Wilson: Down the stretch they come

Trying to tell your wife about the NFL draft is like trying to tell a stranger about rock 'n' roll. But our new blogger, Ryan Wilson, does believe in magic. Five days and counting.

Well, we're five days away from the most anticipated, and yet maybe the most mind-numbingly boring, offseason spectacle: The NFL draft. Okay, I don't think it's boring – in fact it should probably be a recognized holiday – but try explaining to your wife why spending an entire weekend in front of the tube watching some old guys talk about a bunch of young guys is a good reason to neglect your husbandly duties back in the real world. Here's what I wrote the day after last year's draft:

"… although I really didn't follow the draft that closely in the weeks leading up to it, I spent about 40 of the 48 available hours this weekend either watching or reading about the 255 players taken in the seven rounds. I finally realized that I had a problem when I TiVo'ed rounds 4-7 just to see which players (players, mind you, I'd never seen for even a snap in college) ended up getting drafted..."

And that's part of what makes the whole weekend so much fun: To paraphrase Trent Walker, "Everybody's a big winner." Seriously, last year people couldn't shower enough praise on the Cardinals and their amazing draft class even though it's kinda hard to know how these things will turn out 45 minutes after Mr. Irrelevant sees his name crawl across the bottom of the screen.

(By the way, as far as I can tell, the only tangible benefit to being the last player drafted – other than the fact that you get to load up on a bunch of NFL team gear before you inevitably get cut – is all pomp and pageantry that goes along with winning the Lowsman Trophy. In a just world, Okalahoma quarterback Jason White would've been the last player selected in the 2005 draft making him the first person in the world to win both the Heisman and Lowsman Trophies in the same season.)

And in case you missed it, despite their award-winning draft, Arizona finished 5-11, wrapping up their seventh consecutive losing season. Same time next year, fellas? (You'll get this reference a few paragraphs from now.) Ironically enough, last year's Mr. Irrelevant, Andy Stokes, is now with the team even though he was originally drafted by the Patriots. I'm not sure if that's a good omen or not.

So yeah, all the "instant draft analysis" we'll see in the days and weeks following the draft most assuredly won't stand the test of time, but these stories are good for at least two things: It gives us something to (a) do at work, and (b) talk about while we wait for minicamp, and then training camp to get underway. One of my all-time favorite after-the-draft diatribes was penned by the Tribune-Review's Mike Prisuta. During 2004, he was so worked up after Day 1 he didn't even wait for the draft to wrap up before collecting his thoughts. There are numerous, "God, I wish I hadn't written that" passages, but this might be my favorite:

"In the days leading up to Saturday and in the minutes immediately following the No. 11 overall selection, Bill Cowher kept insisting the Steelers didn't expect to be drafting this high very often.

But in the wake of taking Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, you have to wonder if picking in the vicinity of the top 10 isn't about to become habit forming.

Same time next year, fellas?"

Now, I admit in the days leading up to the 2004 draft I was hoping the Steelers would take a cornerback, but I was under the assumption that Philip Rivers was the guy Pittsburgh was targeting. When New York thankfully thwarted those plans and Ben Roethlisberger was still available at pick 11, my mental draft board changed (especially since both DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson were already gone).

But unlike Prisuta, taking guard Shawn Andrews with that pick never even crossed my mind. For starters, the last time a guard was taken with the top 15 pick was when the Saints drafted Chris Naeole 10th overall in 1998. Furthermore, since 2000 NFL starting guards were, on average, fifth-rounders, so blowing such a high pick on a position that can be addressed after round one seems kinda silly.

I'm pretty sure Prisuta isn't quite so down on Day 1 of the 2004 draft now, two years later, but hey, if he hadn't written what he did, we wouldn't be talking about it. So at the very least, we should thank him for that.

***

So what else is going on?

… With 10 picks in the draft, this story indicates that the Steelers will be looking to trade up, just not in the first round. Sounds good to me. Moving up from 32 to say, 22 would be costly, especially since there isn't one player the organization seems to be targeting above all others in the first round. Depending on how things play out with their first pick, Pittsburgh could move up to the middle of the second round and grab a player like Joseph Addai, Maurice Drew, Daniel Bullocks or maybe even Darnell Bing.

The article also mentions that Ike Taylor's coming back (a fact known to just about everybody but to make sure, the Post-Gazette reported it as news last Friday) although progress on his new deal seems to be slow-going. Taylor and his agent are looking for a double-figure signing bonus, but the Steelers aren't quite ready to make that big of a commitment.

And perhaps more importantly, Sean Morey's not going anywhere either. (/end sarcasm)

… Speaking of special teamers, and maybe one of my favorite Steelers, here's a story on how Chidi Iwuoma suffered through one of the longest weekends of his life – the 2001 draft. He never got to hear his name called, but he hasn't forgotten the experience:

"I look at a picture of the rookie class my year in Detroit," he said. "A lot of guys that were drafted ahead of me aren't even around. They aren't even in the league anymore. And to top it off they don't have a ring. That always reassures me a lot. It keeps me motivated, especially during training camp."

Gotta love Chidi.

… Aaron Wilson has a good article on the whole NFL prospects "character issue" issue. Do you take a chance on a kid that's constantly in trouble? For me, it's pretty simple: Nope. The Steelers certainly don't have a spotless record when it comes to drafting questionable characters (think Bam Morris and Barry Foster, for example), but that doesn't mean you should tempt fate, either. Look, I understand that talking about team chemistry is like admitting you enjoy listening to Yanni, but for last year's team, chemistry was an important part of their success. Why mess with that because you have a chance to draft a guy who might have a 50/50 shot at being an above average player? I mean, Dick Vermeil took running back Lawrence Phillips with the sixth overall pick in 1996 (sixth!) even though he had already amassed a wrap sheet longer than a Barrett Brooks McDonald's drive-thru order. Yeah, how did that work out again (Lawrence Phillips, not all the Happy Meals)?

For the most part, there isn't much differentiation between 90 percent of the draft-eligible players. Yeah, there are talents like Reggie Bush and Mario Williams out there, but after that, is there another player that's so good, we should disregard any predilection they may have for taking rides in the back of patrol cars? Personally, I don't think so. Teams like the Raiders, at least historically, seem to feel otherwise. Wake me up when they have a winning season.

… It hasn't been as bad this year, but in seasons past, anybody with a microphone or a column spent a lot of time applauding the Patriots for their keen ability to draft the "right kind of players for their system." I guess it's hard to argue with a team that won three Super Bowls in four years, but honestly, who didn't raise an eyebrow when they took Logan Mankins in the first round last year, or Bethel Johnson in the second round in 2003? And when they signed Hank Poteat and Chad Scott as free agents, I just figured Bill Belichick had decided to level the playing field by putting guys out there that everybody knew were past their primes (and in Poteat's case, his prime was sometime during his junior year of college).

Well, Ed Bouchette had an interesting article in Sunday's Post-Gazette and these couple of paragraphs caught my attention:

"For example, Brandt notes that 1,280 players were selected in the past five drafts and of those, 302 have been regular starters, or 23.6 percent. 'The Steelers, over that same period, have 28 percent starters,' Brandt said. 'So they're one of the top teams as far as taking players and doing a good job.' […]

'The Steelers have done a very good job of drafting," Brandt said. "They started 16 draft choices and one free agent in the Super Bowl last year. When you do that, you've done very, very well.'"

You know, if you're a Redskins fan, you might want to pass this information along to Dan Snyder. I understand Washington won another Free Agency Super Bowl last month (their third in four years by my count – take that New England!), but I don't think you get to go to Disney World for spending the most money in March.

Okay, more draft-related silliness later in the week.


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