The Big Day is almost here. I'm thinking someone could make a lot of money if they had a way to accurately predict what will happen on Draft Day.
Can you imagine the big bucks NFL teams would be willing to pay for that kind of prescience? It's nonsense, of course, but mock drafts remain the rage among fans and media in building up the hype toward the actual event. Adding to this year's excitement is the new venue in Chicago, part of the NFL's plan to "spread the wealth," or the joy, or the fun and anticipation of the league's most popular single day on the calendar.
You can make an argument Opening Day in September is certainly a big day in its' own right, but the NFL has splintered the occasion into Kickoff Weekend, and the impact has been greatly lessened. Every team has an Opening Day, which means the NFL has a bunch of them. What about Super Bowl Sunday? Every team hopes to be playing that day, with global attention focused on the game and the event itself. Entire seasons and careers are focused on reaching and ultimately winning Super Bowl Sunday. That's a big day, sure.
But Draft Day? In reality, it's the biggest day of 'em all. The league has managed to splinter the best day on their calendar into three separate selection days (spreading the wealth again, right?), but Day One is the Big One. Everyone points to the same date on the calendar, and all 32 teams are involved. Every team has hope, every team has promise for a better future, and every team is a part of the buildup and excitement. Every team considers itself a winner, whether they actually make a great pick or not.
Everyone wins on Draft Day, and that's pretty hard to accomplish on any other day of the calendar, isn't it?
At least in theory, everyone wins on Draft Day. There's the infamous story of the 1982 Tampa Bay Buccaneers' draft, where they actually turned in the wrong name (Sean Farrell, who later played for the Patriots) when they wanted to select someone else (Booker Reese). It had been a communications' gaffe between the Bucs' War Room and their representative in New York, and the team tried to have the pick rescinded. The Bucs probably didn't feel like winners that day.
A guy by the name of Dan Marino was selected by the Miami Dolphins 10 picks later.
Closer to home, since Bill Belichick's arrival in Foxboro to oversee the Draft Day proceedings, it's safe to say there have been some surprises - maybe even some days where Pats' fans haven't felt like winners. Following conventional wisdom has never been a Belichick trademark...and it certainly hasn't hurt New England's competitiveness when it comes to post-season contention. When signs seem to point to a big name, or a particularly big need, Belichick has often turned into "Trader Bill" - and dealt up, down or even out of the 1st round altogether.
Did the Patriots win on these occasions? It's tough to say they didn't, when you look at the big picture of success over the past 15 seasons.
Winning Draft Day is something everyone can do. But winning the Super Bowl? That's just for a select few. So enjoy the big day, and the big moments with promise and excitement written all over them. And keep in mind, when it's all said and done, predictions are only part of an imperfect science.
My prediction? The ultimate winners are the guys left standing at the end.
Three Names for Three Needs
Far be it for me to be a wallflower on the occasion of the NFL Draft. So playing along with every other pundit on the planet, here are three names that could be available when the Patriots select at Number 32, the final pick of the 1st round. Each player potentially fulfills a particular need for next season:
Defensive Tackle - Eddie Goldman, Florida State
The reincarnation of Vince Wilfork? Perhaps. Goldman has the size, and in fact, is taller (6-4, 336 pounds) than Wilfork. He also has Wilfork-like qualities with powerful legs and a strong lower body that enables him to quickly gain leverage on his opponents. He has also lined up at end while in college, and the versatility in the trenches is something the Patriots covet on both lines of scrimmage. Other names to consider here, if available - DT's Malcolm Brown, Texas; Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma and Carl Davis, Iowa.
Cornerback - Marcus Peters, Washington
It's obviously a need for New England, with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner both leaving for richer deals. While some may consider CB the #1 need, if you improve the pressure up front, perhaps the guys in the back can do the job? Adding Peters to the mix would help, with size (6-0, 197 pounds) and obvious fluidity in his game when you watch him play. But with his dismissal from the Huskies' team last year after a confrontation with a coach, is he too much of a risk? He's also counted Seattle's Marshawn Lynch as a mentor. Ouch. Other names to consider, if available - CB's Byron Jones, UConn; Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest and Eric Rowe, Utah.
Offensive Lineman - Cameron Erving, Florida State
There is late sentiment for more offensive talent, maybe even at wide receiver. But considering the Patriots have spent quite a bit of time looking at line prospects with former Associate Head Coach and line guru Dante Scarnecchia, it would be an upset if OL wasn't a position under strong consideration at #32. Perhaps a player like Erving (6-5, 313 pounds) slips to the 2nd round or could be had later? The team will ultimately make that determination, but Erving's pedigree (played at FSU, like Bryan Stork) and versatility (plays all line positions) could make him an attractive selection. Other names to consider, if available - OL Tre Jackson, Florida State; A.J. Cann, South Carolina and La'el Collins, LSU.
Circle the dates, and then circle the wagons
Count me among the few surprised with the choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the opening opponent for September 10th. With running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount likely to miss the start of the season due to league suspensions, neither team will be at full strength to start. However, two traditional powerhouses and brand names with strong title histories - and spotlight-embracing quarterbacks - should do the trick in entertaining the TV masses.
The Patriots made out pretty well overall, with only an early Bye Date (October 4) really standing out as potentially problematic. That will put the onus on team health - and team depth - for the upcoming season, with 13 consecutive weeks to play after the week off. Playing at Dallas and at Indianapolis back-to-back after the bye should also be a big challenge.
There's a five-week stretch beginning November 15 at the New York Giants and ending December 13 at Houston that should likely determine New England's playoff seed/chances. Included in that stretch are home games with Buffalo and Philadelphia, plus another road game at Denver (Brady vs. Manning XVII).
Finally, ending the season on the road for two straight - at the New York Jets and at Miami - could also signal some trouble, especially if either (or both) of their AFC East brethren are in the playoff hunt. Week 16 (as well as Week 7) should also be special, if only for the pre-game hype when Darrelle Revis and the J-E-T-S renew the NY-NE rivalry.
Buckle up. It'll be here before you know it.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball for the past 26 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster