- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This column has upside.

Not enough to land in the green room at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday for the NFL’s three-day made-for-television draft extravaganza, complete with hairsprayed hosts screeching about fast-risers and high motors, hugs from smiling commissioner Roger Goodell and don’t forget the tears.


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Or the upside.

The kind you don’t need the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test to peer into the dusty recesses of your psyche to see. Same for combines and pro days and Senior Bowls. Or overeager NFL front-office types who quizzed prospects on just about every imaginable topic, including the unfortunate queries if they, um, like girls.

The measurables are off the charts. What those mysterious charts are isn’t clear; no one wants their measurables to be on them come draft day. Same with makeup. Keep that off any charts, too.

No red flags. No concerns about fake girlfriends or health or social media profiles or, shudder, the dreaded “character” catch-all. That, more often than not, is code for being busted for smoking marijuana or similar low-level skullduggery that can make those hopes of a stroll onto the stage with the commissioner go up in smoke.

This is a world of football smarts. Reps and explosive first steps. Look tests and work ethic. Big boards and busts. Playmakers and intangibles. Rising stock. Falling stock. Tweeners. Value picks. Sleepers and, no, that’s different than what happens if you’re still watching come Saturday when Mr. Irrelevant’s name is called.

And potential. Loads of potential. Everywhere potential. Because he’s definitely, breathlessly, without a doubt the next …

Oh, wait, we’re still on the clock.

There are draft experts of every shape and size to offer their take and approximately 27,431 mock drafts — heck, why not predict all seven rounds? — that litter the Internet. Sources and smokescreens. Mocks and, well, mocking the mocks.

Each prospect is relentlessly picked apart. Nothing is too minute or obscure. Height. Weight. Experience. Too little. Too much. By the time Goodell hands out jerseys, everyone is flawed. His 40-yard dash is slow, but the first 10 seconds, thank goodness, are fine. There are shuttle runs. Three-cone drills. Bench presses. Vertical leaps. Arm length.

Can he make all the throws? Does he get happy feet in the pocket because, well, no one wants a quarterback with those. Is he durable? Hands soft enough? What about that college competition level?

All that’s missing is a trip through the American Ninja Warrior Obstacle Course and a 500-word essay on the deeper socio-economic ramifications of the pistol offense.

Welcome to football in April.

This glorified conference call turned must-see television meets Christmas for the football-inclined is where the Redskins can’t afford a mistake this week. The $18 million salary cap penalty left them turning over couch cushions for enough change to re-sign their own free agents and, even in a depressed market for veterans, sifting through free-agent leftovers.

The Redskins don’t pick until No. 51 overall on Friday, thanks to one of the three first-round selections shipped to the St. Louis Rams in the Robert Griffin III deal. That landed the franchise’s cornerstone, but combined with the cap penalty to leave the team with holes to fill and not many ways to do so.

They need help at safety. Tackle. Cornerback. Not starters, necessarily, but players capable of immediate contributions. No projects or wait-and-see selections. An early-round dud with the team’s limited means could be disastrous. They’re a sneeze away from the salary cap. This is the opportunity, as much of one as they’ll get this offseason, to make a significant upgrade.

Really, they need to mine another Alfred Morris. Mike Shanahan’s gang pulled the running back out of the sixth round last year, part of their solid haul in later rounds. The big boards and projected drafts and endless self-anointed experts didn’t favor the kid from Florida Atlantic who drives a 1991 Mazda. Then he rushed for 1,613 yards, good for second-most in the NFL.

Mock that.

Think of the impact sniffing out an impact defensive back, for instance, would make on the patchwork defense that habitually surrendered long plays last season and provide a long-term answer in the secondary.

This is a different sort of draft for the Redskins, one, at long last, with a quarterback to build around instead of the years-long quest for competency at the position. Possibility lurks among the cliches.

Just don’t forget the upside.