At around 1.15am UK time this Friday morning, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will take to the podium in Radio City Music Hall and announce the number 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. It is not a well kept secret that the name he announces will be Andrew Luck, a quarterback from the University of Stanford who will have the somewhat unenviable task of filling future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning's enormous shoes. Robert Griffin III, another quarterback out of Baylor, is a virtual lock to go to the Washington Redskins with the 2nd pick.
Every single player selected to go in the first round, especially the two aforementioned, will have achieved a dream and with it, a huge payday. Many come from humble backgrounds and will have been working to reach the NFL, changing their lives in the process, since a very young age. It is a life changing event, not only for those heralded players drafted in the first 3 rounds but also for those who are placed in rounds 4-7 or even yet go undrafted and get picked up by a pro team. On listening to how the prospects speak about the preparation they have undertaken to put themselves in a position to get to this stage, it is easy to appreciate how much this means to them and how much depends on it.
The draft is of huge importance to all 32 teams. A strong draft class, where the players selected develop into strong professionals can be the foundation of a franchise for years to come. On the other hand, a poor draft can leave a team reeling. An incredible amount of time and money is invested in research and scouting as no stone is left unturned as many teams look to turn their fortunes around. Those teams who had poor seasons have the opportunity to improve by selecting the most talented college football players ahead of those who had a successful year. First round picks can be described as high risk, high reward, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. Nail the pick, and you could have a franchise quarterback who will transform the team's fortunes. If so, you will be set at that position for the next decade (see Peyton Manning drafted by the Colts in 1998). If the quarterback you draft ends up being a bust, the repercussions of that failure will be felt both on the field and off it, financially.
To give an example, JaMarcus Russell was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the first overall selection of the 2007 NFL draft. The hype was huge. At 6ft6 and 260 pounds, he was considered an athletic phenomenon. Videos of him throwing a football 70 yards whilst on his knees went viral. Russell signed a 6-year $68m contract with the Raiders without having ever played a snap in the NFL. Russell has been out of football for two years after three incredibly disappointing seasons. The Raiders have had issues financially due to the failure and have been appalling on the field. There is now a rookie salary cap in place, which means that teams do not have to pay college players contracts that a superstar veteran might demand, though several million dollars will still be handed out.
Looking beyond the first round and the hype that comes with it, Friday and especially Saturday, which will see players selected in rounds 3-7, are equally intriguing. Teams will hope to find hidden gems, diamonds in the rough and aim to add depth as well as quality to their rosters. Look no further than the fabled story of 3-time Superbowl winning quarterback Tom Brady, selected in the 6th round in 2000, to demonstrate the importance of the latter, less glamorous rounds.
To us in the UK, the draft is a remarkable and foreign concept. Imagine the best university football, rugby or cricket players, playing in front of 70,000 people every week, being examined so thoroughly by scouts and experts on television, and then selected by a professional franchise in front of a live national audience of millions. However the system is one that works. Not only does it provide a great amount of revenue to the NFL as well as huge interest from fans, but also means many of the college players selected come out with bachelor degrees, a luxury that many of our sportsmen and women are not afforded. It is an efficient, intelligent and lucrative system and one that we can only dream of in this country.
Come Saturday night when the draft is complete, 253 gifted college prospects, whether it be Luck selected first overall or the player selected with the final 'Mr. Irrelevant' pick, will have achieved lifelong dreams. And there is nothing irrelevant about that.