Breaking Down the NFL Draft

The National Football League stages two media extravaganzas every year. One is the Super Bowl. The other is this weekend — the draft. Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal talks about what to look for.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The National Football League stages two media extravaganzas every year. One, of course, is the Super Bowl. And the other, of course, is this weekend - the draft. The NFL's 32 teams have spent thousands of hours studying film and interviewing players. TV talking heads have staged daily mock drafts of college players, and fans have studied stats and made their own decisions.

And joining us to break down the draft a bit is our sports writer, Stefan Fatsis, of the Wall Street Journal. Hi, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sports Writer, The Wall Street Journal): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And before we get to the draft, Spy Gate - the ongoing investigation into the videotaping habits of the New England Patriots. Something new there this week.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. And who would have imaged that a guy who taped football practice would need the sort of legal protection associated with congressional whistleblowers or mafia snitches? But that's what happened this week. Videographer Matt Walsh, formerly of the Patriots, cut a deal that would allow him to be interviewed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell, you'll recall, has already fined the Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick, $750,000 and stripped them of their first pick in this weekend's drafts for illegally taping opponents' signals. The issue now is whether they did more than that, like tape the St. Louis Rams' practice before the Super Bowl in 2002. Walsh will be interviewed next month by Goodell about what he taped and when he taped it.

SIEGEL: The Patriots, of course, lost what would have been their first round pick, going 31st out of 32 teams, but they did trade for the seventh selection. So that's something that Patriots fans and detractors can all argue about while watching the draft. Stefan, the National Football League has turned this personnel development event, this human resources weekend into a major cable television show. How'd they do this?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, they've done it over time. I mean, the draft has been on TV since the '80s. But now, they've recognized that fans really want to watch this stuff, and they've taken some steps this year to make it even more reality TV-like. They have shifted the start of the draft to three in the afternoon Eastern from noon. Because of that, they're only going to be able to hold two rounds on Saturday instead of the usual three out of seven total. The NFL has cut the amount of time between picks by teams to 10 minutes from 15 minutes. All of this is geared to fans and to the two networks that do gavel-to-gavel coverage, ESPN and the NFL Network. This all will allow more time for lead-in shows, less waiting around for viewers between picks, and more focus on the stars on day one.

SIEGEL: Yeah, but the least suspense is the very beginning of it, because everyone knows already who the number one pick is going to be in the draft.

Mr. FATSIS: It's going to be guy named Jake Long, an offensive lineman from the University of Michigan, and the Miami Dolphins have already signed him to a five-year contract with $30 million guaranteed. And the news here is that this is a reduction in guaranteed money from last year. Long signed a contract that's one year shorter than the one that was given to JaMarcus Russell, who was the first pick last year, so he could become a free agent faster. The thing to watch now is whether the deal sets a lower bar for everyone else in the first round. It's a big issue on the NFL. Teams argue that the cost of top picks is growing at a rate higher than the per team salary cap for all players. They'd like to see specific price slots for draft picks the way that they have in the National Basketball Association.

SIEGEL: Now I'll remind you and our listeners of the Plimpton-esque phase of your sports writing life in which you were a 43-year-old placekicker trying out for the Denver Broncos. This is the subject of a book that Stefan has coming out in July. Stefan, you're looking out for your brother kickers who are in the draft, here?

Mr. FATSIS: I always do. There's usually about two or three placekickers and two or three punters drafted, usually in the later rounds. Only two kickers have ever been drafted in the first round. Robert, can you hazard a guess?

SIEGEL: Garo Yepremian?

Mr. FATSIS: Nope. Charlie Gogolak in 1966.

SIEGEL: From Princeton. From Princeton.

Mr. FATSIS: Yes. And Sebastian Janikowski, by the Oakland Raiders, in 2000. This year, the projections are for a couple of kickers, at most, to get drafted. The rest will be signed as free agents and brought into training camps. Now, one of those likely free agents is a kicker after my own heart, five-foot-six-and-a-half Alexis Serna from Oregon State, who takes the field in a size six cleat.

SIEGEL: Stefan The Toe Fatsis, talking with us about sports and the business of sports. Have a good weekend, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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