NFL draft choices a gamble

Tuesday, April 17, 2001 at 1:00am

As the NFL draft nears, it's interesting to see the teams jockeying for position. During draft season, the stars of the game are not the players and coaches, but general managers and personnel directors. Now is when the future is on the line.

With a couple of right moves a team can jump from an 8-win season to a 12-win season. But there's always a down side because some draft picks turn out to be total flops. I don't know if there are any exact figures on draft wins/loses ... that's usually determined two or three years down the road as players develop.

It seems to me each year that about five of the first round draft picks are non-contributors. Five or six may be marginal and help to some degree, only about a dozen of them turn out to be sure fire hits.

I know the people doing the draft think they're experts, but in reality, they're like the rest of us ... a lot of it is hit and miss. The real stars are often those drafted in the late rounds or even those not drafted at all and signed as free agents.

A classic example is Titan's All Pro safety Blaine Bishop who was picked up in the 8th round. Many scouts said he was too small to play the position. Surprise, surprise.

Denver running back Terrell Davis and Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson were both mid-round picks. Many players were drafted ahead of these two and many of those are at home watching on TV now.

Of course the Titans do not have a first round draft pick because of the trade for Kevin Carter. But because of the loss of some free agents, they do pick up two compensatory draft picks. So they still have the chance to pick up some top quality players, making the right decisions. It would appear the key needs right now would be receiver, and offensive lineman, maybe a fullback, and certainly, defensive backs. Defensive back becomes critical if they lose Samari Rolle. Right now Samari is flirting with the St. Louis Rams, while the Titans try to find enough money to match the Rams' offer.

The NFL, unlike major league baseball and pro basketball do not guarantee salaries. If you sign a multimillion-dollar contract and you're cut, the money's gone, unlike baseball and basketball, where the money is yours regardless of your playing status. What is guaranteed is your signing bonus, and that's the advantage of being a top round draft pick. The first eight or nine draftees automatically become millionaires through the signing bonus.

It's interesting that the projected No. 1 pick, quarterback Michael Vick is not even expected to play this year or maybe not next year. If San Diego selects him as expected, he will be an understudy to Doug Flutie until his time comes.

In recent years, I've had pretty good success in predicting the immediate of round one in the draft. (A little bragging there, but hey, if I don't, who will?) There are three players that I absolutely love as round one projections: One is linebacker Dan Morgan of Miami. Smart and tough. Another is his teammate, wide receiver Santana Moss. Big play guy, instant stardom.

And the third is Dominic Raioly, a center from Nebraska. I've seen him up close and personal a couple of times against the University of Tennessee. I've think he's the best center prospect in the last 10 years. Right now the projection is he'll go to the Baltimore Ravens, which means Baltimore continues to do everything right.

Will Winston return

Congratulations to all concerned with the new Nashville Superspeedway. Fans attending the opening this weekend are in for a treat. It's major league in every aspect.

Now the burning question is, will Winston Cup racing ever return to Nashville? I think the answer is "yes." With the great success of pro sports, the Titans and the Predators, and the fact that Nashville is one of the most recognizable cities in America, I think NASCAR will find a way.

Couple of interesting things might be happening in NASCAR down the road: It's obvious they've now reached the limit in number of races per year, but a couple of interesting rumors have been floating for the last year or two.

One is splitting the current field of drivers and featuring two races each weekend. Another rumor is an entirely new league might be formed to compete with NASCAR. Boy, that would take guts and money, but don't rule it out.

Careful with Memphis

I sincerely hope the state of Tennessee looks long and hard into dumping a lot of money into a pro basketball arena in Memphis.

Two things. First of all, Memphis has no record of supporting any team, pro or college. And two, the NBA is a fading sport right now. Attendance and TV ratings are declining rapidly.

I think this would be a major gamble for the state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis. The one sport that Memphis might handle someday is major league baseball. There does seem to be a very good fan base for that sport in west Tennessee.

Right now, Memphis does have two terrific things going for them

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