The NFL is starting to feel a draft

Kyle Scudilla

From the minute this year’s Rose Bowl ended in incredibly dramatic fashion, the 2006 NFL Draft has been a hot topic of debate on just about any sports program in the country. Now, after what has been round-the-clock draft coverage by ESPN for four months, it’s finally time for the Houston Texans to get off the clock and get this year’s festivities going.

When the Texans make that first pick, it seems pretty clear that they’ll be using it to select USC star running back Reggie Bush. Bush was a dominant force in his junior year with the Trojans, averaging 8.7 yards per carry and scoring 18 total touchdowns. Bush’s highlight-filled seasons at Southern California have drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Barry Sanders and have had NFL scouts salivating for a long time.

After Houston’s pick, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty as to what exactly will happen next, as teams have been sending mixed messages about who they’ll be picking and even where they’ll be picking, with a number of trade rumors swirling even in the final hours before the draft begins.

Analysts have a pretty good idea of who some of the top players chosen will be, but simply cannot determine what team they will suit up for in 2006 and beyond. Two other players who have dominated the draft scene since the Rose Bowl are the signal-callers of each of the top two teams, Texas’ Vince Young and USC’s Matt Leinart. Both are expected to go in the top ten, as many of the teams with high draft picks are in dire needs of quarterbacks. Young is an amazing athletic specimen, to say the least, as evidenced by his historic performance in the Longhorns’ championship victory. The Texas quarterback was brilliant during the game, completing 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards and then rushing for an additional 200 yards, not to mention three touchdowns. The third of those TDs capped a drive where Young single-handedly willed his team to victory, giving Texas the national title.

His counterpart in that game was Leinart, a smart and accurate passer with a résumé filled with winning. The quarterback’s record at USC was 37-2, a stretch that included an amazing 34-game winning streak in which the Trojans simply dominated its competition, won two national titles and earned Leinart a Heisman Trophy.

Despite the excellent credentials each of these players have, there are many who have doubts and see flaws in these and other potential first round picks that is making forecasting the draft a near impossibility. Take Leinart’s case as an example. If he entered the draft last year, he would have been the surefire overall number one pick. Now, because of Reggie Bush’s ascension to greatness, Leinart has dropped out of the top spot, and where he ends up is anyone’s guess. Tennessee had been cited as the frontrunner to get Leinart with the third pick, especially since former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow is on the Titans’ coaching staff. Now, reports are saying the Titans may favor Vince Young instead. If he’s available at four, the Jets may be interested, but have hinted at possibly acquiring a quarterback later in the draft. If that’s the case, Leinart may fall all the way to seven for the Oakland Raiders, who actually seem to favor Young as its QB choice. He may never get that far because although New Orleans was assumed to be set at quaterback with Drew Brees as its starter, late reports are saying that the Saints may want Leinart with the second pick, or may trade their spot to the Jets if they suddenly decide they want to trade up to ensure getting him before Tennessee can.

This is just one example of the many complicated scenarios that writers, including myself, are facing in trying to forecast this weekend’s draft. With all the focus going to the likes of Bush and the quarterbacks (Young, Leinart and Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler), many other players are being slightly overlooked by the public; however, they have the potential to become NFL stars in the next few seasons. NC State defensive end Mario Williams is a dominant defensive force that has been compared to a young Julius Peppers, and could go as high as number two. He is very quick for his size and can get to the quarterback like few others. Another defensive juggernaut generating buzz is Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, who scouts claim has a “nose for the ball” and a high football IQ. The best secondary prospect available this weekend is believed to be Michael Huff, the defensive back out of Texas who is characterized by his athleticism and versatility.

On the offensive side of the ball, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a big, bruising tackle from Virginia who will be looked at to be the cornerstone for some teams that are rebuilding their offensive lines. Not far behind Ferguson on the boards is tight end Vernon Davis out of Maryland, who has the speed and athletic ability of a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. He posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.38 which is excellent enough, until you consider that he weighs in at 263 pounds, and then one realizes that his athletic ability relative to his size is almost unheard of in the NFL.

These are just a few of the hundreds of names that will be called on Saturday and Sunday as their new NFL homes are finally revealed after months of speculation and rumors. With negotiations and potential trades always looming, draft day can turn out to be an absolute free-for-all. Those at home watching should just be fortunate that their jobs do not depend on all the intangible variables that go into the two-day extravaganza known as the NFL Draft.