For the NFL fan, draft is the best football in months

4-26-07 -- Joe Thomas will be somewhere in the middle of a lake in Wisconsin when his name is called in the NFL draft. Not to worry, though, because the NFL Network plans to have a camera installed on his fishing boat to chronicle the moment for posterity.

It should be a big day for the offensive lineman, who will likely go high in the draft and become an instant millionaire.

And what better way to celebrate than trying to catch a walleye or two.

Thomas picked a good day to go fishing, because the lake should be empty. His football-loving neighbors, like millions of other Americans, will be in their armchairs for a big day in front of the TV.

Libation in hand, they'll watch clocks tick and talking heads talk.

Every 15 minutes or so, someone will go to a podium and make an announcement. A few people will cheer, others will boo.

The talking heads will spend another 15 minutes analyzing what just happened. A player will be shown smiling someplace or walking on stage to put a team hat on his head.

The talking heads will talk some more.

And to think, the late Pete Rozelle thought a fledgling network named ESPN was crazy when it came to him in 1979 and asked if it could televise the league's annual draft. Rozelle was right about most things NFL, but not he or anyone else thought the draft would grow into something so big that it takes not one, but two, networks to broadcast it.

That's what will happen this weekend when ESPN and the NFL Network pour their considerable resources into making sure we understand just why the Denver Broncos did what they did with the 86th pick in the draft.

It's a bit over the top, with cameras on boats and in team huddles, with fan forums to dissect every move. It's such good theater, though, that people like the ubiquitous Mel Kiper Jr. have actually built careers by becoming draft experts.

Not that they're always right. Most of the time they're wrong once they get past the first pick or two.

The consensus this year is that LSU's JaMarcus Russell will be the No. 1 pick by the Oakland Raiders, who are desperately in need of a quarterback who can throw the ball deep enough to keep Randy Moss interested in the game.

After that, all bets are off. The experts don't agree on who goes where, and the odds are you could throw darts at names on a board and do just as well.

One Web site even believes a monkey could pick better. Coldhardfootballfacts.com brought Bonzo the Idiot Monkey out of retirement to pick names out of a hat and match them against the so-called expert picks.

Unfortunately, the monkey isn't real and doesn't seem terribly talented. He picked LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to go second to the Detroit Lions, when most mock drafts have Bowe being picked midway through the first round.

The uncertainty of it all, of course, is what makes the draft so much fun. Last year it was worth tuning in just to see how far Matt Leinart had fallen, a role Brady Quinn reprises in this year's draft.

And it's always entertaining to see how dumb teams can look even after they spent months studying prospects, and supposedly know everything about them from what they like to eat for breakfast to who they think should win "American Idol."

Did anyone really think Mario Williams was such a dominating defensive player that Houston should pick him No. 1 last year over Reggie Bush? And although Indianapolis got it right in 1998 by picking Peyton Manning No. 1, some at the time thought San Diego got the better pick at No. 2 in Ryan Leaf.

They were celebrating in Cleveland when Tim Couch was the top pick in 1999, but Couch spent most of his time picking clumps of grass out of his face mask before the Browns finally decided they didn't want him around anymore.

Every draft has its moments, and sometimes they even make good TV moments.

A few years ago Eli Manning was picked No. 1 by the Chargers after telling the team not to pick him. He wouldn't put on a Chargers hat when called up on stage. A half hour later, he was smiling and wearing a Giants hat after it was announced the Chargers had traded him to New York.

Then there was LaVar Arrington marching up to the podium in 2000 after being made the No. 2 pick. Taking the stage with him was an entourage of about 25 people, including his barber.

"He's been cutting my hair since grammar school," Arrington explained.

With all the hours ESPN and the NFL Network have to fill this weekend, there likely will be a few good moments to remember. Even if there isn't, NFL fans are so desperate for football around this time of year that the ratings will be strong as usual.

This year they'll get an added bonus: They can watch a guy fish.


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