lee Suggs? Hardly.
Others argue the offensive line must be addressed first and Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas cannot be passed up. But is Thomas another Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones or Tony Boselli? Or is he the next Tony Mandarich? Tackles like Ogden, Pace, Walter Jones and Boselli don't come along often.
Still others believe quarterback is the greatest need and the Browns would be much better off with Notre Dame's Brady Quinn than Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson. On the other side of that argument are those who point to Quinn's predilection to gag in big games.
What's with all these Quinn haters, fans of the Fighting Irish cried out. Quit hatin' on Quinn. He's going to be fine. Playing in the pro system under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame will make him readier for the pros than any other quarterback coming out.
In his first mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. had the Browns drafting Quinn. So there. Mel is buddies with Savage, so he must know something.
Never mind that Kiper will change his mock at least a half dozen times before the actual draft and that what he says now – or even then, for that matter – must be taken with more than just a few granules of NaCl.
The same was prophesied 11 years ago about another high profile wide receiver named Johnson. Came out of Southern California with "can't miss" splattered all over his wonderful personage.
Keyshawn Johnson was the top pick in the 1996 lottery, but didn't come even close to living up to that advanced billing. He's had a decent career, but can't miss? Can't miss what? If only they had thrown him the damn ball more often.
Now that the fun has started, gird yourselves. In a few weeks, it'll be the scouting combine in Indianapolis, where hundreds of the nation's best will be worked out, interviewed and otherwise scrutinized as the league's 32 teams prepare for the future.
Then come the individual workouts for those who choose to pass up the Indy combine. All working up to that terrific late April weekend when all the guessing stops and the GMs take over. The real GMs.
It should be fun. But don't take it too seriously. It's still a guessing game.
Always was. Always will be.