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Madden: Time to speculate about the draft

Saturday, April 26, 2003

In his mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects California quarterback Kyle Boller going 10th overall to the Baltimore Ravens.

In an addendum to his mock draft, Kiper calls Boller the "most overrated player in the draft."

Well, Mel, if that's so ... why don't you project Boller going a little lower?

Therein lies the art of being a paid professional draftnik. Kiper is giving himself two ways to be right and no way to be wrong. If Boller goes high, Kiper can match that up with his mock draft. If Boller drops, Kiper can say, "See? I told you he was overrated."

The best part of being a draftnik is that there is zero accountability. The slate gets wiped clean the day after the draft, and it's time to starting looking ahead to next year. It's all about speculation.

None of this is meant to be an insult. Kiper, Ourlads Scouting Service and the late Joel Buschbaum have turned analyzing the NFL draft into a lucrative cottage industry. The only other way Kiper could get on television would be as an extra on "The Sopranos."

The science of being a draftnik is so wonderfully inexact. It's based on a lot of conversation and not much seeing. NFL scouts analyze the video, and draftniks analyze what NFL scouts tell them.

Do you think the NFL draft ultimately mirrors Kiper's mock draft because Kiper has made all this in-depth analysis of each player's skill? Absolutely not. It's because Kiper's sources tell him what team is going to pick which player. He's predicting the draft, not rating the talent. That's why he has Boller going No. 10 despite being "overrated."

Draftniks are quirky. Then again, the draft is quirky.

Larry Johnson Jr. might well go lower than he should because past Penn State running backs have done poorly. The sins of Curtis Enis and Ki-Jana Carter will be visited upon Johnson, which is absurd.

Rex Grossman will likely be selected near the end of the first round. When he gets picked, pundits will blather about the failures of Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and any of the other Florida quarterbacks who have stiffed in the pros. At some point, they likely will get around to mentioning the key difference between Grossman and those losers: A strong arm.

Texas quarterback Chris Simms might go higher than he should because he's the son of Phil Simms, Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the New York Giants. Bloodlines mean a lot. It's like horse racing. It wouldn't surprise me if a few scouts yanked aside Chris Simms' lips and checked his gums.

I would hesitate to draft Southern Cal back Justin Fargas, and not because he once had a severely broken leg that required three surgeries and assorted metal work. Once again, it's bloodlines. Fargas is the son of actor Antonio Fargas, who played Huggy Bear on "Starsky and Hutch." What if Fargas is in the middle of a great rookie season but gets busted for procuring?

When Auburn tight end Robert Johnson gets drafted, someone will say his career is at a crossroads. If necessary, that person will be me.

Draft day scenarios have been racing through the minds of Steelers fans. I would like to see the Steelers take Grossman, described by some -- well, me -- as the next Brett Favre. Hey, if that's not true, why does Green Bay want him? The expiration date on Tommy Maddox is sooner, not later. You don't hear about any gurney race promotions involving Grossman.

The Steelers, however, are more likely to get Southern Cal safety Troy Polamalu, who is described as being very effective in the box, i.e., against the run. Fine, but don't the Steelers need a cover safety? Polamalu sounds like the Polynesian Lee Flowers.

Wouldn't it be great if a first-round pick dropped dead on his way to the podium? Well, OK, maybe not great, but wouldn't it be interesting? Would the NFL give the team with the dead guy another pick or would it be a case of let the buyer beware? Would the team with the next choice after the dead guy get extra time on the clock while the body was carted off? If not, what if the subsequent pick blew out his knee on his way to the podium when he tried to hurdle the dead guy?

What if a first-round pick went to the podium and starting speaking out against the war? He would be banished from the Pro Football Hall of Fame before he ever played a down for money. He would probably get to make a movie with Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, though.

I just hope the Steelers draft a quarterback in the first round. Then the first-string quarterback will be getting third-string money while the third-string quarterback gets first-string money. The minute Maddox falters, the yinzers will start screaming, "Put the kid in! Why are we paying him all this money?" like it was their money and not Dan Rooney's.

Ah, the twisted dreams of a talk-show host.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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