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Theme of NFL draft: Don't blow it!

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The baseball draft is too obscure; basketball too predictable.

This weekend, however, is the only sports selection process that's interesting enough to watch on TV (ESPN) Â- the NFL draft, in which teams speculate on college football stars with the cold calculation of cattle buyers and the gut instincts of Tarot card readers. This year, most experts agree, features a special collection of talent, including 20 top-rate players, far more than have been available in recent years.

It's a chance for a team to dramatically revamp its roster in the span of 48 hours. It's also a time when a team can blow its future faster than you can say Akili Smith. (Smith, a quarterback from Oregon, was the third player chosen in 1999 and is now considered a bust.)

Jobs are on the line, stakes are high, and if you're a general manager or a director of player personnel, you have one thing on your mind: Don't blow it.

"The mission of everyone involved in a team's draft is to minimize doubt" about the player they are going to select, says Vic Carucci, the national editor of NFL Insider Magazine and a veteran of 23 NFL drafts.

But, he adds, "The thing that will always frustrate and make teams uneasy is that there is no tangible way to measure a player's heart and level of desire. You ... [can't] judge how the guy will react in the final minutes of a game on national TV with 70,000 people in the stadium."

It's not, however, due to lack of effort.

Teams poke, prod, and consult experts. They try to get inside a player's head and heart. They test players for intelligence using the 12-minute Wonderlic Test, which was developed by a Northwestern University psychology student in the 1930s. (The average football prospect's result, it turns out, is slightly above the average for the general population.)


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