The thermometer in Chicago has routinely been hitting seventy degrees lately, which means only one thing: it's Mel Kiper Jr. season! Saturday is going to involve me getting about 12 hours worth of His Hairness dropping knowledge on television. I've always been as interested in the business side of sports as the actual competition on the field – my dream is to be the GM of the Bears, White Sox, and Bulls concurrently. Nothing quite satisfies both parts of my sports fanaticism as the NFL Draft.
Let's compare the NFL Draft to its Major League Baseball and NBA counterparts. The MLB Draft, which really isn't a televised event, is analogous to venture capitalism. Part of the reason that there's low interest is that baseball teams take prospects that they hope to develop into big leaguers over a number of years, but they rarely come across a guy that will help the Major League team within a year, much less right away. What this also means, however, is that the aptitude of each team's management has a significant impact on success in baseball drafts – those that have superior research and scouting skills obtain a true advantage. On the other side of the spectrum is the NBA Draft, which is akin to teams acquiring booming companies that just had their IPO. Basketball players are pretty much all known quantities to everyone, so there's very little of a scouting advantage that individual teams can obtain in most cases (this will be even more true starting this year with the one-year-out-of-high-school entry requirement). The upshot, however, is that basketball players can have an immediate impact at the highest level.
What the NFL Draft does is combine what the best aspects of the MLB and NBA Drafts: the quality of the teams' front offices have a real impact on a draft's success since even the well-known skill position players need to be analyzed closely to see if they can fit into the pro game similar to the MLB, while players at every position can provide instant help to the teams that draft them like the NBA.
More importantly, the NFL Draft is, nine times out of ten, more entertaining than the Super Bowl immediately preceding it. The U.S. Navy should just set the atomic clock to the moment that the Lions use their first round pick on a wide receiver – it's becoming more of a tradition in Detroit than playing on Thanksgiving Day. There will be shots of the Cowboys' "war room" where the faces of Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells will be melting right before your very eyes. His Hairness will be talking about the unique pancaking ability of some left tackle in the middle of the seventh round with the authority of someone speaking about his own son. Giants and Jets fans will start to boo their own teams' picks before they are even announced by Paul Tagliabue. And finally, there will be live feeds of team fan parties from across the nation. In 2003, this produced one of the five funniest moments I've ever seen on television inside or outside of sports, where ESPN went to a shot of some guy in Viking horns double-fisting beers and swearing his ass off with the vigor of a Tourette's patient after Minnesota failed to get its pick to the commissioner in time and got skipped. This was such an idiotic blunder, it practically guarantees Mike Tice a lifetime job with the New York Knicks this fall (different sports be damned – I'm convinced Tice and Isiah Thomas are soulmates).
Looking at this year's draft. Mario Williams has been getting a ton of buzz over the past week as the possible #1 draft pick, but I can't imagine the Texans doing anything other than grabbing Reggie Bush and leaving everyone else in the dust. Bush is the rare athlete that I believe can live up to the massive hype of being a once-in-a-generation running back. I don't want to sound like John Madden, but the man is the definition of "breakaway speed."
As for the Bears, we've got the #26 pick in the first round. The Bears' needs are well-known to Chicago sports fans: outside linebacker, tight end, and a speedy wideout. For now, cornerback is off that list as long as newly signed Ricky Manning Jr. stays out of jail. I'll tell you what's disturbing about this story – what the hell is a guy doing eating at Denny's the day after signing a contract for $21 million!!! I enjoy a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast as much as anyone, but if I've got $21 million and wanted to go out to eat in Los Angeles, I'd at least get an In-N-Out Burger. There's been a decent amount of speculation of the Bears taking Miami wide receiver Sinorice Moss (brother of Santana, who I rode like Zorro to fantasy football success last year) in the first round. The only problem is that he would be spotting the Mayor of Munchkinland a couple inches in a man-to-man matchup.
Of course, the most likely scenario for the Bears is that they will trade down out of the first round. I don't know if there's a study out there regarding this issue, but I'm pretty sure that the Bears hold the all-time record for Most Times a Franchise Has Traded Down in Drafts in Any Sport. History says that when the Bears are in doubt, they trade down, regardless of who the general manager is at the time. I guess it's just as well, considering first round gems such as Curtis Enis, Cade McNown, and Rashaam Salaam (I don't know what's worse: that Packer fans can throw these names at us every year around draft-time or the graphic Fox puts up on the screen during every Bears-Packers game showing how the Bears have gone through 4,581 quarterbacks since Brett Favre began his career in Green Bay – this is starting to get to Billy Goat/Bambino/Black Sox Curse proportions).
So, enjoy the NFL Draft this weekend and let's hope that the Bears fill their needs, pick the best player on the board, get some guys with upside, and fulfill every other desirable draft cliche. His Hairness awaits.