The NFL draft begins tonight with the first round, continues tomorrow night with the second and third rounds, and runs until Saturday, when the final four rounds will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The Indianapolis Colts and St Louis Rams both went 2-14 last season and had the top two picks, but the Rams traded the second spot to Washington. Some things to look for in this year's draft:
At the top
The first two picks will be quarterbacks: Andrew Luck of Stanford, who will go to the Colts, followed by the Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, who is heading to the Redskins.
Luck is considered the most NFL-ready quarterback since Peyton Manning left Tennessee in 1998 for the Colts. Oddly, he will end up as Manning's replacement in Indy after the four-time MVP was released by the Colts and signed with Denver. Rarely do college quarterbacks call their own plays or have total freedom behind the centre. Luck did.
Griffin is more of a running threat than Luck and has a stronger arm. He did not play in a professional-style offence the way Luck did in college, but his skill set and intelligence make him just as attractive as Luck.
The Alabama connection
Five members of the University of Alabama's national championship team could have their names called tonight, including four from the Crimson Tide's outstanding defence.
The safety Mark Barron and the linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, the cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and the running back Trent Richardson all are highly rated. Richardson is expected to go in the first six picks.
"We want to help them develop as a football player, which means have a great career here, win a championship and see if you can play at the next level," Nick Saban, the Tide coach, said.
Alabama have eight players likely to be drafted. The others are the nose tackle Josh Chapman, the cornerback DeQuan Menzie and the wide receiver/kick returner Marquis Maze.
The first round will be packed with players who had eligibility remaining, including the top choices Luck and Griffin. Richardson, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State's wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Mississippi State's defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, all projected to go in top 10, are underclassmen.
A total of 65 underclassmen, the most ever, applied for the draft. Not all of them will get picked, but some will earn big money. Look for other non-seniors to go in the first round, such as Alabama's Hightower and Kirkpatrick, the linebackers Luke Kuechly of Boston College and Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, the defensive linemen Nick Perry of Southern California and Michael Brockers of LSU, and the Stanford guard David DeCastro.
Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive ends who pile up sacks are the glamour positions. They are not always the deepest positions in the draft.
This year, only three quarterbacks are expected to go in the opening round: Luck, Griffin and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M. The strength in this draft is at cornerback and on the defensive line.
It is possible that four cornerbacks will come off the board in the first 32 picks, beginning with Claiborne. Others to watch for at that position are Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina, Kirkpatrick and Janoris Jackson of North Alabama and Crimson Tide's Barron.
Defensive lineman probably destined to disappear in the first round are Perry, Brockers, Cox, Quinton Coples of North Carolina, Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, Kendell Reyes of Connecticut, Jerel Worthy of Michigan State, Devon Still of Penn State, and Upshaw, who can play linebacker or end.
Five players who could sneak into the first round:
Dontari Poe, the Memphis defensive tackle. At 6ft 4ins and 346 pounds, he can clog the middle by himself, but he is incredibly streaky. His workouts showed more talent than his game tapes.
Kendall Wright, the Baylor wide receiver. Experienced receiver with lots of speed and the moves to be a factor from the slot. Excels after the catch.
Cordy Glenn, the Georgia offensive guard. Started as a freshman in the SEC, which is impressive. Versatile and durable, outstanding in the run game.
Brandon Weeden, the Oklahoma State quarterback. A 28 year old who played minor league baseball before college football. Brings maturity, accuracy and NFL-calibre arm strength and size.
Shea McClellin, the Boise State linebacker. Has the size to play inside or outside, and never backs down. Could also be a factor on special teams.
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