The National Football League begins its offseason version of the Super Bowl this Thursday with the commencement of the 78th annual NFL draft.
Since the event's inception in 1936, the draft has grown exponentially in popularity and is now considered must-see TV for football fans worldwide. The three-day spectacle, held at New York's Radio City Music Hall and broadcast on ESPN and the NFL Network, will see 254 of the nation's most promising amateur football players chosen in hopes of bolstering one of the league's 32 franchises.
Though it doesn't possess the speed and hard-hitting action of on-field play, the NFL draft has created its fair share of memorable moments throughout the years.
In 1989, the Green Bay Packers had a chance to strengthen its offense with former Oklahoma State standout Barry Sanders. Instead, the Packers chose Tony Mandarich -- then touted as the greatest offensive line prospect of all time -- and watched him flounder, while Sanders went on to a hall of fame career with rival Detroit. Other future stars drafted after Mandarich in 1989 included the late Derrick Thomas, Andre Rison, and Deion Freaking Sanders.
Eleven years later, another big bust came as the San Diego Chargers took Ryan Leaf with the second pick of the draft. Remember the great successes and hall-of-fame career of Ryan Leaf? Yeah, me either. Oh, and Leaf was drafted ahead of seven-time Pro-Bowler Randy Moss.
Then there's one of the greatest Cinderella stories in NFL draft history: the New England Patriots formed a dynasty with the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, selecting Tom Brady, who would go on to win three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP trophies, and be twice-named NFL MVP.
Suffice it to say, the NFL draft has been one of the most impactful aspects of modern-era football.
For football fans in Oklahoma, the draft is the ultimate sendoff for some of the state's biggest heroes and has launched the careers of local stars like Oklahoma State's Sanders, Thurman Thomas and Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson, and Tulsa's Gus Frerotte and Steve Largent.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TULSA
This year, fans of Oklahoma's collegiate football programs will have plenty to watch.
While the University of Tulsa's draft class for 2013 isn't deep, it does possess two players many draft experts have heralded as potential hidden gems, running back Willie Carter and safety Dexter McCoil.
Carter's four-year career at Tulsa was uneven, as the Crockett, Tex. native put up a career-high 868 receiving yards in 2011 only to muster a miniscule 382 yards last season. While he isn't the prototypical NFL running back, Carter could be a versatile option out of the backfield and provide of options for creative offensive coordinators. Scouting reports project Carter going in the seventh round of the draft.
For McCoil, the early scouting reports insist he is a player of great risk and great reward. Physically, McCoil -- at 6-foot-4 -- is larger than most NFL safeties and gives up little in regard to speed. Because of this advantage, McCoil could anchor a defensive backfield in the NFL, tying up the likes of some of the game's larger receivers. The downside, according to scouts, is that McCoil is somewhat undisciplined and often leaves himself out of position. Amateur scout Mackenzie Pantoja wrote on nflmocks.com, "Whenever he is targeted in coverage, Tulsa fans hold their breath. One of two things will happen: he will come out of nowhere and make a spectacular interception or play on the ball, or he will allow a touchdown."
McCoil is listed as a potential sixth-round pick and is the only former Golden Hurricane player virtually assured of being selected in this year's draft. Of course, nothing is certain until an NFL team comes calling.
Another notable local player in this year's draft class is former Broken Arrow High School and Arkansas Razorback offensive lineman Alvin Bailey. After just two seasons at Arkansas, Bailey chose to forego the remainder of his college career and enters this year's draft ranked as the eighth-best option at the offensive guard position. Many mock drafts have Bailey being selected somewhere in the fourth or fifth round, with a few having his name being called as early as round three.
After a remarkable class in 2012 that saw the likes of Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden being taken early in the draft, Oklahoma State's list of prospects for 2013 is relatively small.
Running back Joseph Randle leads OSU's class after a 2012 that saw the Wichita, Kan. native accumulate a Big 12-best 1,417 rushing yards and gain first team all-conference honors. Randle enters this year's draft slated as the ninth-best running back available and has drawn comparison to current Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson.
The Cowboys' other big name in the draft is former Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and AFCA All American punter and kicker Quinn Sharp. Currently the second-rated kicker in this year's draft, Sharp hopes to be just the seventh kicker selected in the last five years.
No surprise, the brightest of Oklahoma's 2013 draft classes comes from Norman. This year, the Sooners not only have several medium- to low-round prospects, but also three players likely to go in each of the draft's first three rounds.
The most touted of OU's class is offensive tackle Lane Johnson. A beast of a man at 6-foot-7 and just over 300 pounds, Johnson has been projected in many mock drafts to go as high as seventh to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Sooners' other two notables are quarterback Landry Jones and safety Tony Jefferson -- both expected to be selected in the third round -- with fan-favorite wide receiver Kenny Stills being taken in the fourth.
While this may be a lighter-than-average year for Oklahoma-area players heading for the bigs, we'll still be represented. And people will still know that we take our football seriously in these here parts.
The Kansas City Chiefs kick things off this Thursday at 7pm with the first overall selection. Catch it on ESPN.
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