This is a week to celebrate the front office. A draft evaluation process that started more than a year ago with many of the prospects culminates in a three-day smorgasbord of picks, trades and disagreements.
As much as fans love the draft, NFL personnel men love it more. They live it. They sacrifice family and health for it. To put it another way: They better enjoy the next three days.
Here's a look at the five front offices we believe are the best at what they do. In no particular order:
General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have only been together three years, but their track record is outstanding. They see players differently than other teams. Last year's three-pack of Bruce Irvin (No. 15 overall), Bobby Wagner (No. 47) and Russell Wilson (No. 75) were all controversial picks that didn't fit the traditional mold. They were all outstanding.
The 2011 draft was a bit shakier, but they found an All-Pro cornerback in Richard Sherman in the fifth round. That's also the round they found Kam Chancellor in their first draft in 2010. That crop included Earl Thomas (No. 14 overall) and Russell Okung (No. 6 overall). The spine of the Seahawks were built in three drafts.
Ozzie Newsome is patient and has an eye for talent that is unnecessarily overlooked by teams drafting in front of him. Baltimore was a consistent, winning team even with desultory quarterback play. They haven't had a losing season since Newsome drafted Joe Flacco. That speaks to the roster depth and big-picture thinking Newsome shows each year. He plans ahead and he always finds a few contributors every year.
Baltimore's drafts of late are more about the finding of Dennis Pitta in the fourth round, Marshal Yanda in the third round or Lardarius Webb in the third round rather than big-name first-round picks like Haloti Ngata with the No. 12 overall pick back in 2007. The Ravens haven't even used a first-round pick in two of the last three years, but they could make a splash Thursday.
San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh has only been in San Francisco for two years, but GM Trent Baalke was part of the group that drafted core pieces like Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Anthony Davis and NaVorro Bowman. After Baalke was promoted to the top spot and paired with Harbaugh, their first two picks together were Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
New England Patriots
To put it another way: Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune looked at the last seven draft classes, from 2006-2012. Over that span, no team drafted more combined Pro Bowl and All-Pro players than the Patriots. That's since 2006. (The New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos also drafted five Pro Bowl players, but the Patriots had an extra All-Pro.)
New England has swung and missed a lot in the second round -- hello Ron Brace -- but their hits have been huge: Logan Mankins, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Aaron Hernandez. Chandler Jones and Stevan Ridley look like quality starters. Belichick also gets some credit for draft picks like Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, and Matt Light back in the day.
New York Giants
I really debated who to give my fifth team to. General manager Jerry Reese's first draft in 2007 was littered with contributors who led directly to a title. His second draft was even better for a few years until injuries hit, and he's found stars like Hakeem Nicks and Jason Pierre-Paul since in later spots. The 2011 draft was not as strong, with the verdict still out on the team's first-round pick, Prince Amukamara. It's too early to tell on 2012, but Reese is consistently smart and solid.
Green Bay Packers: If I wrote this article in 2009, Ted Thompson would have topped the list. Unfortunately, his 2010 and 2011 drafts look so-so at best with Bryan Bulaga and Randall Cobb leading the way. It's too early to tell about 2012's defense-palooza but cornerback Casey Heyward looks like a find.
Pittsburgh Steelers: General manager Kevin Colbert would also be on any top-three front office list written for the last decade, but Pittsburgh has struggled to find difference-making defenders in recent years. They are still well-above average overall, finding quality wide receivers in the middle rounds and nailing their Maurkice Pouncey first-round pick in 2010.