NFL Draft: A rough guide to what exactly will be going on in New York this week
A bit confused by the upcoming NFL Draft? Let us help you understand with our beginners guide.
Last Updated: 25/04/13 1:16pm
On Thursday night American time (the early hours of Friday morning for pigskin fans in Britain) the process begins in New York, with the Kansas City Chiefs getting the ball rolling, figuratively speaking.
But what's it all really about? Well, for those that aren't experienced with Drafts (don't get that confused with draughts, that's a board game for those who can't be bothered to play chess) let us break it all down for you in a Q&A session.
And don't forget you can catch the opening round of this year's Draft LIVE on Sky Sports 1 HD.
So what is the NFL Draft all about?
It's a chance for the best players from college football to get selected by NFL teams. It's not done with a random draw like pulling a ticket at the deli counter in your supermarket, though. The team with the worst record the previous season gets to go first, then the second worst follows and so on and so on. The idea is it gives the poorest franchises the best chance to improve as quickly as possible by allowing them to select the cream of the crop. Those eliminated in the play-offs slot into the order dependent on where they were knocked out during the post season, with the Super Bowl champions always last but by no means least on the list. There are seven rounds in total.
So where does this happen
Well, the 'show' takes place in New York, at the Radio City Music Hall located in Rockafeller Center. It has become a huge event, now spanning three days. This year the first round takes place on Thursday night and is aired in a prime-time evening slot on American television. Each team gets 10 minutes to make their pick. Rounds two and three, which are given time limits of seven and five minutes respectively for each pick, then follow on Friday.
There's no rest for the wicked, though, as Saturday sees rounds four to seven take place - each pick in those is allotted five minutes. Fans attend to cheer their team's picks, with much noise created when the hometown Giants and Jets are on the clock. They are less enthusiastic, however, when it's the Philadelphia Eagles' turn.
Anyone else go along?
Yeah, there's a few other people, apart from the fans. The NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces the beginning of the draft, which means immediately the clock is ticking for the first team (which this year is the Kansas City Chiefs). The commish will also come out and announce all the other first-round selections, before posing with any players who are present and waiting for their name to be called in the Green Room. Once they've been chosen, they will hug it out with their family members who have sat with them waiting, high-five their agents and then slowly make their way to the stage, on the way being equipped with their new employees' shirt and cap. It's not a great look to go with their suit and tie, but who is going to laugh at a 300lb lineman whilst he poses for pictures with Mr Goodell? No one, that's who.
The franchises are present, but not in vast numbers. Instead they create 'war rooms' at their team headquarters. There they will have vast draft boards listing all the players in the order they've graded. In the room will be the head coach and some of his staff, the scouting unit, the general manager and some of his assistants and normally the owner. They phone through each selection to their representative in New York, who then passes on a card containing the name to a league official. But they don't just sit back then and wait for another go - the phones will be buzzing with potential trades as they look to move up or down to get what they want. They'll also speak immediately to the player they picked ahead of the start of training camps.
So how do the teams know who to take?
They can watch footage of the players in action for their colleges and they will have a team of scouts to do just that. There is then the week-long scouting combine, which basically amounts to a meat market for highly-gifted athletes who are invited along to attend in Indianapolis. Those selected come along and undertake a series of skill drills as well as physical tests.
That is not all - there are medicals and also the 'Wonderlic Test', which 'assesses the aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving' (because you can always work out who is going to be the best running back by the way he solves mathematical equations). Some teams put value in the Wonderlic, others do not. Morris Claiborne managed an almighty score of four last year (the average is said to be about 20) and was duly taken sixth overall by the Dallas Cowboys. The NFL teams get the chance to meet with players for interviews at the Combine which this year took place in February.
There are regional combines for those not invited to the main event too, plus many Universities hold 'Pro Days' where their players go through their paces in front of those NFL teams who want to show up and any initially injured for the Scouting Combine get to display their skills and also prove their fitness.
So which stars do we see now in the NFL were drafted in 2012?
Last year was a quarterback special - Andrew Luck went first to the Indianapolis Colts, then Robert Griffin III was picked by the Washington Redskins after they traded up (more on that later). Both men finished their debut seasons by going to the Pro Bowl. Russell Wilson was also stellar for the Seattle Seahawks, the QB having dropped all the way to round three due to concerns over his height. Other names you know who were taken in the opening round include Miami Dolphins starter under centre Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns. Running back Doug 'The Muscle Hamster' Martin was the 31st pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and went on to rush for 1,354 yards and 11 touchdowns, while linebacker Luke Kuechly is now Carolina Panthers' defensive lynchpin after being selected ninth.
So the best players are always taken in the opening rounds?
Not necessarily, no. Sure, Luck and RG III were superb picks last year. But just because someone is taken that high doesn't mean you are certain to succeed. In 1998 the Colts had been left with a tricky decision to make over whom to take first overall - should it be Ryan Leaf, or fellow quarterback Peyton Manning. They went with the latter, and he ended up being a four-time MVP who led them to Super Bowl glory. As for Leaf, he was taken second by the San Diego Chargers and after a superb college career at Washington State, was expected to shine just like Manning. He 'looked forward to a 15-year career' after signing a deal that made him certain of making at least $11 million dollars, but barely lasted three. Likewise, golden nuggets can be dug up by teams way into the draft. Tom Brady was the 199th pick in 2000 by the New England Patriots - now he's a multi-millionaire and one of the biggest names in American sports, as well as married to a supermodel. It's a tough life, but somehow Tom gets by.
And what about this time around - can we expect another glut of starting quarterbacks to be picked?
Not likely. This is a draft that is said to have plenty of depth but lacks the star quality of last year. While no one is quite sure who the no 1 pick will end up being, it's a safe bet that it won't be a quarterback (and when I say safe bet, I mean like backing the Harlem Globetrotters to win). It is rotten luck (no pun intended) for those selecting early this year that there isn't the same quality at QB as there was 12 months ago. Instead the Kansas City Chiefs seem set to take an offensive tackle, hardly a glamour pick but someone who could be a cornerstone for their team for years to come. After that, it's anyone's guess.
But, seen as this is a quarterback-driven league nowadays, there will still be plenty of focus on the signal-callers. It is simply a case of the haves and the have nots, and the latter are desperate to jump into the other catergory. For that reason expect some quarterbacks to be taken perhaps earlier than they should be, with teams taking a risk-reward approach. This is where trading could become key - those at the bottom of the first round can expect to take some calls from those at the top of the second looking to 'get back in'. Expect a domino-like fall once the first quarterback is off the board as it becomes a scene of panic similar to what you get at a petrol station when there's a threat of a fuel strike somewhere on the continent.
Give me some names to look out for on Thursday night then...
Okay then, prepare yourself for some quite spectacular names. But to start with, one of offensive tackles Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher will be selected by the Chiefs, though headline writers everywhere hope it's defensive tackle Star Lotulelei who gets called first. Ziggy Ansah is a defensive end born in Ghana who actually wanted to play basketball at Brigham Young University, only to fail to make the team...twice. The Combine performance of Lane Johnson could make it three defensive tackles in the top 10, Dee Milliner is seen as the best cornerback and offensive guards Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper look immediate starters for some team, just don't expect either to do wonders for your jersey sales. Then there's defensive ends Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo (I told you we'd get spectacular) and the Berlin-born Bjoern Werner, to name but a few. It could end up being a defense-dominated opening round.
As for the skill positions - Geno Smith is the consensus top QB, though teams will also look at the cannon arms of Mike Glennon and Tyler Bray, the athletic EJ Manuel, the steady skills of Matt Barkley (who would have been a top 10 pick had he elected to leave USC a year ago), and the pure potential of Ryan Nassib. Wide receivers sees options aplenty - Tavon Austin, who is seen as the next Percy Harvin due to his small stature but electric speed, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter should all go in round one. Tail-backs are not so plentiful in supply, with Alabama's Eddie Lacy possibly the best of the bunch.
And then there's Manti Te'o. The linebacker has had an 'interesting' lead-up to the draft to say the least. I could explain more, but the best option is to stick his name into an internet search engine and then just read on, and on, and on.
Any home involvement? Could we see a Brit playing in the league?
Not just 'any' involvement, it seems a certainty that there will be a British player taken in the first round; Menelik Watson is an offensive tackle from Manchester who went to Florida State (because it reminded him so much of the weather back home). There are other Brits involved, as Neil Reynolds expertly explains in his blog ahead of Thursday night, with the most intriguing of the lot being Lawrence Okoye, a finalist in the discuss at the 2012 Olympics who has never played a down before in his life but has attracted interest from teams.