NEW YORK | Since 1936, the NFL has picked the best of college football to join the pro league. From the very first pick — Jay Berwanger, who also was the first bust, never playing a down in the NFL — to last year’s No. 1, Andrew Luck, the draft has always offered plenty of intrigue for teams and fans.
Here are 10 things to watch for during the three-day NFL draft beginning Thursday night:
COMMISSIONER HUGGY BEAR
How many hugs can Roger Goodell endure from all the burly offensive and defensive players expected to be selected in the first round? Last year, he embraced many first-round picks who took the stage and was nearly hugged into submission by the likes of Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe and Melvin Ingram.
SHOW ME A QUARTERBACK
Will any quarterbacks be taken in the first round? Possibilities include Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and EJ Manuel, but this is far from the glamour year of 2012, when QBs were huge: Luck, No. 1; Robert Griffin III, No. 2; Ryan Tannehill (No. 8); Brandon Weeden (No. 22). The last time no quarterback was taken in round one was 1996 (Tony Banks was a second-rounder, No. 42, by the Rams); the last time only one was taken was 2001 (Michael Vick, first overall) and the last time two were taken was 2010 (Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow).
Fashionistas surely will be tracking the expensive, colorful designer suits, hairstyles (think dreadlocks) and even socks of the draftees as they take the stage after being selected. (Think Griffin, the Redskins’ top pick in 2012, who wore a baby blue jacket, checkered-patterned shirt, purplish tie with horizontal stripes, and burgundy and gold socks with the words “GO CATCH YOUR DREAM.”
When that will be exactly is anyone’s guess. Some analysts have Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker Manti Te’o back to being a first-round cinch, even after a great season was marred by a poor game against Alabama followed by the hoax involving a deceased “girlfriend.” He did not perform well at the NFL combine, but did better at pro day in South Bend.
BEEFING UP EARLY
Watch for all the beef early in the first round. There’s a chance seven of the first 10 picks could be really big fellas. Among them are offensive linemen Luke Joeckel (306 pounds), Eric Fisher (306), Chance Warmack (317), Lane Johnson (303) and Jonathan Cooper (311); and defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd (297) and Ziggy Ansah (271).
WILL TIDE ROLL AGAIN IN 1ST ROUND?
A year ago, the national champions had four players picked: RB Trent Richardson (No. 3), SS Mark Barron (No. 7), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (No.17) and LB Dont’a Hightower (No. 25). National champs again, there are five that could end up as first-rounders: Warmack, cornerback Dee Milliner, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, defensive tackle Jesse Williams, and running back Eddie Lacy.
Every year, a slew of players with family ties to the NFL are draft eligible. This year is no exception, with a few dozen all-in-the-family connections. Among them are QBs Nate Montana (son of Joe Montana) and Jordan Rodgers (brother of Aaron Rodgers), Jake Ryan (son of Pat Ryan), Duron Carter (son of Cris Carter), Luke Tasker (son of Steve Tasker), Kyle Long (son of Howie Long, brother of Chris Long) and Baker Steinkuhler (son of Dean Steinkuhler).
HALL OF FAME PICKERS
A total of 32 former NFL players will be announcing second- and third-round picks for teams, including newly elected Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), Warren Sapp (Buccaneers) and Dave Robinson (Packers). Others making picks for their former teams include Deion Sanders (Falcons) and Larry Little (Dolphins).
Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
Hayden was moments from death last November after an on-field collision with a teammate tore a blood vessel off the back of his heart. He was taken to a hospital, underwent lifesaving surgery, and now could be a first-round pick. He ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at Houston’s pro day in March, and now he’ll wait to see if a team believes his talent and speed is worth the risk.
In 2011, Lattimore tore the ACL in his left knee midway through the season. He returned last year, and in October, the star running back suffered a horrific injury to his right knee against Tennessee — it was dislocated and ligaments were damaged as he was tackled. He had surgery a month later, continued rehabbing, and at South Carolina’s pro day recently he impressed NFL scouts so much they applauded after his workout. He says he’s confident he’ll be ready to play when the 2013 season starts.
As the draft draws to a close Saturday, the fun revs up with the final pick, aka Mr. Irrelevant. As they did last year, the Colts have the honor at pick No. 254. Last year, they went for Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish (Andrew Luck was the Colts’ other QB pick — at No. 1 overall). The last pick will be awarded the Lowsman (opposite of Heisman) Trophy during a weeklong celebration at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, Calif. In 2012, Harnish’s first trip to California included golf at Big Canyon Country Club, a visit to Disneyland and parties galore. The founder of Irrelevant Week is Paul Salata, a former USC and NFL receiver. The first Mr. Irrelevant was WR Kelvin Kirk in 1976.