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No ‘Wow Factor’ at NFL’s 2nd Biggest Event

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By Chris Mahr

For the rich-and-getting-richer NFL, its annual draft is only trumped by the Super Bowl in terms of pomp and circumstance.

Since 2006, the NFL draft has shared the same home, New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, as The Rockettes. And every year, there’s a literal red carpet that the draft’s top prospects walk across en route to being handed millions of dollars by their future employers - not to mention a nauseating degree of coverage that might, in fact, rival that of the Super Bowl.

All of this is intended to maximize the star power, future and otherwise, emanating from midtown Manhattan. But how do you trumpet the importance — and, more important to the NFL brass, watchability — of the event when it is painfully short on that star power?

For the first time in recent memory, and the first time since the draft became a must-see TV event, we’re about to find out.

Take a good, long look at the names being offered by NFL.com’s analysts in their 2013 mock drafts. Then honestly ask yourself, How many of these players did I know of last fall?

If you answered “more than 10,” you are a significantly more devout draft pundit than I am. Of all the names that I read off the aforementioned mock drafts, I could only think of one (QB Geno Smith) that was universally recognizable six months ago.

Luke Joeckel? Dion Jordan? Sharrif Floyd? Eric Fisher? Ziggy Ansah? Lane Johnson? Never have I ever had to invest so much additional research time to find out more information on the NFL draft’s potential Top 10 picks. (I expect that if/when they read this, some of my readers will do the same the first time their eyes see those aforementioned names.)

It’s a severely marked contrast to the big names the Big Apple played host to one year ago. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were joined at the hip starting with when they finished second and first, respectively, in voting for the 2011 Heisman Trophy and stayed that way until they went in reverse order in the following spring’s draft.

Joining them in the Top 5 were the star running back of the reigning national champs (Alabama’s Trent Richardson), a dominant and proven OT (USC’s Matt Kalil) and the Biletnikoff Award winner (Justin Blackmon).

While this year’s first round prospects earned their fair share of accolades last year, most of their stock feels like it’s tied to their potential and not what they’ve already accomplished. How else do you explain Ansah’s sudden rise from unheard of BYU defensive end into Top 5 prospect?

In past years (particularly 2012), the NFL draft had the feel of a blockbuster movie premiere for a series of actors that earned glowing accolades in indie films and/or TV shows before being tabbed with carrying a big-time franchise (think Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone before she moved on to X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games). To continue with the movie analogy, this year has the feel of studio executives banking on an unproven lead actor or actress to carry their films.

The NFL no doubt hopes that the underwhelming sensation surrounding this year’s draft is an anomaly. The league now depends on the draft to keep it in the spotlight long after the confetti has fallen on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s what bridges the gap between the end of the season and the start of training camp and what prevents NFL fans from fully turning to other leagues to get their sports fix.

More likely than not, this year’s no-name draft pool is just a one-time thing and the event will return to its past luster by 2014. For now, however, we’ll have to sit through a subpar edition of the NFL’s second most marquee event — one whose star power is, this year anyway, nowhere to be found.

Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.

Top Photo Credit: James Lang/USA Today Sports

Bottom Photo Credit: Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

 
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