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Slotting Draft Feelings

Posted Apr 15, 2010

Where a player is picked has meaning -- but not necessarily an impact

Seventh-round pick LaRod Stephens-Howling didn't care where he was picked in the 2009 NFL draft, just that he was picked at all.
 
 
Bryant McFadden figured he had waited long enough.

He was anxious on draft day, with the second round coming to an end and having already been enticed by Carolina at the 54th overall choice (they called and then took running back Eric Shelton). So when the Pittsburgh Steelers, holding the 62nd pick, called asking McFadden if he had been contacted by any other teams, he just reacted.
 
He saw the Eagles were waiting with pick No. 63. So he told the Steelers, “Philadelphia.”

“I guess every little bit helps,” the current Cardinals cornerback said while recounting the events. “I didn’t want to lie, but …

“I don’t know if that made me get picked quicker or not.”

The spot at which a player is drafted is meaningful, even if the meaning changes from person to person. Money is the obvious factor – the higher the player is picked, the more his initial contract is worth. That was the big reason McFadden was desperate to get off the board and on to a team.

But it goes beyond that.

Running back Beanie Wells was a first-round pick, and played like it for the Cards as a rookie. He knew he would go in the first round.

But there was debate about who the top running back was: Wells, Knowshon Moreno and late-riser Donald Brown. Wells said he was told he would be drafted anywhere from seventh to 15th – the Jaguars seriously considered him at No. 8 – so as the first round moved on and Moreno (12th) and Brown (27th) were taken, Wells grew frustrated.

“I wanted to be the first running back taken,” Wells said. “I wanted people to know I was the best at my position. (Draft status) was more of a pride thing with me. You are worried about the guys before you. You have been comparing yourself to them the whole time, so it makes for a stressful day.”

Stress is, of course, relative. Fellow running back LaRod Stephens-Howling was just hoping to be drafted, so when the Cards took him in the seventh round last year, Stephens-Howling couldn’t contain his emotions.

“I felt like I was coming from the bottom so just being picked was a blessing,” Stephens-Howling said. “I was going to be happy whatever round I ended up in.

“I put a lot of work in, but you don’t want to disappoint yourself in thinking, ‘I’m going to be picked in the first day.’ Once you get later, you just want to show up at a camp.”

That’s the crucial part of each player’s story. A draft spot will earn a player a certain amount of money, and it undoubtedly directs the amount of fame each player has coming into the NFL. But that doesn’t help when the player gets to a camp.

As an organization, the Cardinals want its picks to pan out, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, and the higher choices draw more scrutiny. But, Whisenhunt emphasized, “when we step on the football field, the culture we have created here is that it only matters how they perform.”

Wendell Bryant was a first-round pick that washed out, and third-round status didn’t help Buster Davis.

Sometimes, lower draft status can evolve into something more important than it seemed at the time.

Steve Breaston was disappointed he lasted until the fifth round in 2007, and disappointed most NFL teams saw him as a return man and not a viable receiver.

“I just wanted to embrace it and go to work,” Breaston said. “I still have a chip on my shoulder. I don’t think I will ever shake that. I understand what a lot of coaches saw, but as a player, I just felt I hadn’t reached my potential yet. I know I was a better player than most people thought.

“I go out and try and prove it every day. It’s my motivation, being drafted in the fifth round.”
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