Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Randomization: NFL Draft Edition Vol. 1

OMG Reggie Bush CHEATED!! Well, maybe not. But ESPN sure wants you to think so. So does Skip Braynless, who has gone so far as to decide on a proper punishment for Bush - just in case he's convicted of a crime that we're not even certain happened in the first place.

But if Bush is implictaed in wrongdoing, there is one punishment that wouldn't be toothless. It certainly would hurt much more than leveling some meaningless sanctions at the school he's leaving in his rearview mirror like he left so many would-be tacklers in the dust.

The idea hit me Sunday night. I pushed it on Monday morning's "Cold Pizza." And I was very happy to read Joe Schad's Monday afternoon report on that members of the Heisman Trophy Trust are "doing some soul-searching" about it.

Yes, director Rob Whalen told Schad that the trustees have discussed "revoking" Bush's Heisman Trophy.

Pathetic. Another "journalist" trying to make the news happen himself. Braynless has one job here. Give me an opinion on what has happened. Tell me whether you think Bush could possibly have had no clue what was going on. Tell me whether you think USC's coaches could have been involved in this, and what it could mean for USC's program.

But you, Sports Journalist, don't get to decide on Bush's punishment - especially when Bush may have done absolutely nothing wrong. I know we're all obsessed with convicting people on TV shows and in newspaper columns (see: "Duke Lacrosse"), but this is getting ridiculous.

More pathetic than Braynless is the behavior of Braynless' employer, ESPN. SportsCenter spent the first five minutes on Monday mindlessly speculating about Bush's draft status, as if the Houston Texans actually care that some seedy marketing dude may have arranged for a sweet house for Bush's family. I could see some actual worry if Bush had actually signed with this particular representative, but that didn't happen. Then ESPN went on to put Joe Schad on TV (which usually a mistake by itself) so Schad, like Braynless earlier in the day, could talk about the Heisman Trophy being taken away.

Maybe I'm just naive, but why would they take the Heisman away from Bush when they didn't take it away from a double-murderer (allegedly)? But maybe I'm wrong.

Don't buy the hype. Bush will be the top pick. As much as I would prefer the Texans draft someone who can actually prevent David Carr from getting killed when he drops back on third-and-eight, they're not taking D'Brickashaw Ferguson. And if they aren't going to fill their greatest need, they should take the best player on the board. The best player on the board is Bush, unless he hauls off and decks a reporter during his tour around New York City on Friday. Any discussion from the Texans about Mario Williams or anyone else is a smokescreen. The only way they won't take Bush is if they trade the pick, and I don't know how seriously the Texans will consider a trade, because I don't know that any team that has the desire to move up has the desire to pay the price for a trade or pay the price for the player they want.

Every team in the top ten of this draft wants Bush signed before the draft. In most years, teams and agents prefer to wait for the top pick to sign before they do any serious contract work of their own. That top pick sets the market for the rest of the draft, and everyone is helped a little bit when he signs before the draft. There will still be holdouts, but teams and agents at least have a basic framework to deal with. This is especially true in 2006, because the cap went up significantly, to over $100 million per team, and there will be some agents who believe that top pick guarantees should rise accordingly. I already think rookies are paid a ridiculous amount of money, so I don't believe that they need any more. But my opinion doesn't matter. The only ones that do are the Houston Texans and the agent for whoever they choose with the top pick. They will set the market in a big year for rookie draft picks.

Don't be surprised to see some big trades. I would expect that the Packers, now that they know they'll have Brett Favre around, might be willing to deal disgruntled WR Javon Walker before or during the draft. The kicker for the Packers is that it's hard to figure out the market for an ego-driven wideout who is coming off a devastating knee injury. However, this might be the time to pull the trigger. You know Favre is coming back, and while he looked terrible last year because of all the injuries around him, you also know that Favre doesn't necessarily need an elite wideout to make the offense click. This draft is short on playmaking wide receivers, so any team looking for a wideout might be willing to swing a deal for Walker. I know Ted Thompson doesn't want to make players think they can force trades when the spirit moves them, but the Packers need to deal Walker so he doesn't cause any problems. Also possibly on the block is Denver WR Ashley Lelie, whose inconsistency is driving coach Mike Shanahan nuts.

All this said, there probably won't be any big trades. Usually, when we media types start talking about big trades in the draft (i.e. "OMG wildest year ever this year; just wait and see!"), nothing happens.

This year's first-round swingers. The "swing" picks are the picks that can change the course of the first round. Every year, there are a couple teams in the top 15 that are hard to get a feel for. Who will they select? What position are they targeting? The way I see it right now, here are the key spots in the first round of the draft:

3. Tennessee --> Will the Titans take Leinart or Young, or will they try to upgrade the offensive line with Ferguson? If the Titans don't take Leinart, it could set up a frenzy later in the top ten, as someone tries to position themselves for Leinart, who could fall out of the top five on Saturday if no one makes a trade to get him.

10. Arizona --> The Cardinals have a few holes, and they might not be able to get the player they really want (Maryland TE Vernon Davis) at the tenth position. The Cardinals may target a quarterback, perhaps Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. Denny needs help at linebacker. Would he reach for Ernie Sims? (After all, Denny's certainly reached before.) Winston Justice? Jimmy Williams? No one knows for sure, and it could certainly change the course of the draft for the next ten picks.

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