Posts Tagged ‘NFL Draft’

The NFL draft begins Thursday and I am noticing I’m not really looking forward to it.

That’s an odd feeling in that I covered the draft as a professional more than a dozen times at either the professional or college level. And always made sure my Saturdays were clear to watch it prior to that well before this decade’s dumb three-day format.

Analyzing things, I can see why I’m not all that interested in the 2017 NFL draft.

That’s because this is the first draft in my lifetime in which my hometown doesn’t have an NFL team.

Not the least bit interested in who the Los Angeles Chargers pick. Geez, it is hard writing that city’s name before Chargers.

The Chargers belong to San Diego, not the smog clowns and silicone fakes of Los Angeles. The draft is really the first time a big NFL event happens in which the Chargers aren’t referred to as “San Diego Chargers.”

When Roger Goodell reads that phrase off the cue card as the Chargers make their first-round pick, it is a loud reminder to the football world that San Diego is no longer an NFL town.

Dean Spanos had ample opportunities to make it work in San Diego and didn’t have the big-boy leadership abilities to make it happen. Good riddance to him and his poorly run organization.

That is where we will miss the draft — mocking the Chargers for their sad first-round picks.

The lousy picks roll off the tongue easily — receiver Walker Gillette in 1970, running back Leon Burns in 1971, fullback Bo Matthews in 1974, cornerback Mossy Cade in 1984 (Google him to see what a total reject he is) and the biggest draft bust of all-time in quarterback Ryan Leaf in 1998.

There are many other busts — one of my favorites being receiver Craig “Buster” Davis in 2007. I called up Davis’ receivers coach at LSU while writing a profile story and got greeted with all kinds of criticisms of Davis’ desire, toughness and inability to stay healthy.

Guess what Davis was known for during his 26 total games over four seasons with the Chargers? Yep, low desire, no toughness, always injured.

During Davis’ second season, I already wrote song lyrics about him called “Wasted Draft Pick,” to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation.”

Great pick, A.J. Smith! Might want to talk a player’s position coach before you select him.

Of course, there were superb first-round picks over the years too — defensive tackle Gary “Big Hands” Johnson in 1975, tight end Kellen Winslow in 1979, defensive end Leslie O’Neal in 1986, linebacker Junior Seau in 1990, running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001 and the great quarterback maneuver of 2004 when Eli Manning refused to play for the Chargers but Smith drafted him anyway before working out a trade with the New York Giants for Philip Rivers.

General manager Tom Telesco has fared well in the first round of the last three drafts with cornerback Jason Verrett, running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Joey Bosa.

The Chargers select seventh this time around so they are positioned well to land another good talent.

But there will be a different feeling when Telesco makes his pick.

You see, these aren’t the San Diego Chargers anymore. So it no longer is a big deal if the team scores with its pick or lands another bust.

Perhaps that is why the draft’s appeal isn’t there for me this year. My hometown doesn’t have a team and the fun is gone.

You see, I could care less if a team from Los Angeles messes up its draft.

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What a crazy Saturday full of sports and if you left your house even once today, you kind of fail at life.

If you missed all the sporting events, you are likely one of the following: Incarcerated, marching the streets of Baltimore or wasting your day on a used-car lot.

Suddenly, playing for the Cleveland Browns doesn’t sound so bad. Well, if you can figure out how not to live in Cleveland while cashing their checks.

Before the big fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao even hit the pay-per-view airwaves at $99.95 plus tax per purchase – you mean people don’t understand you can find FREE online streams for these fights? – we got to view an outstanding Game 7 between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. And it was on FREE TV and it was outright amazing.

Clippers point guard Chris Paul was hobbling on a sore hamstring he injured earlier in the game and sidestepped Danny Green’s defense and avoided Tim Duncan’s attempt to swat it aside to bank in the decisive shot with one second left to give Los Angeles a 111-109 victory. Good bye defending champions. See you next year.

The unexpected thing was that the basketball game was much more exciting than the big boxing bout. Mayweather improved to 48-0 in his career with a unanimous 12-round decision but it was hardly an entertaining tussle and nothing like its billing as “Fight of the Century.”

There was no knockout for Mayweather. He apparently saves those for the women he hits.

Who can forget that American Pharoah became the luckiest horse of the year by winning the Kentucky Derby. Since horses don’t spend money, American Pharoah gets all the bales of hay he wants forever and will never have to worry about sitting hungry in a barn again.

Good food if you can get it. Well, for a horse. Just ask Secretariat.

“He eats bales of hay, Sec-re-tar-i-at.” (Use tune of Toto’s “Rosanna” for full effect).

The NFL Draft finished up but nobody was even chatting about that by dark. Not with all the other good stuff going on.

Oh yeah, the New York Yankees tried to spoil our day of fun by saying they won’t pay Alex Rodriguez his $6 million bonus for catching Willie Mays on the all-time homer list with his 660th blast. It’s hard to ever be on Rodriguez’s side on anything but you know, it is in the contract and it wasn’t written in that it is voided if you cheat.

Wow, so weird to commiserate for A-Rod the fraud.

OK, on to the top 10 list:

10. The Kansas City Royals played a baseball game without getting in a fight. They must have missed the word that Saturday was “Fight Night.” In fact, the Royals were so punchless that they scored just one run while losing to the Detroit Tigers

9. The New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 to even their playoff series at one game apiece. I have no idea if this was a big accomplishment or not because it is the NHL but I also know I need to mention it or else my inbox will be filled with hockey fans calling me names over the omission.

8. The NFL Draft is lucky to crack the list as the once-anticipated Saturday has been rendered a complete waste of time due to the league’s switch to a three-day event. When the best thing you have to talk about is whether Blake Petty or Brett Hundley will go first in the fourth round, you know there is no further reason to watch.

7. The big Twitter outburst that CNN’s Rachel Nichols and ESPN’s Michelle Beadle had credentials pulled for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight because they said mean things about Mayweather’s history of domestic abuse. I understand why Mayweather and his handlers don’t like Nichols (see interview here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a21U_fXjGTA) but Beadle is one of those harmless fools who hosts some kind of lowly fluff show on ESPN. She’s just happy to get some pub. Oh yeah, Mayweather’s camp denies there were any games played with the credentials. Um, OK.

6. Shortly after American Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby, @NBCNews tweeted BREAKING: American Pharoah wins 141st Kentucky Derby. Good thing I wasn’t drinking a mint julep as I would have dropped it upon seeing the response from a Bo Pelini parody account: “That has to be a record.”

5. The bugle at the Kentucky Derby. As soon as that familiar race-day jingle is played, I know my yearly output of two minutes of horse racing is near. Love that bugle.

4. Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros are the talk of baseball. Wait, the HOUSTON ASTROS are the talk of baseball? This is indeed a Saturday Sports Day for the ages. Altuve hit a three-run homer – he came up short in his bid for his 10th consecutive multihit game – and the formerly woeful Astros have won nine straight games and 13 of their last 14. Call them the first-place Astros. Wow.

3. Quite a performance at the Kentucky Derby for American Pharoah and, gosh, do we wish the horse could talk so we wouldn’t have to hear owner Bob Baffert drone on and on about nothing of substance. Jockey Victor Espinoza rode the horse way wide as they hit the stretch and the finishing kick was stellar to win the Run for the Roses.

2. Special thanks to the Website known as vipleague for the free boxing stream as there was no way the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight was worth $100. I knew that before the fight – duh – and it became even more obvious during it. So much hype means so much dollars for all involved. But the actual action didn’t live up to the hype and I can’t believe how upset people must be for forking over that much cash.

1. NBA playoff basketball is about 100 times more exciting and intense than the regular season and the epic contest between the Clippers and Spurs once again proved it. And how badly does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich want to beat up – Mayweather style – the shot-clock operator at the Staples Center for messing up the team’s last-second play?

The 2014 NFL Draft will forever be known for one of the big-time moments in sports history: Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be selected.

It looked like the draft might conclude without Sam hearing his named called before the St. Louis Rams tabbed him with the 249th selection of the 256-player draft.

Being chosen in the seventh round is a bit lower than one might expect the SEC Defensive Player of the Year to be picked. But it certainly is a good situation for the outside linebacker who played college football a few hours down the freeway at Missouri.

Having an esteemed veteran coach like Jeff Fisher – a secure leader who has handled a multitude of situations during his career – makes the situation a good one for Sam. Fisher’s presence will help things become more manageable as the upcoming media crush hits minicamp with everybody wanting a piece of Sam.

The playing football part is up to Sam. Yes, his draft stock fell partly due to his measurables. Sure, he’s a bit of a tweener. But he was a standout pass rusher in college and he should be able to play a role for the Rams.

And if for some reason he doesn’t pan out as a player, it won’t be because he’s gay and kissed a guy on television after being drafted. It will be because he didn’t pan out as a player.

Period. Just the way it should be.

Here are some other draft thoughts …

Wasn’t all that long ago when I had questions about whether or not Johnny Manziel was worthy of a first-round pick or more likely to forever be a knucklehead like Ryan Leaf. I started to feel he was first-round material last September when he tore up Alabama and I think he went right about where he should have by going 22nd overall to the Cleveland Browns. Jon Gruden looked like a fool opening ESPN’s coverage by hyping the Texas A&M star as the possible No. 1 pick and Manziel will now have an opportunity to show us all he can play at the NFL level in the near future. Well, Browns coach Mike Pettine said prior to the draft that none of the quarterbacks could beat out Bobby Hoyer for the starting job. Watch how quickly that thought process changes now.

Got to say I hope the NFL Draft goes back to April for next year. Not sure I’ve ever watched less of a draft than the current one. Dragging out the hype became even more galling than usual and pushing it back to May didn’t work, no matter the silly claims of commissioner Roger Goodell (who never admits being wrong about anything). It was only pure luck that I got to see Sam get drafted as it happened during the small timeframe in which I even turned it on for a few minutes on the third and final day.

I really liked the early defensive selections by the San Diego Chargers. Both cornerback Jason Verrett (first round) of TCU and outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (second round) of Georgia Tech can help shore up deficiencies that were exposed last season. Verrett is small in stature but heavy in aggressiveness and production and Attaochu is a pass-rushing force with plenty of room to get better. The fifth-round pick of defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers (Arkansas State) also could be one of those mid-round steals.

Remember when San Diego State running back Adam Muema departed the NFL combine early in February because God had informed him he would be chosen by the Seattle Seahawks? Well, that didn’t happen. I’m guessing his post-draft prayer session with God will be a bit, um, interesting. Muema originally made a poor decision by skipping his senior season with the Aztecs but he buried himself when he left what was essentially a job interview for all 32 teams to go wander around an airport in Fort Lauderdale for three days. That lack of accountability and just flat-out weirdness clinched he wouldn’t be drafted.

And can’t overlook this factual truth, the Texas Longhorns didn’t have a single player selected in the NFL Draft for the first time since 1937. Repeat – 1937! That was the year my father was born and he has been in heaven for close to 11 years now. The list of schools that had players drafted include Bloomsburg, Concordia-St. Paul, Furman, Liberty, Lindenwood, Marist, McGill, Pittsburg State, Saginaw Valley State and Towson. Even Princeton had a player picked. Again, not a single player from Texas was drafted. The school ought to fire Mack Brown again just for this embarrassing fact.

The highlight of the first night of the NFL Draft was seeing the comments on the social media site Twitter anytime Manti Te’o was mentioned as a team’s possible first-round pick.

There would be dozens of people begging their favorite team not to draft Te’o, the former Notre Dame standout who became America’s biggest punchline when it became publicly known his dying girlfriend story was bogus.

Whether or not he was duped, Te’o told people over and over about meeting this young woman who never existed. Hard not to be a laughingstock when you make comments that silly on countless occasions and your lie later gets exposed.

But on the second night of the draft, Te’o found the perfect fit for an employer – the team that doesn’t listen to their fans and was proud to mock them last season.

Yep, the San Diego Chargers.

When San Diego fans got fed up with the perennial underachieving team coached by Norv Turner, the team’s public relations director ripped the fans and told them all to take a “chill pill.”

Repeat, the person in charge of public relations – might as well strive to be last in the NFL in public relations if you can’t be first – made it clear to the fans that their opinions don’t matter. Well, you know, unless they were to ignore what a mess the franchise has become and pretend all is well.

So now the San Diego fans who implored the Chargers not to draft Te’o face that uneasy feeling of pulling for the inside linebacker tabbed with the No. 38 pick to become a bona fide player.

Of course, it will be hard for him to live down his fake girlfriend named Lennay Kekua.

Now the guy with the disappearing girlfriend plays for the team that disappears when the playoffs arrive.

You can call that the perfect fit.

Te’o is a bit slow and a bit undersized when it comes to inside linebackers at the NFL level. He was badly exposed by Alabama in the national championship game and his draft stock plummeted. His stock fell both due to his on-field abilities and his bizarre love story.

But the Chargers are in need of major rebuilding so Te’o will get a chance to prove that he is better at football than storytelling.

New general manager Tom Telesco and new head coach Mike McCoy inherited a mess that needs major reconstruction so if Te’o proves to be a long-term solution in the defense, the pick could eventually be solid from a football perspective.

Te’o doesn’t need to develop into a Pro Bowl player, he just needs to improve a position that has been lacking since Stephen Cooper – who was undrafted by the way – began to decline and was eventually released in 2011.

But from a credibility level, Te’o will continue to run into roadblocks. The fake girlfriend ordeal raised issues about his intelligence and there will certainly be some teammates throwing out some unsavory remarks about falling for a fake girl who was really a guy.

An NFL locker room is a ruthless workplace – try pulling some of the antics these guys do in your own workplace and see what happens – and that applies even if you have an unscathed image.

Can you imagine the first time Te’o messes up an assignment and says he didn’t recognize the play? Those “maybe it didn’t exist” jokes will be flying.

Hey, this Te’o on the Chargers thing could turn out to be pretty fun. As long as the Chargers really do exist.

You can’t accurately grade the NFL Draft for three to four years so you won’t find any letter grades here. It takes time for gems to blossom and busts to fail.

But I do have some thoughts about what occurred in last weekend’s draft and will share them in quick-hitting form.

Perhaps we will even see these rookies on the field this fall if the NFL owners can figure out a way to save face and end the league’s silly lockout.

Otherwise, the draft was the last meaningful moment of the 2011 NFL season.

San Diego Chargers

Defense was a priority for a team that missed the playoffs last season as four of the team’s five picks in the first three rounds were used to tab defensive players. The pick of defensive lineman Corey Liuget (Illinois) with the 18th overall pick surprised me, particularly with the Chargers passing up California defensive end Cam Jordan, who would have been a great fit.

The Chargers selected defensive back Marcus Gilchrist (Clemson) and outside linebacker Jonas Mouton (Michigan) in the second round and Mouton appeared to be a reach. Apparently, the Chargers determined he wouldn’t have been around for either of their third-round picks.

San Diego scored well with receiver Vincent Brown (San Diego State) in the third round and made an interesting selection with USC cornerback Shareece Wright seven picks later. The Chargers will surely be expecting some of the defensive rookies to bolster their special teams, which was worst in the NFL last season.

All that speculation that the Chargers were looking for an offensive tackle to replace Jeromey Clary ended up being unfounded.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals resolved the dilemma with Carson Palmer by drafting TCU’s Andy Dalton in the second round, a good decision with Palmer promising he has no intention of ever again playing for the poorly run franchise. The looming question is whether or not the Bengals also plan to wave good-bye to Chad (Johnson) Ochocinco as well after using the fourth overall pick on Georgia’s A.J. Green. It seems like a fresh start for the organization is in order and it will be impossible to move forward with Ochocinco’s antics drawing more interest than his soon-to-be-declining performance.

Detroit Lions

What a stunner for Detroit to land Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley to pair with dominating second-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Running up the middle against the Lions will no longer be fun. The Lions also scored well with the drafting of Boise State receiver Titus Young in the second round. Fortunes in Detroit are beginning to look up and the Lions could threaten for a playoff spot if third-year quarterback Matthew Stafford makes a pronounced leap this season.

Christian Ponder?

The most stunning selection in the draft was made by the Minnesota Vikings when they tabbed Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick. Nobody anywhere had Ponder going in the first round, let alone 12th overall. It was almost as if Minnesota panicked when the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to get Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert two picks earlier and began picturing a full season of Joe Webb thrown to the wolves and threw all caution – and reasonable scouting work – into the wind. The Vikings certainly could have traded down in the draft and picked up an extra selection or two and still gotten Ponder later in the draft. I will give Minnesota’s organization some credit for this – the Vikings didn’t claim that Ponder was the quarterback they were targeting all along. Too many teams
lie with comments like that when putting spin control on their draft-day haul.

Quarterback shenanigans

I wouldn’t have been willing to place my future on any of the quarterbacks in this draft if I were an NFL general manager. But that didn’t scare teams off as the Carolina Panthers took boom-or-bust Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn with the first overall pick and the Tennessee Titans went for erratic-but-talented Jake Locker of Washington with the eighth overall pick. Gabbert and Ponder also were first-round picks while Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers) were second-round picks. Ryan Mallett of Arkansas once was considered a first-round pick but stayed on the board into the third round due to having more red flags about his character than you would find in China. The New England Patriots, who already possess a pretty good quarterback in Tom Brady, took Mallett in a little-risk move. Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks passed on quarterbacks and you can figure one of those teams will have a lousy 2011 season – if there is a campaign – and be the frontrunners to land Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the first pick of the 2012 draft.

Bold Move Award

The Atlanta Falcons traded five draft picks to the Cleveland Browns to acquire the sixth overall choice to grab Alabama receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons appear to be gearing up for a Super Bowl run with a potent offense that includes quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Atlanta gave up a ton but made a loud statement that its time to win is now.

I’ve been pondering whether or not to watch Thursday’s NFL Draft and have figured out there is a must-see moment that just has to be witnessed.

That would be NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walking to the podium for the initial time on Thursday night.

Just imagine the boos and cat-calls Goodell is going to hear after the poor way the NFL has dealt with the ongoing labor dispute. This will be the chance for the fans in attendance to express their opinions and I expect the paying customers are going to be vociferous in voicing their displeasure.

The NFL forced the work stoppage with a lockout and then whined when the courts in Minneapolis rightfully ruled against the league’s weak rationale. The fans aren’t fooled about who the bad guys are in the dispute.

Fans know the league and its 32 owners are the reason why the 2011 season is in jeopardy. The fans are well aware the players aren’t at fault.

The NFL has attempted its usual brand of spin doctoring and failed miserably. With Goodell being the leader of the richest sports league, he’s the easy and proper target of the fan’s dissension.

Federal judge Susan Nelson lifted the lockout earlier this week and the NFL had its stay rejected on Wednesday so the league is being routed by two entities right now – the NFL Players Association and the federal courts.

This is an ugly situation for one reason only – the arrogance of the NFL and its ownership.

That’s why it will be highly entertaining to catch the opening of Thursday’s draft.

Avoid Quarterbacks

I have some advice for any NFL teams looking to draft a quarterback in the upper portion of the first round:

Don’t.

There is no Sam Bradford among this year’s group of quarterbacks and I don’t see a future franchise quarterback among the candidates.

Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert are the top two-rated quarterbacks but I won’t be surprised if both turn out to be busts. Washington’s Jake Locker is a terrific athlete but results have never matched his skill set. Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett represents a huge gamble.

The second-tier possibilities include TCU’s Andy Dalton. In my view, Dalton has been rising up the charts because the aforementioned foursome is one treacherous collection of quarterbacks.

Too bad the win-now pressure is always so intense for NFL general managers interested in keeping their jobs. The prudent decision is to take advantage of the surplus at other positions – for example, there’s a great group of defensive linemen available – than to take a gamble on a hit-and-miss quarterback proposition.

There will be at least one top-flight quarterback available in 2012 in Stanford’s Andrew Luck for teams who skip on committing to one of this year’s possibilities.

I remember when five quarterbacks went among the first 12 picks in 1999. I wasn’t the least surprised that Tim Couch (No. 1), Akili Smith (No. 3) and Cade McNown (No. 12) were huge busts. The two I liked among the five – Donovan McNabb (No. 2) and Daunte Culpepper (No. 11) — were the only two
to avoid the bust label.

I was also miffed that NFL teams rated Alex Smith (No. 1) over Aaron Rodgers (No. 24) in 2005, so I’m obviously not surprised that the San Francisco 49ers are again looking for an answer at quarterback while Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are sporting Super Bowl rings.

So print this out and save it if you like and hit me up in 2016 … or 2021. But none of this year’s group of quarterbacks are worthy of a Top 10 pick.

What will Chargers do?

The San Diego Chargers are in a pretty good position with five picks in the first three rounds so this would be a good year for general manager A.J. Smith to recapture his draft-day magic.

When I study the Chargers, I see a difference-making defensive end as the team’s most glaring need. Nice-guy Luis Castillo hasn’t come close to living up to that $43 million contract he somehow landed in 2008 and he isn’t suddenly going to go from an adequate NFL defensive end to a superstar.

There’s a reason why he has totaled 8.5 sacks over the past four years. It’s because Castillo is only an average player. Kudos to his agent for landing him such a good contract.

It appears to me that three pretty good defensive end prospects could be on the board when the Chargers pick at No. 18 overall – Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, California’s Cameron Jordan and possibly Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, who has slipped due to concerns about a knee.

Any one of those three players would be a worthy pick and a good fit for the Chargers.

I can recall Warren Moon putting on a stirring performance while winning Rose Bowl MVP honors on the second day of 1978 when he led the Washington Huskies to an upset win over the powerful Michigan Wolverines.

Over the next few months, I didn’t understand why NFL teams had no interest in drafting Moon. It was one of those makes-no-sense-to-a-kid things.

You see, I had no idea that teams interested in winning would bypass a college quarterback just because his skin was black.

Moon had to spend six years proving himself in the Canadian Football League before any NFL team would give him a chance. The Houston Oilers signed Moon in 1984 and he went on to a Hall of Fame career despite not starting his NFL career until the age of 27.

I think of Moon today not because of his superb playing career and all that he had to overcome to become a starting NFL quarterback. But because a guy like Moon should know better than to make the comments he did last week when he said that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is being criticized because he is black and held to different standards than white college quarterbacks.

Makes me wonder if Moon was in hibernation in Siberia last spring when Florida’s very-white Tim Tebow was perhaps the most publicly scrutinized draft hopeful quarterback of all-time. Moon sure didn’t come to Tebow’s defense, did he?

I get that Moon might be a bit sensitive due to his own experiences of being shunned by NFL owners and general managers after his own standout college career. I threw out questions to Moon on conference calls on two occasions but won’t pretend to know how painful that process was to him and fully accept that I can never possibly know what it feels like to be stereotyped against due to skin color.

But Moon is now 54 years old and played 17 NFL seasons. He once was the highest-paid player in the NFL so there’s no way he doesn’t know what the business side of the NFL is like. He also knows no position in the game comes under more scrutiny than a quarterback.

If all positions were considered equal in stature, then rookie quarterbacks entering the league wouldn’t land richer contracts than All-Pro linebackers and offensive linemen. Once he made it into the NFL, Moon benefitted from the system that treats quarterbacks different than any other position.

What peeved Moon in recent days was a scouting report written by Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki that said Newton was “fake,” and “immature” and “lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness.”

The scouting report also listed positive things about Newton’s athletic ability and pro potential but Moon only felt like reacting to the things he didn’t like. And guess what – Moon is on Newton’s payroll, helping prepare Newton for the upcoming draft.

So if you want to thin the debate down to who is more objective about Newton, Moon is going to lose by a landslide to the Pro Football Weekly writer.

So is Newton fake? Perhaps so, perhaps not. If he is fake, he’s far from the first NFL athlete. I covered the San Diego Chargers in the mid-to-late 1990s when Junior Seau was the star linebacker for the Chargers. Never saw a player change into a happy mood faster than Seau did when the camera lights were on him.

All of a sudden, No. 55 would spend three minutes answering a question he was too busy to entertain three minutes earlier.

Is Newton immature? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Cam doesn’t turn 22 until May so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s still maturing. I covered an immature 22-year-old quarterback named Ryan Leaf who was a complete bust on the field and a complete buffoon off it.

Newton was involved in a well-publicized scandal last season at Auburn and left Florida earlier in his college career under circumstances that allegedly include academic fraud and a stolen laptop. Yeah, he has some integrity issues and some of it may be due to immaturity.

As for comments about lacking accountability and trustworthiness, I know of many people twice Newton’s age who fit that description. Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel seems like more of a snake than Newton when those are the standards, wouldn’t you say? Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun is three times Newton’s age and I can’t say Newton is any more disingenuous than Calhoun, the best reason to root for Butler to beat UConn in Monday’s NCAA title game.

In fact, there are adults all over the college landscape – namely football and basketball coaches and athletic directors – who match up pretty well with Newton in that regard.

I’m open to Newton becoming a good NFL quarterback but it’s hard to say for certain whether or not he will be. Add in signs that he appears to be a bit of a me-first self-promoter and it would be hard for me to bet my future on him if I was an NFL general manager.

If you think about it, Newton is one of four quarterbacks considered to be worthy of being selected in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft. The others are Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Washington’s Jake Locker and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett.

Gabbert doesn’t have a long track record as a productive collegian, Locker has impressive athletic ability but was an underachiever prone to erratic throws in college and Mallett has been raked over the coals for some personal issues over the last two months.

In fact, you could easily make the case that Mallett has experienced rougher criticism than Newton. How come Moon hasn’t come to defense of Mallett and uttered similar opinions about unfair critiques?

And if there’s a black sportswriter somewhere who criticizes Mallett and questions whether he’s trustworthy or calls him fake, do we call that black sportswriter a racist?

Of course, we wouldn’t. That would be silly. The same way it is ridiculous that Moon has decided to play the race card in a situation that has nothing to do with skin color.

If I was running an NFL team, I wouldn’t draft any of those four quarterbacks in the first round. But of course I never understood why an NFL team would pick Alex Smith first overall in the same draft that Aaron Rodgers was available (and yes, people who know me heard over and over again as the 2005 draft approached that Rodgers would be a much better pick than Smith).

But if I were considering picking Newton, I would be getting a bit concerned about one thing: If Newton is having trouble dealing with criticisms from people who don’t really matter in February and March of 2011, then I would be very concerned with whether or not he’ll be able to handle the pressures of December and January during NFL seasons.

I trust that Warren Moon is schooling Newton on such pressures in the months leading up to the draft. It’s just sad that Moon is now adding to the scrutiny Newton must endure with ill-advised comments.

As I said at the outset – Moon has firsthand experience of what real stereotyping is like and it still seems silly to me that he was bypassed in the 1979 NFL Draft solely because he was black.

But Newton being scrutinized prior to being a first-round pick in a few weeks is not something that is a different standard than what white quarterbacks go through.

If Warren doesn’t believe me, I’m sure he can figure out how to get ahold of Tebow now that he’s no longer in hibernation.

My phone rang one afternoon in December of 2004 and Aaron Rodgers was on the line.

It was two weeks before the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and Rodgers was a junior quarterback at the University of California. He was having one of the best seasons in the country, so good that he ended up skipping his senior season and applying for the NFL Draft.

Just three years earlier, nobody thought this kid from Pleasant Valley High School in Chico could play. Go ahead, pick whichever college coach you think is the top recruiter in the nation. No matter who you select, that so-called know-it-all coach wasn’t interested in Rodgers.

The only schools he heard from as a high school senior coached at the Division III and NAIA levels. Not a single major-college school felt Rodgers was worth taking a chance on.

On Sunday, Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers. He was named MVP of the game in which the Packers notched a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When I spoke to Rodgers six-plus years ago, he had a clear edge in his voice when the topic came up. He was still miffed that all the major schools had shunned him and the slights had fueled him during his spectacular 2004 season.

In fact, Rodgers was only discovered by the Cal coaches on accident.

Rodgers had considered attending Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., but then decided to stay close to Chico and enrolled at nearby Butte College. He won the starting quarterback job and the Golden Bears came by campus.

Not to see Rodgers … but to see tight end Garrett Cross.

The Golden Bears were stunned at the accuracy of Rodgers’ passes while studying game tape of Cross. Cal coach Jeff Tedford told me after a Holiday Bowl promotional press conference that he was amazed a quarterback as good as Rodgers had slipped under the radar.

You see Rodgers holding up the Super Bowl MVP trophy after throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns and you think about that journey. Basically, how close Rodgers came to being just another guy who went undiscovered and would likely be tearing it up in some rec league on weekends.

Rodgers was Green Bay’s first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and bided his time behind Packers legend Brett Favre. He then became part of the firestorm when the Packers became tired of Favre’s waffling over retirement and made Rodgers the starter, putting him under heavy pressure to produce.

But produce he did. And now in his third season as an NFL starter, the 27-year-old Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the game and about to be fitted for a Super Bowl ring. Dude is going to be quite a hit at Pleasant Valley High’s 10-year reunion festivities in 2012.

Here’s something Rodgers told me in 2004, when he was preparing to play Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl: “It’s been fulfilling to live out a dream and do something that many people out of high school told me I couldn’t do.”

Funny thing is – that same quote applies on a Sunday night in 2011, the night Rodgers forever etched his name into NFL immortality.

While big-picture entities like the NFL draft and NBA playoffs were hogging up the attention of the sports world last week, something truly amazing occurred: Sports fans actually got their way.

College administrators were considering expanding the NCAA basketball tournament to 96 teams and the idea was largely unpopular among the fans of the sport and the bracket beasts that show up in the month of March.

The tournament is expanding but it only was enlarged by three teams – to a 68-team field. That is terrific news.

I wrote in March that the field shouldn’t be expanded to anything more than 68 and it is great that the good folks at the NCAA took my advice and told all the selfish head coaches (they want 96 for job security reasons) and television executives that I really do know best (yeah, that’s tongue-in-cheek sarcasm).

Thankfully, the NCAA didn’t wreck one of the top sporting events of the year. College basketball rules the month of March because of the greatness of the tournament (Sweet 16 runs by Northern Iowa and Cornell and Butler’s appearance in the NCAA final made the 2010 tournament one of the best ever) and watering it down with even more undeserving Big East (think Connecticut) and Atlantic Coast Conference (think North Carolina) teams would have been ridiculous.

In early March, the Houston Chronicle put together what a 96-team bracket might have looked like this year and it showed that the first round (the top 32 teams were to get byes) would have been a complete joke. Some of the projected 11 vs. 22 matchups (a bad Connecticut team vs. Fairfield), 12 vs. 21 matchups (Utah State vs. College of Charleston) and 13 vs. 20 matchups (San Diego State vs. Wofford and Alabama-Birmingham vs. Weber State) were complete snoozers, not to mention the never-to-be-anticipated 16 vs. 17 matchup of South Florida vs. Marshall.

The new format means there will be four play-in games instead of one and I’m hoping the NCAA bigwigs will choose one of the following two scenarios for which eight teams play in those games.

Scenario One: Have the final eight at-large teams play for four spots and make the four winners No. 12 seeds in the first round.

Scenario Two: Have the final four at-large teams play for two spots and be No. 12 seeds and have the four worst teams in the field (they will all be from minor conferences) play for two No. 16 seed spots.

I prefer Scenario One for this reason: The small-conference teams already had to play their way into the field by winning their conference tournament championships. Seems a bit unfair that they have to play their way in a second time.

Also, with four games instead of one, television appeal matters. Arkansas-Pine Bluff beat Winthrop in this season’s play-in game and I don’t know anybody who watched the game. Can’t imagine anyone thinking four such games is the way to go with the importance of television ratings.

In the 2010 tournament, the last four at-large teams that made the field were Utah State, Texas-El Paso, Minnesota and Florida. The first four teams out were (decide your own order; we’re going alphabetically here) Arizona State, Illinois, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech.

As you can see, Florida-Illinois or Mississippi State-Minnesota play-in games are much more appealing than eight small-conference teams participating.

And if there had been a 68-team field this year, three of the four teams between Arizona State, Illinois, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech would have gotten in. There would have been only one team in the entire nation that could have claimed it got shafted.

Yeah, a 68-team NCAA tournament field is something we can all get used to. Having 96 teams in the field would have made the regular-season largely unimportant and also would have lessened the importance of the conference tournament for the major conferences.

There really wasn’t any overwhelming reason to go from 65 to 96. I’m glad the NCAA got this one right.

Now if only college football could do something about that very horrible postseason format of theirs. Funny how they refuse to listen to the fans when it comes to the BCS (Bowl Corrupt Series).

I’ve discovered that anticipating the second round of the NFL draft doesn’t work when there’s an 18-hour break between the first and second rounds.

Combined with the late afternoon start time (I’m not on the East Coast, the part of the country the new format is catered to) I didn’t catch any of the second round coverage live for probably the first time in two decades. Things like work commitments, errands, depositing paychecks and eating ranked a tad bit higher than making sure I was home to see who went first in the second round (the answer is Indiana offensive tackle Rodger Safford to the St. Louis Rams).

I see this as becoming a recurring problem with the new three-day draft format, though I do realize many hard-core football fans were rushing to their television sets in anticipation of seeing who their favorite team would pick or watching to see how long Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen would have to wait before being selected.

I did catch the latter part of the third round when names like Brandon Ghee (Wake Forest cornerback), Rennie Curran (Georgia linebacker) and Mike Johnson (Alabama offensive guard) came off the board. That trio of players, along with the fact that ESPN was no longer dissecting each pick closely, tells me I don’t need to spend much time watching Saturday’s final four rounds.

So yes, I miss the old draft format that was so successful and more fan-friendly. But money talks to the NFL big-wigs and Thursday’s first round was a huge ratings success so it’s clear the new Thursday/Friday/Saturday format is here to stay.

Here’s some picks I like from the second and third rounds:

SECOND ROUND

No. 35, Tampa Bay: DT Brian Price, UCLA – Combined with picking Gerald McCoy third overall, the Buccaneers have just made a serious upgrade on the interior of their defensive line.

No. 36, Kansas City: RB Dexter McCluster, Mississippi – Chiefs wanted to make a run at Darren Sproles until Chargers placed high tender on him, and McCluster is a playmaker of the same mold.

No. 43, Baltimore: OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas – I thought the pass-rushing specialist was a first-round possibility for the Ravens before they traded the pick to Denver (Broncos picked Tim Tebow) so this is a real steal for Baltimore to get him in the second.

No. 48, Carolina: QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame – If you read my draft primer, you know I didn’t think Clausen was worth the high first-round selection some people were forecasting. But mid-second is a solid time to take him and there’s a real opportunity for him to win a starting job with the Panthers projected starting quarterback being Matt Moore (249 career NFL passing attempts).

No. 51, Minnesota: RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford – Superb selection by the Vikings who can rely on Gerhart not to fumble (Adrian Peterson’s major flaw) and to be a workhorse if Peterson should get injured.

No. 57, Baltimore: DT Terrence Cody, Alabama – This was a guy the San Diego Chargers needed to figure out a way to obtain but they lost the chance by the high price they paid for first-round pick Ryan Mathews.

No. 60, Seattle: WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame – Should make a solid slot receiver and has game-breaking running/return ability.

THIRD ROUND

No. 83, Atlanta: DT Corey Peters, Kentucky – I felt this guy was a potential steal. He’s battled-tested by playing in the SEC and especially stout against the run.

No. 84, Cincinnati: WR Jordan Shipley, Texas – I forecasted that he could be Wes Welker II earlier this week and it won’t take long for Carson Palmer to relish his ability to make the clutch catches.

No. 85, Cleveland: QB Colt McCoy, Texas – Didn’t understand why people thought McCoy was going in first or second rounds. Browns got him right about the spot where his skills fit. Cleveland is a great spot for him in terms of opportunity and the type of offense. Plus, new boss Mike Holmgren knows quarterbacks well.