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Offensive lineman Tony Mandarich, coming out of Michigan State, was supposed to be one of the greatest ever. He wasn't. (Tom Hauck /Allsport)
To some, the NFL Draft is like Christmas morning.
The packages are there under the tree, filled with potential superstars.
San Francisco 49ers' fans, coming off a 13-3 year and with visions of even grander accomplishments dancing in their heads as they look toward the 2012 season, are discussing the value of trading up or trading down, selecting a right guard for need or a wide receiver for depth and whether a cornerback with past off-the-field problems can mend his ways.
Now, Christmas is coming fast. The first round of the NFL Draft is Thursday, and the Niners are scheduled to make seven picks. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee even has a clever term for this time of year: Draftmas week.
But also remember this: the draft is more art than science, and for every wonderful gift there are lumps of coal and ugly sweaters from grandma.
Remember JaMarcus Russell? Ryan Leaf? Tony Mandarich?
All were sure things that weren’t.
This year’s draft can be enjoyed by rabid fans for the banter it produces, the speculation and the hours of information spewed by talking heads on the NFL Network and ESPN. It has turned into one of the high holy days of the sports world.
It’s moved into prime time, where it seems to take hours for teams to make each first-round choice. A Time magazine article in 2010, headlined “The Overhyped NFL Draft: Are We Nuts?” tried to explain the nation’s fascination with the process, but couldn’t.
“It’s official: as a nation, we are a sorry bunch,” the story began. “How else to explain the cultural phenomenon that has become the NFL Draft?”
On draft day, there is no actual action on a field, no sprinting or tackling or competition. It is, really, much ado about nothing – or at least nothing we’ll know about for months or years, when we can finally evaluate how well the Niners (or any team) made out.
In some ways, it is the lottery. Niners fans are hoping and praying that their team is holding the winning ticket.
But as the draft approaches, keep in mind that this is no exercise in instant gratification. We won’t know if GM Trent Baalke’s first choice can play until September – or perhaps the Septembers of two and three seasons in the future.
For as many words written about the team’s draft of quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round last April, we still don’t know if he can play.
So, enjoy the draft for what it is, and hope for the best. Hope that the right guard can block or the wide receiver can catch a ball in traffic.
But remember: all those talking heads on TV Thursday night don’t really know, either.