This year's NFL draft will be one of the deepest, most talented ever; this year's draft is deceptively shallow and won't produce many superstars; this year's draft will be a haven for teams needing quarterbacks; this year's draft will produce a plethora of trades.
Sound confusing? Well, it is.
The NFL college draft has become a cottage industry for self-proclaimed football gurus who claim to have the "inside story" on what team will choose which player. Guys with names like Norm, Hub, Paul or will get on any talk show or television station (surprising the Weather Channel hasn't given these so-called experts air time between local forecasts) to proclaim they know how the draft is going to go.
Truth is, they haven't really much of a clue, or at least not much more than the average collector or fan. Sure, it's relatively easy to tell everyone who will be the first pick in the draft, this y ear's honor goes to the new Cleveland Browns, and some will even be able to guess how the draft will progress for more than a half dozen picks.
What they don't know is how these players will fare in their NFL careers and whether they will become the stuff of which collectors can lay claim to through rookie cards, autographs or memorabilia. There are just too many variables.
For example, noted Sports Illustrated columnist Paul Zimmerman, generally regarded as one of the more respected NFL insiders, got on ESPN 16 years ago to say Miami's selection of a quarterback from the University of Pittsburgh was a "reach" (a favorite adjective come draft day). Few argued with his assessment, but it's safe to point out that when that quarterback, Dan Marino, gets inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, sometime early next century he can be laughing at Zimmerman's assessment.
Let's not pick on Zimmerman. Last year, NFL experts on those early Saturday morning cable shows and those late night syndicated radio call-in shows were saying Ryan Leaf of Washington State was a "can't miss" selection, worthy of a No. 1 pick. Leaf and fellow quarterback Peyton Manning were mentioned in the same breath.
Manning was No. 1 last year, Leaf No 2. Early in the season, Manning was throwing interceptions, Leaf looked strong. By mid-season, Leaf was benched and was more successful at throwing tantrums at reporters than passes to receivers. Manning was gradually improving although hardly making anyone think he is headed for superstardom.
It doesn't end with quarterbacks. Rashaan Salaam was a can't miss pick by the Bears a couple of years ago after his Heisman Trophy win; two years, many fumbles and injuries later, he was sent packing; the Bears fared little better with fellow running back Curtis Enis last year. Cincinnati had a sure pick in Enis' former Penn State teammate, Ki-jana Carter, but injuries have prevented him from being much of a factor in the league.
The reasons why players succeed in the NFL and become popular among collectors are as numerous as why they fail. The average length of a NFL player's career is just four years, not very much time to establish one's self. Injuries, off-the-field problems, trades, coaching changes make it a highly risky business. It is with this in mind that collectors should be more weary of investments in NFL rookies, particularly high draft choices.
This year, the talk is quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Many believe the first three picks in the April 17th draft will be signal callers. Only once before in NFL draft history, 1971, has that occurred. Tim Couch of Kentucky is rumored to be the Browns' choice with the No. 1 pick, even though he had lackluster workouts in front of scouts and comes from a Hal Mumme program in Lexington that threw on every down.
Will Cough be a superstar playing for an expansion team. Or will he fade like Ryan, giving way to diminutive Shaun King of Tulane, who at 5-foot-11 is scaring off some teams but thrilling others with his talents. What about Donovan McNabb, the Syracuse quarterback, or Dante Culpepper, who has all the tools (another draftnik favorite saying), but comes from a program (Central Florida) that played suspect opponents during his collegiate career.
The best bet is to ignore what you read and hear, especially in the days and minutes leading up to the draft. When you hear "they are scrambling in the war room,", that was a shock they didn't go this or that way, they are talking trade to move up or down, or that's the player they had on the board the entire time, laugh and know the experts don't have a real clue as to what NFL teams are thinking about. Nor do they know how the players will fare when minicamps open at the end of the month, pre-season training camps open in July or the regular season opens in September.
Play it safe, take a pass on heavy investment on this year's crop of quarterbacks, sit back and enjoy Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire hitting a home run this weekend and enjoy life on the sidelines for now.