NEW YORK -- The real clock will soon tick, the 73rd NFL Draft will unfold and hand-wringing decisions must be made. Among the grittiest topics:
Where will McFadden land?
Carucci: The waiting game
Best player in the draft.
That's what a lot of us keep saying about Darren McFadden. We say that he has the most talent, that he will have the greatest impact, that he is going to be everything the best player in the draft is supposed to be for the NFL team that lands him.
The conversation about McFadden around the league is moving beyond questions on his character to concerns about his strong family ties and if there are too many character issues in his family unit that could result in eventual influence and trouble for McFadden.
An NFL scout, requesting anonymity, put it this way: "The guy had it ultra-bad growing up and we've learned he has brothers who are or were in gangs and a lot of other questionable family members constantly in his ear. In that way, the family is becoming more of a concern than the player. I don't have a problem with the player. I think he's come through a tough background pretty good.
"I'm not saying this about McFadden, but, overall, it's funny when you hear about some of these players smoked marijuana in their past. If we could only draft kids who had never smoked a joint in their lives, we'd all only be able to draft kids from BYU."
Character counts ... or does it?
In the months leading up to this draft, with the new conduct policy in place and the league's increased emphasis on player character and team integrity, there was plenty of chatter from clubs about approaching this draft with a hammer when it came to character.
But let us see what happens when they are on the clock and have the chance to match their selections with their words.
Several NFL personnel executives I spoke with in the hours leading up to the draft seemed to be backpedaling on the character issue being their first benchmark. They want players. They want talent. They want guys who can contribute this season.
And, unless the offense is mass murder, it looks as if teams are more willing to take risks on "troubled" players than they have been indicating.
How this plays out will be one of the centerpieces of this draft.
A seasoned NFL GM, requesting anonymity, said: "The media and the fans want to deal in absolutes. Either you are completely clean or you are the Cincinnati Bengals or the Dallas Cowboys. Well, there are good guys on the Bengals and the Cowboys. Everyone, every team has to take risks. Tony Dungy is one of the finest guys I know on the planet. But even Tony has had to take risks with some players who have wound up in trouble. We all have. We all will."
This draft has more coverage and from more varied outlets than any other in the league's history.
And teams feel the scrutiny.
Teams know they are responsible for their decisions and plan to make them without the voices in their ears impacting their choices. But the task is not easy.
An NFL owner explained: "The media, the fan base, they are a big part of it. You've got to trust your judgments, but you can't completely ignore (the fans') feedback. It can be a delicate dance."
Moving on up
While it remains true that the bottom half of the first round -- picks 20 through 31 -- remain a desired place to be in terms of talent matching contract costs, it is clear that the teams selecting second through 10th have had plenty of discussion prior to this draft. And that it is easier to move and deal among those slots because the team dropping falls no lower than the 10th overall pick.
There has been little trade action involving top-10 picks in recent years, but this draft looks like one that will change that.
Thus, consider teams two through 10 an exclusive club: St. Louis, Atlanta, Oakland, Kansas City, the Jets, New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati and New Orleans.
An NFL general manager from one of those teams said: "We're getting calls from the group. But I don't take them too seriously at this point and time. People are not going to make trades until they know who is exactly available, until they are on the clock, because until then, they have no idea whether they can definitely get the player they want. Basically, the calls are, 'Hey, we're open for business if you are.' "
Offensive linemen in demand
Nearly every team in the league will draft an offensive linemen as early as they possibly can in this draft. It is a dire need position, along with defensive end and cornerback. One NFL personnel chief was strong in this opinion: No fewer than seven offensive linemen will be drafted in the first round.
K.C. youth movement
They had dealt to gain more picks (13) than any team in the draft as of late Friday night and were considering more moves for more picks before the start. That Chiefs mindset will continue throughout the draft.
It is just what Chiefs coach Herman Edwards wants. He is at his best molding young players into his bubbling image and believes that he can take a young team further in 2008 than most expect.
It looks as if Edwards will have every chance to do that.
I spoke with a personnel expert who said that he longed for the day when nuggets could be found in the draft. Players who few teams scouted. Players he would hold in his back pocket for later rounds as a surprise.
But with today's advanced NFL technology, video libraries, increased scouting budgets and ever-growing draft emphasis, there are few hidden nuggets among the 32 NFL teams. That takes a bite of charm out of the draft for some selectors. Teams have to dig deep in this draft to find a hidden nugget that is not already on the minds and boards of at least one of their peers.
The bar has been set -- an extremely high one -- and the mandate explicitly expressed for selectors in this draft: Find players who can contribute right now, play right now, in some way, somehow.
"We all feel it, the pressure of that," one GM said. "Owners want cheap labor in the back end of the draft that plays at a high caliber, and they want a 'Giants draft.' The thinking is, if they can do it, why can't we do it?
I think they were able to do it because they selected guys who can play. Their approach was not to hit a home run on every pick, but ask: What does the guy do best and how does it fit in what we do? That's a great approach rather than knocking holes in every prospect. I don't know why more teams wouldn't adopt that philosophy and approach in this draft."