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Back to the good old draft days

April 27, 2011
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

There's just one day to go and I'm getting pretty antsy waiting for the NFL Draft to begin.

Some of that anticipation is actually apprehension - is this just going to be a fantasy draft where none of the players picked are going to be on the field in the fall because of an NFL work stoppage?

Federal Judge Nelson's declaration to end the lockout doesn't mean the league and players have come up with an agreement yet.

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All the crazy events of the last two days have really thrown everything up in the air - will teams be able to break out of the constraints on player movement placed on them by the league during the lockout?

Will there be a crazy buzz of activity in the 24 hours leading up to the draft, with a dizzying array of free-agent signings and player trades?

I highly doubt that, if for no other reason than teams have to see who's available, and top-notch players will want to see how far they can bid their prices up.

This takes time. And I don't mean 24 hours. More like 24 days. Maybe 24 weeks.

So the conditions this draft are conducted under really haven't changed much from when the lockout was declared null and void on Monday.

At least there are the conditions we true fans care about - what teams are drafting who for which reason?

The declaration to end the lockout has great news and entertainment value for media organizations feeding upon this story with all the speculation rampant about what's going to happen.

But again, with no real player movement taking place, the composition of NFL teams is still far from complete.

This could be a good thing.

Why? This may end up being the most "pure" draft since free agency got into full swing nearly 20 years ago.

Not including quarterbacks, players may just go for reasons of talent rather than need.

How do you know what your needs are if you don't even know who most of your key players are?

I make an exception for QBs, since a lot of lousy teams know they desperately need a decent signal caller, which should prompt a run on this year's deep, but so-so class at that position.

A few - very few - teams are set with their rosters, like the Green Bay Packers, who could start next season just fine with last year's players.

Most teams are like the Detroit Lions, who despite their four-game winning streak to end last season, having gaping holes to fill.

You can't do that just with draft picks, and you wouldn't want to anyway. I'll take a quality four-year veteran to start at cornerback over any guy coming out of college.

Then there's the teams that were train wrecks at the end of last season. The Carolina Panthers, owners of the No. 1 overall pick, are a good example.

John Fox resigned before he could get fired, meaning a new coaching regime is in place. The cupboard was nearly bare there anyway, and some of the remaining talent may not fit a new coaching philosophy, turning their roster into little more than what comes out of an expansion draft - a collection of misfits, prima donnas, once-weres and never-wases.

In other words, Carolina is the Cleveland Browns of the past 10 years.

Most teams should aim to stockpile the highest amount of talent before the free agent/trading season begins.

Teams can go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one season with big signings, as long as you've got creative "artists" working in your salary-cap department.

Though the final composition of teams won't be known this week, this draft is also more important than in past years.

Before, rosters by now were filled in with free agents and trades, making the draft something like checking out a restaurant dessert menu - you don't really need it, but if something looks good enough, aw heck, you can find room for it anyway.

This draft may have to serve teams who unexpectedly fare poorly in the free agent market.

So I'm going to watch the draft unfold from the comfort of my couch, just like the old days. Each Lions pick will be like opening a present on Christmas morning when I was a kid.

Oooh, what's in that box with the shiny red and white wrapping paper? Look, mom, it's a fire truck, er, I mean, a new 350-pound defensive end who promises to rip the head off of most of our division's quarterbacks!

Join me in just savoring the draft for what it truly is - teams adding to their roster of skilled tradesmen and players finding a place to showcase their talents.

Whether that happens in 2011 or 2012, we'll just have to wait and see.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is



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