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Tips for the NFL Draft

Nat Coombs
April 21, 2010
Will Tim Tebow be jumping for joy after the draft? © Getty Images
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The NFL comes back into focus with the 2010 Draft and it is sure to be as eagerly anticipated as ever. This year it takes place over three days and is live on ESPN UK and you can get a handle on events with our guide, penned by Nat Coombs.

The NFL is routinely described as one of the fairest sporting leagues in the world, primarily for two reasons. The salary cap, which limits teams to a maximum collective salary for its roster of players, prevents Roman Abramovich-style big bucks creating a top-heavy league of franchises dominated by billionaires, buying all the top talent.

The other catalyst for its relative parity is the annual player Draft, where the best prospects graduating from College become available for selection to the Pros. But instead of being decided by a random lottery system - like the NBA or NHL - or on the basis of who can offer them the most money, players are selected on a "Worst to First" basis, so the team in possession of the weakest playing record from the previous season gets the first overall pick.

There are seven rounds in all, and with all the dealing, second-guessing and "didn't see that coming" shocks, the Draft usually makes for compulsive viewing and these are the top tips to watch out for.

Who gets chosen No. 1 overall?
With huge salaries expected by the top picks, there's more pressure than ever for teams to get it right when selecting in the first round. When you're picking first, triple that. Last year, Lions QB Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 overall pick and it cost Detroit at least £41.7 million and could reach up to £78 million. The Rams are in the hot seat this year, and having passed on both Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and Stafford, will be feeling the pressure to pick a QB - most likely Sam Bradford from Oklahoma.

Who will the Raiders pick?
Oakland's ageing head honcho Al Davis is as eccentric as they come in the NFL and there's nothing he loves more than shocking everyone with his totally unorthodox Draft picks. Al loves? Speedsters, freakish physical specimens, and more speedsters. Al hates? Conventional wisdom or what the experts think. So the fact that most people think he'll go for Maryland's Bruce Campbell means pretty much next to nothing, frankly.

Oakland Raiders head coach Al Davis could pull a rabbit ouf of a hat © Getty Images
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Checking out the sleeper picks
Just as many highly touted players flatter to deceive, plenty of future stars go well under the radar. Take New England Patriots star QB Tom Brady, who was the 199th pick of the 2000 Draft. He's gone on to win three Super Bowl rings. And bag a Supermodel wife. Talk about overachiever. Or Miles Austin, the Dallas Cowboys receiver who clocked up 1320 yards last season, and earned a place at the Pro Bowl. He wasn't even drafted - commonly known as an Undrafted Free Agent - and you can be sure that plenty of stars of the future will go in the low rounds this weekend, or not at all. So despite all the hype surrounding the opening night and early rounds, hang in there and note down the later picks that your team selects.

Guessing who will be a Draft bust
Forget not fulfilling their ultimate potential, the stats show that some of the Top 32 first-round picks won't even be playing in the NFL in three years' time. Despite rigorous appraisals, hours and hours of game tape consumed and an expansive scouting process, the front office (the unit responsible for player personnel) often gets it wrong, and blows the bank on a player that never quite cuts it, also known as a bust. Some positions are riskier than others. You can move an offensive tackle to other places on the offensive line if he doesn't work out in his preferred position. But it's somewhat harder to rethink what a quarterback can do if he doesn't work out.

The wheeling and dealing
Okay, so using the term "War Room" may be a tad extreme, but the bases for each of the 32 NFL teams during the Draft are usually a hotbed of deal making and frantic phone calls, with both potential recruits and rival teams. Franchises routinely trade up and down the Draft board depending on which player they want - or think they can get - depending on the teams selecting before them, and depending on the needs of a roster. Certain front offices stockpile mid-round Draft picks in exchange for a better position at the front of the Draft.

This year, it's worth checking out the movements of the Philadelphia Eagles. They who hold the 24th overall pick but like safety Eric Berry who is projected to go in the Top Ten, the noise around QB Jimmy Clausen who may provoke an 11th-hour deal and exactly what happens with fellow QB Tim Tebow, one of the all-time great College players, who has divided opinion about whether he has the attributes to make it as a pro.

Rest assured, there's method to the unravelling madness you'll see unfurl, when the Draft gets underway.

Nat Coombs is a broadcaster & writer. Follow him on Twitter @natcoombs.

The 2010 NFL Draft is live on ESPN UK at 12.30am on Friday morning. You can ensure the action is right in your living room by clicking here for subscription details

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