1. St. Louis
Sam Bradford, QB
I guess I'm confused. When Ndamukong Suh left a trail of bodies at Nebraska last season, everyone agreed, "That dude is a wrecking machine, he's definitely the No. 1 pick." Then, the season ended … and everyone started picking Suh apart. He turned 23 in January. The track record of defensive tackles going first overall isn't great. I'm not so sure Gerald McCoy isn't better. You gotta grab a franchise QB here if you can get one. As soon as Bradford's shoulder received a clean bill of health, momentum swung behind him because, you know, any time you can take someone first in a draft when everyone agrees he isn't one of the best two players, you have to do it.
There is no talking the Rams out of this one: The new owners want a poster boy for their new regime; their beaten-down fans need a Hope Vessel, and there's no better way to feed that beast than grabbing a good-looking QB with a Hollywood-ready name like "Sam Bradford." It's probably the right pick. Hit a draft-day home run with a quarterback and it's a grand slam. Hit a draft-day home run with any other position and it's a home run. I just know that three levels of "franchise quarterbacks" have been taken in the top three picks since 1998:
Level 1 (no way they were missing): Peyton Manning (1), Michael Vick (1).
Level 2 (almost definitely weren't missing): Carson Palmer (1), Eli Manning (1).
Level 3 (hopefully weren't missing): David Carr (1), Tim Couch (1), Alex Smith (1), JaMarcus Russell (1), Matthew Stafford (1), Ryan Leaf (2), Donovan McNabb (2), Akili Smith (3), Joey Harrington (3), Vince Young (3), Matt Ryan (3).
At the time, you would have bet your life on the Level 1 guys making it (barring injury). You wouldn't have bet your life on the Level 2 guys, but you would have at least asked for odds. You would not have wagered your life on any of the Level 3 guys. Three made it; seven bombed; and Young gets an incomplete. If anything, getting picked that high set those guys up for failure: Expectations skyrocketed; their teams felt obligated to play them before they were ready; and they were asked to do too much too soon. The experts believe Bradford is a Level 2 guy, although it's worth noting that he qualifies -- potentially -- under everything in the previous sentence.
Digging deeper, let's say the NFL pressed the reset button, made every QB a free agent, then held a QB lottery for the 32 teams. The top 12 order of preference would look something like this: Peyton Manning (picked first overall); Tom Brady (sixth round); Drew Brees (second round); Philip Rivers (fourth overall); Aaron Rodgers (24th overall); Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall); Mark Sanchez (fifth overall); Matt Ryan (third overall); Eli Manning (first overall); Tony Romo (undrafted); Joe Flacco (18th overall); Matt Schaub (third round).
Translation: Drafting QBs is a freaking crapshoot. You're throwing dice. If you miss with a top-3 pick, it's a catastrophe because of the financial hit and the seasons squandered trying to make a bad situation work. (See: Russell, JaMarcus.) The six teams that misfired on Carr, Couch, Leaf, Harrington and the Smiths failed to win a playoff game for at least SIX STRAIGHT YEARS after whiffing on those picks; all six picked in the top 3 of another draft within three years of the whiff; and the seventh team (Oakland) has missed three straight postseasons since whiffing on Russell.
So based on the last 12 years of evidence, it's just as likely that Bradford will murder the Rams as save them. Of course, you could have said the same thing about Matthew Stafford last spring … and he made it. That's why St. Louis will take Bradford. Just don't tell me it's a "safe pick" because it's not. The next guy is the safe pick.
Ndamukong Suh, DT
Gives the Lions franchise guys on both sides of the ball, and that's before we get to Suh's character (Did you catch this story about his $2.6 million donation to Nebraska)? Are they definitely taking him? Of course not! They're reportedly open to trading down. Just take the dude already. We want to watch a good Detroit game on Thanksgiving before we die. By the way, my Dad would like to announce that he'll be calling this guy "Suh" on Thursday night.