by user Sign arenas

Thank god for the NFL. As America's other major sports continue their downward moral and ethical spiral, football arrives just in time to save us. In the past week alone, 5 Giants were ejected from a single game; Keith Hernandez set the Women's Lib movement back 50 years; and NBA players were suspended from the playoffs for clubbing opponents in the head, throwing mouthpieces at referees, and arguing with coaches over playing time. But just when you were ready to give up on sports for good, the NFL Draft arrives. Suddenly it's Saturday morning, Mel Kiper is staring you in the face, and all is right with the world. Just in case you haven't adequately prepared for this weekend's festivities, here is a quick rundown of where you can expect the big names and familiar faces to end up:

1) Houston Texans - Reggie Bush, running back (USC)

We've reached the final days leading up to the draft, so you can't believe much of what you read anymore. People will say anything as draft day nears, seemingly just to hear themselves say it. And so we're subjected to stories about how the Texans may take Mario Williams first overall, or how Houston will play hardball in contract negotiations with their top pick. Don't believe a word of it. Reggie Bush will be the number one pick and will become a Houston Texan, which also means he'll join the franchise with the worst name in the history of sports. Don't think that just because a few years have passed, people will somehow forget how ridiculous that name is. When the apocalypse comes, Houston is going first, and no explanation will be necessary. We'll all know why.

As for Bush's NFL chances before said apocalypse hits, no one really knows what kind of impact he'll have. Bush is often compared to some of the NFL's all-time great running backs, players like Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders, and Gale Sayers. The same Faulk, Sanders, and Sayers who combined to go 101-126-3 in their first 5 seasons. But Reggie Bush is a winner, they say. Reggie Bush looks pretty when he runs. Reggie Bush is Special. Well, Super Bowl trophies are pretty special too, and only 4 times in the past 20 years has a team won a Super Bowl with a running back they drafted in the 1st round.

The only collegiate player I can think of who compares to Bush is Peter Warrick. People forget this now, but Warrick was electricity personified at Florida State, and he was well on his way to a Bush-type season before his shopping mall fiasco. I don't think Bush will suffer a fate to Warrick's, but I also don't think he'll be a savior. In fact, I don't even think he's the right pick for the Texans. But Houston can't afford not to take Bush, so they'll have to watch as their best option in this year's draft is selected second.

2) New Orleans Saints - Mario Williams, defensive end (North Carolina State)

Mario Williams is proof that karma is alive and well. New Orleans may not be back to caring about football yet (if they ever did), but when they're ready, they'll have a good team waiting for them. Signing Drew Brees was the best move made by any team this offseason, and Mario Williams may be the best player drafted by any team this offseason. He'll need a better nickname than "Super Mario", but Williams is by far the best defensive player in this year's draft, and New Orleans desperately needs the help.

Between overanxious columnists and the Texans' smokescreen, Williams' legend has grown considerably in the past two weeks. Thanks to a late growth spurt, Mario now measures 7'9" and runs a 2.4 40-yard dash, though he'll likely be even faster playing his home games on artificial turf. Coming from someone who majored in MarioKart, those numbers sound more like Bowser than Super Mario.

3) Tennessee Titans - Vince Young, quarterback (Texas)

Hands down, the scariest player in the draft. Scariest, meaning you're afraid he'll be a bust if your team drafts him. Scariest, meaning you're terrified if he's leading a late drive against your team in a close game. Scariest, meaning no one has the slightest idea what to expect from Vince Young once he gets to the pros.

We do know that Vince Young is a winner. He proved that by leading his team to two straight Rose Bowl victories, the second of which made him a college football legend. But we also know that Vince Young is a runner, and running quarterbacks don't get you very far in the NFL. So how do you balance his ability to win big games with his less-than-ideal style of play? After all, Tommie Frazier won a lot of big games in college, too. The answer: send him to the Titans.

Years ago, back when they were the Houston Oilers, the Titans drafted a scrambling quarterback third overall and built their franchise around him. Thousands of injuries later, the Steve McNair Era has finally come to an end in Tennessee, and the Titans are in the market for his replacement. Well, who better to replace McNair than McNair 2.0? The Titans have already shown their willingness to be patient with young quarterbacks, and with young players in general- the team's average age last season was 12.4. Young has also privately expressed a desire to continue wearing an all-white helmet, so this looks like a match made in heaven.

4) New York Jets - Matt Leinart, quarterback (USC)

If you've made the mistake of taking anything in this column seriously so far, keep this in mind: I picked the Jets to play in the Super Bowl last year. Instead, the J-E-T-S Jets-Jets-Jets went 4-12 and completely fell apart as a franchise. Changes were made, jobs were lost, and eventually there was a regime change in the Big Apple. And if there's one thing all new regimes love, it's their very own, brand new quarterback.

Lucky for the Jets, this is a deep draft for quarterbacks. And even luckier for everyone involved, one of those quarterbacks is USC's Matt Leinart. Leinart seems destined to play in a big market, having spent the last three years as Prince of Los Angeles. But Leinart is a professional now, and he'll have to adjust his lifestyle accordingly. Hanging out with Nick Lachey and dating Jessica Simpson's best friend was cute in college, but that won't fly in the NFL. Leinart will have to step his game up, which means hanging out with people like Justin Timberlake and dating the best friend of a more mature pop star, like Christina Aguilera or Mandy Moore.

Had Leinart stayed with Jessica's light-headed twin, it could have made for the single greatest reality TV show of all-time. There would be nothing more entertaining than watching Nick or Jessica stop by for a visit and pretend not to care what the other one was up to. Jessica would pretend not to notice all the lingerie left on the floor in Nick's guest room, and Nick would act as though he didn't notice all the signed Maroon 5 memorabilia throughout the house. The show could have been called "Newlyweds 2: Why You Should Never Marry Someone Famous".

Leinart has been a media monster for over a year, so there isn't much about him that people don't know by now. But what does seem to go unnoticed is that he is in line to become the best left-handed quarterback since Steve Young retired, which means more than you think. Lefties everywhere are very quietly placing great hopes and expectations on Leinart's shoulders, all the while remaining careful not to let right-handed people catch on to their plans for world domination. If you look closely, you can spot lefties carefully cutting out Leinart's newspaper clippings using their funny scissors. At the same time, left-handed schoolchildren are drawing pictures of Leinart in their textbooks as they squirm awkwardly in their right-handed desks, which were designed by vile school boards to assimilate children into a nation of right-handed sheeple.

There's a lefty revolution coming, and Leinart is the catalyst. Just don't forget I warned you.

5) Green Bay Packers - D'Brickashaw Ferguson, tackle (Virginia)

In nearly any other draft, D'Brickashaw Ferguson would be a top two pick. Franchise tackles are worth their weight in gold in the NFL, and yet somehow Ferguson is almost guaranteed to slide out of the top three. Green Bay would love to take Ferguson here, for several reasons. First of all, he's good- Ferguson might be the best player in the draft. Second, and more importantly, Brett Favre is coming back for another season of fun in Green Bay. As a lifelong 49ers fan who was tortured by Favre in the mid-90's, part of me enjoys watching Green Bay suffer through the decline of their franchise player (and in turn, their franchise). But as a football fan, it's tough to watch Favre continue to hold the Packers hostage, because no one in Green Bay can stand up to Favre and tell him that the team is better off without him. But this is the price you pay when you start naming streets after someone while they're still in uniform.

With Favre back in the fold, the Packers are forced to put off their plans for a complete rebuild and must instead put forth a weak attempt to compete now. This explains the $10 million first-year salary handed out to Charles Woodson this week. But it also affects Green Bay's draft. The Packers will draft an offensive player to help Favre's cause, and the two best candidates for the job are Ferguson and Vernon Davis. And with 49ers fans salivating over the thought of Davis in red and gold, taking the Maryland tight end with the fifth pick would be a fitting conclusion to Favre's legacy, one last way of sticking it to the team he has tormented for so many years.

Ferguson is the smart pick here, but I'm prepared for Green Bay to take Davis- which means I'm prepared to hate Brett Favre again. Favre entered the "likeable, harmless veteran" stage years ago, and he's been so bad lately that he's been impossible to hate. However, the very thought of being able to dislike him again warms my heart. Even with the Niners and Packers firmly entrenched as dungeon dwellers, it just doesn't feel right to be on friendly terms.

6) San Francisco 49ers - Vernon Davis, tight end (Maryland)

I can hear the groans now. Tight end is a position for big, slow white guys. Players like Brent Jones and Todd Heap, guys just begging to get lit up over the middle. Well, for every team picking sixth or later in this year's draft, tight end is the position of interest. More specifically, Vernon Davis is the player of interest, because of what he can do at the tight end position.

Davis is the hottest player in this year's draft, tight end size combined with the speed of a wide receiver. Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Jeremy Shockey are redefining the tight end position in the NFL, and Davis is considered a better prospect than all of them. Vernon Davis is the kind of player you create in a video game, adding 50 pounds to a receiver without changing his 40 time. There are rumors that he may have been the last animal to escape from the Island of Dr. Moreau, a cheetah-gorilla hybrid who somehow managed to learn to catch passes. Physically, the players most similar to Vernon Davis are Terrell Owens and David Boston, who represent the best- and worst-case scenario for what Davis could become. He didn't play for a national powerhouse, but Davis' highlight film does contain plays that make the dodgeball scene in "Billy Madison" seem fair by comparison.

And yes, that sound you hear is Alex Smith threatening to retire if the 49ers don't draft Vernon Davis.

7) Oakland Raiders - A.J. Hawk, linebacker (Ohio State)

This isn't even fair. His name is A.J. Hawk. He's a linebacker from Ohio State. He leads the world in tackles. How could he play for anyone but the Raiders? If Hawk had even one alcohol-related arreste, Paul Tagliabue would strip the Raiders of their first-round pick, and simply assign Hawk to Oakland to save everyone time.

8) Buffalo Bills - Winston Justice, tackle (USC)

The eighth pick in the draft belongs to the Buffalo Bills, maybe the hardest team in the top 10 to figure out. Buffalo is just beginning to rebuild under Marv Levy (who doesn't look a day over 98), and they have needs virtually everywhere on the field. It's still too early for them to admit their mistake in draft J.P. Losman, which is too bad considering how many quarterbacks are available near the top of this year's draft. The Bills need defensive backs and both offensive and defensive linemen, but your guess is as good as mine here. I'll go with Justice, if only because he'll provide the most help for Losman, who looked positively Boller-esque last season.

9) Detroit Lions - Michael Huff, safety (Texas)

Prediction time: In the days leading up to the NFL and NBA drafts, which will be heard more often: jokes about Rudy Gay's last name, or jokes about the Detroit Lions drafting another wide receiver? My vote is Detroit by a nose, which means Matt Millen is in for a long weekend. Millen took a beating in the press last season, and by December he showed up to games looking like he'd eaten a pack of cigarettes.

Well, Matty, you can take a load off. There are no wide receivers the Lions can even consider picking this high, which leaves Detroit free to take the best available defensive player. That player figures to be Michael Huff, who grows more likeable by the day. Not only does Huff have a great nickname ("The Hitman"), he also proclaimed that his first big NFL purchase would IHOP. Not an iPod, mind you, an IHOP.

Once they come into serious money, most NFL rookies buy a house for their mom or a fancy car or a gold-plated driveway. But not Michael Huff. He wants to own an IHOP so that he can eat pancakes every day at his own restaurant, carbs be damned. When you hear coaches and announcers talk about "intangibles", this is what they're talking about. Michael could just as easily purchase a Krispy Kreme, but he's keeping it old-school and opting for a greasy diner, which is also much healthier for a professional athlete.

This is the kind of person you build a team around.

10) Arizona Cardinals - Jay Cutler, quarterback (Vanderbilt)

If you're a casual fan, and you've ever wondered what it is that makes Mel Kiper so special, the answer to your question lies in the tenth pick. Jay Cutler went to Vanderbilt, which means even his own mother has never seen him play. But Mel Kiper has seen him play. Plenty of times. By the time you read this, Mel Kiper will know Jay Cutler's shoe size, favorite Gatorade flavor, and whether he breathes through his mouth when he sleeps. Mel Kiper knows the things that no one else knows, and he knows them about everyone. It's why he can say with complete confidence that some schlub from Eastern Montana State is a steal in Round 3, and why a quarterback from Humboldt University of Ceramics will make an excellent undrafted free agent.

It's not only amazing to watch Mel Kiper work, it's contagious. As the draft approaches, you start to see Mel Kiper everywhere. Mel Kiper is standing outside your car window, explaining that he pulled you over for doing 90 in a 25, and that this will definitely have a negative impact on your draft status. Mel is telling you that they don't have Coke, but would Pepsi be alright- after all, Pepsi does have considerable upside. Mel is at the bar with you, explaining that the girl you're talking to projects well as a potential hook-up, but is likely only a Day Two pick as a girlfriend. He says the talent and potential are there, but like a Marcus Vick, there are some character issues with this girl that make a lot of teams reluctant to commit.

And it is only when you have reached this point that you can truly say you have entered draft nirvana, a fleeting but serene mindset where there is no time and there is no space, there is only Mel Kiper.

Enjoy draft day. You won't see Mel again until 2007.


Thu 04/27/06, 1:50 am EST

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