NEW YORK -- Draft day. Finally. Months of preparation, endless hours of scrutiny and a never-ending discussion of "facts" that are either completely real, totally imagined or something in between. And it's all coming out today.
You won't hear the word "smokescreen" for 11 months after today, which is a welcome thought. But you will learn the 32 prospects selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Sweet.
What's the latest buzz as we wait for the Kansas City Chiefs to officially go on the clock? Here are five things:
1) Mystery at No. 1: The NFL wanted intrigue at the top. Mission accomplished. Only key personnel men for the Chiefs know who they will select first overall. Talk to those who are speaking with GM John Dorsey and they'll tell you he's having fun keeping us all in suspense. It's safe to say Dorsey probably knows who Kansas City is picking by now, but so few do. My gut says it'll be Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, but conventional wisdom points to Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel. It's not just the media in the dark. Joeckel says he really hasn't heard from the Chiefs or Jacksonville Jaguars (picking second) in weeks. He is clueless. "I think it'll be a Thursday night thing," Joeckel told me. "I have no idea what's going on." Same with Fisher, who is slightly tenser about it. He knows it wasn't like this last year, pointing out, "I'm pretty sure Andrew Luck and RG3 knew a week before." Not this year. "I'm going into this blind like everyone else," Fisher told me. "It's going to be sitting at the table and your phone goes off. The anticipation is killing me."
2) Moving for Manti: The draft saga has been a wild one for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, with his real/imaginary personal life pulled apart in ways we've never seen. He was a sure-fire first-rounder before the Fighting Irish got pummeled by Alabama in the national title game. And he was a clean, no-controversy prospect until we all learned what catfishing was. Now? Based on what I'm hearing, he'll end up where a lot of experts thought he'd go in the beginning -- in the middle of the first round. Word is Te'o is coveted by two NFC North foes: the Chicago Bears (holding the No. 20 pick) and Minnesota Vikings (Nos. 23 and 25). We've heard Minnesota wants to move up for a week or so. Why? My guess is for Te'o. If they want him, they likely will have to jump Chicago, as the Bears are said to be big fans of the local linebacker. From my view, I won't be surprised if the Vikings leapfrog Chicago by trading with either the Dallas Cowboys (No. 18) or New York Giants (19), both of whom could stand to move back and collect picks. That would put Te'o in the top 20, capping a rise, fall and then rise again for the ages.
3) Niners primed to trade up: With 13 draft picks and maybe the most talented roster around, the San Francisco 49ers could steal the show on Thursday. They want to move up, I'm told, hoping to climb from the 31st pick toward the top. How high? That's not entirely clear. But if the New York Jets do indeed want to slide back and accumulate picks, we might have our match at No. 13. Word is, the Niners are looking to beef up their defensive line, with Justin Smith getting up in age and the team struggling when he was injured last year. What I hear: Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is one of their targets. He's physical and he's versatile, with the ability to play nose and end. He'd be the third Mizzou D-lineman on their depth chart -- though the only one not named Smith. Another reason the 49ers want to trade up? With as much talent as they already have, 13 picks won't make their roster. No way. Bet far fewer. This is the time to cash in the chips and find one or two players who put them over the top.
4) One soaring draft stock: Is there a hotter prospect than West Virginia speedster Tavon Austin? GMs at the top of the draft are convinced everyone is trying to trade into the top 10 to grab Austin, making sure they jump ahead of the Jets at No. 9. The easy answer for a trading partner is the Buffalo Bills, who pick eighth and are open to moving back. The only issue? I'm told Austin is the top-rated player on the Bills' entire board; maybe they just take him. Austin told me his goal is to be Offensive Rookie of the Year, but for which team? The one factor scouts keep pointing out: Whichever team picks this slot machine better have a plan for utilizing his skills. It's something Austin said teams have harped on. "A lot of teams did that," Austin told me, of teams explaining their strategies for integrating him into the offense. "How sometimes they'll use me outside, motion me in so some of the bigger defensive backs can't get their hands on me. In the slot, I'm already off the ball, so they can't jam. Get me lined up on a safety, a linebacker." The possibilities abound.
Brandt: Final Hot 100 + 25
With the 2013 draft rapidly approaching, have a look at where the top prospects stand in Gil Brandt's extended rankings. **More ...**
5) Training-room troubles for the Tide?: The whispers are starting to grow louder. Ask a scout about an Alabama prospect -- there are plenty of them -- and they'll mention an injury. Dee Milliner and his shoulder. Eddie Lacy and the hamstring that led to a poor workout. Jesse Williams and his knee. And on and on. Why are all these high-level prospects so nicked up? Scouts have asked, "Do they just practice too hard?" ... "Is it the extra games, with SEC title and BCS title contests?" ... "A string of bad luck?" Teams want battle-tested, big-school players -- they just don't want them "beat to (expletive)," as one scouting director described Tide players to me. Could this cause them to slip? When I spoke to Alabama team doctor E. Lyle Cain Jr. yesterday (for this piece on Milliner), I asked him how concerned teams should be with this issue. His points were that 'Bama players are under more of a microscope than other programs, with four or five first-rounders every year, and that most high-level prospects have training-room charts just like this. "The key is figuring out whether it's going to be a long-term problem," Cain told me. "None of these guys have anything that's going to be a long-term problem. That goes for Eddie Lacy, that goes for Barrett Jones, that goes for Dee Milliner -- all these guys have issues that were basically either resolved issues like Dee's or cleanup issues like Jesse Williams where it wasn't a reconstructive type procedure."