In The NFL Draft, When Is A Reach Not A Reach?

So there's this team.

They have one bruiser at running back and a generally talented team, but they are increidbly weak at wide receiver. We're talking the Falcons before Roddy White ate his spinach and started making necklaces out of cornerbacks' teeth. We're talking some primitive football team before the forward pass was even invented. We are talking about receivers so awful, my eyes are beginning to run out of my skull as I type this.

Defying all expectations, this team goes for a running back--a position where they don't even have a need!--and one who was widely believed to be a second round talent or lower. This team is widely mocked until said running back absolutely destroys the league in his rookie season and is behind one of the better years in the franchise's history. And a funny thing happened: no receivers went in the first round of the draft.

The team is the Tennessee Titans, and the year is 2008. The running back is Chris Johnson out of East Carolina. I was among the mouth-breathing draft pundits who said he was a huge reach. A year older and a little wiser, I find myself confronting a similar problem when I continually pick Virgina linebacker Clint Sintim for the Falcons with the exact same pick: good ol' #24.

I don't believe Sintim is a reach because he's clearly one of the top five linebackers in a deep class and the position is one of great need for the Falcons. Others would disagree, citing widely held "knowledge" that Sintim is a second round pick. The same could be said for Clay Matthews Jr. until recently, when he rocketed up the boards based on workouts and word of mouth. A guy's draft position can fluctuate, it seems, with little more to go on than a rumor about his drug usage or the position of Venus relative to Alpha Centauri.

My point is that nobody knows what's going to happen in the draft or how successful everyone's going to be. I'm a believer in Clint Sintim, but he could turn out to be a colossal bust. Guys like Scott Wright at Draft Countdown--whose opinion I value a lot, incidentally--think the Falcons will go for Larry English. All of us are fumbling around in the dark like T.J. Duckett during a lunar eclipse, and while it's pretty fun and entertaining to do so, we're fooling ourselves if we think we've got even a couple of the answers.

So while many of us grumble about Jared Cook being picked up in the second round of our mock or I get a couple of e-mails questioning my sanity for Sintim, the truth is that Thomas Dimitroff could pick either, both or neither of them. They could turn out to be great, average or terrible. The greatest favor we can do ourselves during this frenzied time of year is take a hard look at each prospect based solely on his merits and decide if he'd be a good fit for the Falcons, pick number be damned. And while I'll be the first guy in line to question the team picking Brandon Pettigrew with their first round pick, I'll also be the first to advocate for patience. When a team spends countless hours scouting a guy and thinks they can be an impact player, management will get their ink-stained paws on them however they can.


And that's when a reach may not be a reach, after all.

 

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