Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Race for the Bottom

It's the last week of the NFL season and along with games with playoff implications, let's not forget the importance of this week to the lowly Raiders and Lions, who are jostling for the #1 pick in the draft. They're both tied at 2-13, and if they both lose, the Lions get the #1 pick.

But there's not nearly as much hype associated with losing the final game to secure the top pick as there was last year, when the "Bush Bowl" between the 49ers and Texans was actually an eagerly anticipated game for that very reason. And that's for good reason. Last year's draft was incredibly strong, as it was both top-heavy and had plenty of depth. You had your future stars selected in the top 15 - Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler - but you also had a ton of great talents that have emerged picked after the first round: Devin Hester, Marcus McNeill, Maurice Jones-Drew, Marques Colston, Demeco Ryans, etc.

This year's draft doesn't appear to be as strong as last year's and even the presumed top pick (though it's way early in the game and this could change in a heartbeat), Brady Quinn of Notre Dame, appears to have more question marks surrounding him than the top picks from last year did.

Again, much too early to say anything with a hint of certainty, but if it ends up being Lions #1 and Raiders #2, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Lions pick Brady Quinn first and the Raiders go with Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson second. The Lions need a star QB, and the incumbent, Jon Kitna, has been through this situation before in Cincinnati with Carson Palmer. He'd be a pro at handling the transition. And Johnson, with his deep threat and acrobatic catch ability, might be too much for the Raiders and their eternal dreams of a vertical passing game to pass up. (Even though it might make more sense to draft a QB - perhaps JaMarcus Russell of LSU? - given the abysmal play they've gotten out of the position this year.)

In any case, don't expect the commissioner to need to watch those two games too closely to make sure the teams aren't tanking it.

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