Months of smokescreens, planted rumors, half-truths and bald-faced lies ends Thursday night when 32 teams finally show the hands they hope will lead them past the pitfalls of the 77th NFL draft and onto the right path toward a Super Bowl victory.
The first two teams -- Indianapolis and Washington -- will take quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, respectively. Luck replaces Peyton Manning, while RG3 has to live up to the Redskins' decision to trade three first-round picks and two second-rounders to move up four spots.
No pressure there.
The fun could start at No. 3, where Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has done his poker-faced best to paint four equal options: trading down or selecting Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil, Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne or Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon.
This is the sixth draft that Spielman has directed for the Vikings, but his first with final say.
"I'm very excited, not to be in this position [coming off a 3-13 season], but to be in this position at No. 3 because you're going to have to make a decision that's going to kind of set the cornerstone of our future," Spielman said. "So whether we stay at No. 3 or not, that first pick, we're hoping, is going to have a huge impact on our organization."
A flurry of activity could ensue after the third pick as several other teams look to trade down and collect more picks in what's widely considered a deep draft, particularly at receiver, cornerback and defensive tackle -- all positions of need for the Vikings.
The three-day event begins with the first round Thursday night. So sit back and pace your beverage intake while we toss out four draft-related questions to ponder.1. Which QB will have the better rookie year?
The bar for rookie quarterback play continued to be raised last year when No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton threw for 4,051 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns, an NFL record for quarterbacks.
Many experts consider Luck to be the best quarterback prospect since John Elway came out of Stanford in 1983. But it's RG3 who's expected to have the better NFL start because the Redskins have a better team and invested more in free agency.
"The Colts have so many holes, it almost on paper looks like an expansion team," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "It wouldn't surprise me if they're picking No. 1 again next year. Andrew Luck, you just hope he can survive with this personnel around him."
Kiper said the Colts' real pressure this week is using the nine other picks they have to make Luck's supporting cast better.
"If Andrew Luck doesn't look great, it's not his fault," Kiper Jr. said.
Answer: RG3.2.Who is the No. 1 boom-or-bust player?
This is the first time since 1999 that quarterbacks will be taken 1-2. But neither one of them is considered a boom-or-bust prospect. Right or wrong, they're both widely considered future booms.
But that's not to say there isn't a quarterback competing for the top of that list.
No player has been discussed more in recent weeks than Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. We'll find out soon enough whether he's truly a hot prospect worthy of trading up for or the subject of considerable pre-draft gamesmanship.
"A boom-or-bust kind of guy is Tannehill," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "He's a franchise guy, but you've only seen 19 [college] starts."
Others on that list, according to Mayock: offensive tackles Mike Adams (Ohio State) and Jonathan Martin (Stanford), as well as defensive linemen Dontari Poe (Memphis) and Quinton Coples (North Carolina).
"Coples could be an All-Pro," Mayock said. "But he has bust potential written all over him."
Answer: Tannehill.3. Will Hill fall to No. 35?
Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill is an intriguing possibility for the Vikings at No. 35. If he makes it past the bottom of the first round, which is looking less likely.
The 6-4, 215-pounder became the fastest riser in this year's draft when he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. But he's also raw, having played in an offense that ran the ball 77 percent of the time.
"You're betting a lot on his athletic ability and not a whole lot on college production if you take him high," Mayock said.
Answer: No.4. Who's the team to watch?
A big deal is made of free agency, but Super Bowl teams are built primarily with consistently shrewd selections throughout the draft and unearthed rookie free agents that eventually shock the league.
No team does this better than the Steelers, which makes it only fitting that they've won a record six of the eight Super Bowls they've played.
In the past 10 drafts, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has ignored free agency while plucking starters from all seven rounds and the pool of undrafted rookies. Twelve of those homegrown players have become Pro Bowl players, which ties the Cowboys and Patriots for the second-highest total in the league over that period. Only the Chargers (16) havehad more.
Colbert has found a franchise QB at No. 11 (Ben Roethlisberger). He has found four Pro Bowl players with mid-to-late first-round picks. He has found LaMarr Woodley in the second round, Chris Hope and receiver Mike Wallace in the third round, Antonio Brown in the sixth round and Brett Keisel in the seventh round. He has also signed Willie Parker and James Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as undrafted rookies.
"The Packers, Patriots and Steelers, those are the teams that build through the draft, don't overpay in free agency, and ... tend to stay true to certain things that they believe in," said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. "And their scouts all know what they're looking for in positions and the players that fit what they're doing."
The Giants and Ravens have had similar success. In the past 10 drafts, they've each had 11 draft picks become Pro Bowl players. The defending champion Giants also have won two of the past five Super Bowls.
Answer: The Steelers. Pittsburgh has 10 picks this year. That's tied with the Colts, Vikings and Jets for third-most behind the Browns (13) and Packers (12).
|Fla Gulf Coast||62|
|Sam Houston St||67||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||0|
|Stephen F Austin||92|
|Cal State Fullerton||62||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||69|
|(18) Texas A&M||57|
|East Tenn St||73|
|Sam Houston St||73||FINAL|
|Stephen F Austin||56|
|Miss Valley St||0|
|(15) North Carolina||84|
|Cal State Fullerton||66|
|Long Beach St||60||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||36|
|Aug 8 - vs. Oakland||7 pm||X||10-6|
|Aug 16 - vs. Arizona||7:30 pm||X||30-28|
|Aug 23 - at Kansas City||7 pm||X||30-12|
|Aug 28 - at Tennessee||7 pm||X||19-3|
|2014 regular season|
|Sep 7 - at St. Louis||Noon||X||34-6|
|Sep 14 - vs. New England||Noon||X||30-7|
|Sep 21 - at New Orleans||Noon||X||20-9|
|Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta||3:25 pm||X||41-28|
|Oct 2 - at Green Bay||7:25 pm||X||42-10|
|Oct 12 - vs. Detroit||Noon||X||17-3|
|Oct 19 - at. Buffalo||Noon||X||17-16|
|Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay||Noon||X||19-13 ot|
|Nov 2 - vs. Washington||Noon||X||29-26|
|Nov 9 - Bye|
|Nov 16 - at Chicago||Noon||X||21-13|
|Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay||Noon||X||24-21|
|Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina||Noon||X||31-13|
|Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets||Noon||X||30-24 ot|
|Dec 14 - at Detroit||3:25 pm||X||16-14|
|Dec 21 - at Miami||Noon||X||37-35|
|Dec 28 - vs. Chicago||Noon||X||13-9|
Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?