Nonstories make up the content in between large sport seasons. When a ship as big as the NFL sails over the horizon for the offseason, media types will surf rather successfully on its wake for at least a month or two. The biggest of those waves is the completely invented (and admittedly ingenious) microeconomy of the draft.
Mel Kiper Jr. and company have created a Hanukkah for football faithful, stretching the oil of what amounts to football's human resources department meeting across damn near a month of what used to be sad, empty space. Bowling. NASCAR. Bowling combined with NASCAR. (Which doesn't exist, mostly due to the drastically reduced life expectancy resulting from bowling balls ping-ponging around a banked oval thick with 200 mph cars.)
Mel charges for his services, and uses hair gel. We take the Young Einstein route, and provide our completely unscientific services for free in helping NFL draftniks check references for players exiting the college sphere who we like, have seen play, and think stand a chance in the unpredictable, quizzical world of NFL prospecting.
We tried to stick to guys we'd seen, assessed with all of at least twenty minutes of television watching, and then judged as completely awesome and/or suitable for pro life.
First installment: the yays.
Jamarcus Russell. Quarterback in the NFL, once a proud, swashbuckling position, now consists of two important roles: not fumbling, and not dying. We promise you, collected minds of the NFL, that Jamarcus Russell most definitely will not die. He's the size of a Yeti and twice as fast, meaning that the Shawn Merrimans of the world will get some of that kinetic energy tossed unpleasantly back at them when they line up to sack him. Jamarcus has even demonstrated his readiness to absorb punishment by showing up ten pounds overweight to camp, thoughtfully protecting his titanium ribs with a fleshvest of gumbo and red beans and rice.
53 Yards after spinning twice.
He can also throw the ball seventy yards easy, isn't dumb, and will probably not wake up face first in a pool of vomit in Pac Man Jones apartment wondering why he's covered in dollar bills and shame. He fumbles like crazy and will throw brain-seizure interceptions, but put in a system where he's asked to do next to nothing (see every NFL team save the Colts) but throw slants, screens, curls, and hand the ball off, and he'll make a fine, nigh-indestructible clockwork orange of a quarterback. That's all most pro teams want anyway.
Calvin Johnson Hands. 4.35. Huge size. Work ethic doesn't properly describe his discipline, and balletic doesn't describe his ability to adjust to balls in mid-air. Character concerns: zilch. Intelligence: there. There should be something funny to type about Calvin Johnson, but aside from exaggerating his goodness and mentioning his cruel fate as the patient meatball surgeon Reggie Ball cut to ribbons at Georgia Tech, but there isn't. People love him. Pets adore him. Birds of prey respect him. Take him if you have the chance at any spot, any time.
Name a better wideout, and you are a liar, sir/madam.
Reggie Nelson Ed Reed was the last DB we remember with the ability to light an entire defense's hair on fire with his mere presence. Nelson has the same kind of demolitions expert presence: anywhere in a football game where a bomb should go off and blow up something, he's it. Ran slow at the combine, and lacks prototypical size, but coverage brains and NFL training methods (Viva Mexican pharma!) should take care of that. A workaholic for football and someone who takes great delight in hitting people and hurting them, which is something you can make a lot of money doing in the United States of America.
Allan Branch Huge and mean as fucking hell. Like maiming people mean. Like cheap-shotting, flag-earning late hit, dog-kicking, get-off-my-lawn mean. We're not saying he's dirty; just completely to the bone saturated in meanness. He's fat in the right way, eats up multiple blockers, and when given a chance likes to take smaller people, pick them up, and drive them into the ground until something perforates, snaps, pops, or does variations of all three. Hasn't wowed at the combine, but fuck that--have you seen him hit someone? It's almost not fun watching it happen. Almost.
Buster Davis. Dismissed by metrics whores at the draft as a slow midget, but reminds us of London Fletcher, the mighty mite linebacker for the Super Bowl rams. We always thought he looked like a Gamorrean Guard: short legs, disproportionately long arms, a sausagey body, and a dervish's gait. Hitting=yay! for him. Don't blow a high pick on him because you won't have to; he's terribly undervalued, though, and would at the least be a ball-cracker on special teams. He's got Patriots pick written all over him. Special bonus: FSU talent without character issues!
Samson Satele, Hawaii. Hey, he's Hawaiian and plays offensive line. We'd stock our lines with nothing but Polynesia's finest if given the option. It would give us the excuse to bring the haka to the NFL, enjoying it for a year prior to its inevitable banning by the league. Satele was a blast to watch on late night ESPN games, and has the nimble hippo-thing going on that makes offensive lineman all gushy and warm inside. Did we mention he's Hawaiian? And that his name is fucking Samson?
Brady Quinn, Notre Dame. An inevitable dynamic kicks in here: Quinn sucked/offensive line ok, or if you think Quinn can succeed, you say Quinn was fine/offensive line sucked. We fall into category two here, since Quinn was, at one point in his collegiate career, a very good quarterback. That "very good" phase ended with the Michigan game when his line was overrun by blue-clad shocktroopers (see Mr. Branch above) and Quinn spent the rest of the season running for his life and doing his best Sexy Rexy impression, going Sex Cannon whenever he felt pressure. Thus, Yakety Sax, but this time watch his line, too--they're equally deplorable.
But pro quarterbacks only have to do two things in most systems: not die, and not fumble. Quinn, who benched like an offensive lineman at the combine and is the official boi of choice for the gay college football fan, can take a hit. In fact, he can take hundreds of them at close range with running starts, if Notre Dame's offense gives any indication of his durability.
He is capable of Benny Hill follies, however, and must be trained to be the perfect robot NFL quarterbacks must become to survive. The word "Gruden" keeps popping up in association with Quinn, which would make him comfortable, we suppose. He's used to having no offensive line, a demanding, coarse boss, and a system working best when it pushes the ball through the air exactly 3. 5 yards at a time.
In short, he's got half the tools required to make it in the NFL...which in the sad state of the postmodern NFL makes him worth a pick for a team in need of a qb. But for god's sake, don't scuttle your career as a GM by taking him in the first round. No one wants to have Rick Mirer redux hanging like a stinking albatross around their professional neck.
Patrick Willis Zack Thomas with a vengeance. Willis destroyed midfield possibilities for offenses in the SEC West all year long, but we'd have drafted him after this hit alone. We dare you to find a better form tackle on a run play.
One of those players whose life story told to you in full detail would make you weep for humanity if Willis wasn't such an avowedly nice and humble guy who worked his ass off in every facet of his life at Oxford.