The hype surrounding the NFL draft each year usually focuses on the glamour position -- quarterback -- and this year is no exception.
However, serious draftniks as well as savvy collectors know the real story usually lies beyond the signal caller position -- and often beyond the first two rounds.
Still, there will be the endless stories and "up close and personal" reports on the two studs of this year's draft -- Peyton Manning of Tennessee and Ryan Leaf of Washington State -- who figure to go 1-2 when the draft commences on Saturday. Interestingly, first round quarterback picks are often considered "risky" by NFL scouts who often urge the teams they represent to go after a solid lineman (like Andre Wadsworth of Florida State) or a productive linebacker (Keith Brooking of Georgia Tech). The theory here is that a good quarterback can still be found in a later first round or even a second or third round pick; it takes time -- sometimes even three or four years -- before a quarterback can develop in the NFL and teams would be better off selecting an impact player at the less glamorous positions that could help right away.
Choosing a quarterback early may please fans but for every John Elway or Drew Bledsoe who lives up to the hype of being the No. 1 pick in the draft at quarterback, there are others like Steve Bartkowski or Vinny Testaverde who never live up to that hype.
So, it will be wise to not get all that excited about the future trading card or memorabilia potential of the players taken on the first three rounds of the draft on Saturday (teams are allowed 15 minutes for each first round selection, 10 for each second and five for the remaining rounds, a ridiculously long period of time considering the number of scouting reports and mock drafts each NFL club has gone through leading up to the draft. These guys could make their selections in their sleep -- and for some chronic underachievers like the Cardinals, Rams and Saints it often appears as if they are dreaming when they make some of their picks.)
Still, there are usually hidden gems in rounds four through seven (the NFL draft is painstakingly slow and takes two days and 15-20 hours to complete something which could take about four hours time selecting a total of 210 players.
Remember, being a first round pick even if your are not a quarterback, let alone the No. 1 pick in the draft, doesn't guarantee instant stardom. Last year's No. 1 pick, Orlando Pace of Ohio State selected by St. Louis, held out during the pre-season and wasn't much of a factor. The No. 2 selection -- a real trivia question for most NFL fans outside of the Bay Area, defensive lineman Darrell Russell of USC, didn't show much for the Oakland Raiders.
In fact, you have to go all the way down to the No. 12 pick, running back Warrick Dunn of Florida State, to find a serious impact player. Dunn helped the Tampa Bay Bucs become a playoff team. Other lesser known first round picks had good seasons, defensive end Kenny Holmes of Tennessee, running back Antowain Smith of Buffalo and wide receiver Rae Carruth of Carolina but they were hardly the type of rookies that drummed up much attention outside of their respective NFL cities.
That's the way it does in the NFL. The real stars, even at quarterback, aren't always top round selections. As sophisticated as scouting combines are in the NFL, they can't guarantee a trip to Canton, Ohio, and the Hall of Fame for outstanding collegiate stars. Unlike basketball, few top draft choices turn in to overnight sensations and get picks for collectors; the sophistication of pro football almost dictates that a player be in the league for several years before he reaches the kind of stardom that makes collectors take a serious look at the player.
Take last year's Super Bowl MVP, Terrell Davis. He lasted until the sixth round of the 1995 draft and now is on the verge of superstardom with the defending world champion Denver Broncos. On that same team, receiver Shannon Sharpe, wasn't taken until the seventh round in the 1990 draft. You would have thought with his brother, Sterling, scouts would have figured out the rich blood lines in the family but nearly 180 players were selected that year before Sharpe was picked up.
The list goes on. Karim Abdul-Jabbar was a high-profile running back out of UCLA -- his name alone made him instantly recognizable to most -- but he lasted until the third round before being snared by the Miami Dolphins. He's now their feature running back. Similarly Curtis Martin, who bolted the Patriots to return to Bill Parcells and the Jets in the most publicized off-season NFL move, wasn't taken until the third round in 1995's draft out of the University of Pittsburgh.
While all of the attention -- and money -- was paid to quarterback Neil O'Donnell for Parcells' Jets club -- it wound up being a seventh round draft choice, Boston College quarterback Glenn Foley, whom the coach turned to at crunch time last year . Speaking of quarterbacks, the recently-retired Stan Humphries, spent 10 productive years in the NFL after being only a sixth-round selection by the Washington Redskins a decade ago. Eric Crammer was benched last year in favor of former first-round pick Rick Miler for the Bears last year, eventually won the job back but only after the Bears had gotten off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. Crammer was originally an undrafted free agent by Detroit.
The sleepers usually come from some of the smaller schools, even some Division II or III institutions. Remember, the all-time leading rusher in NFL history didn't come from the Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC or ACC. Walter Payton toiled for Jackson State -- but at least "sweetness" was a first- round pick.