Tom Sorensen

Quarterbacks are dominating NFL draft talk again. You might want to hold your breath.

I keep hearing that Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, left, is a project, and that time will be required before he reaches fruition.
I keep hearing that Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, left, is a project, and that time will be required before he reaches fruition. AP File Photo

If Mel Kiper Jr. didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. Just as NFL teams have a face, so does the NFL draft, and that face belongs to Kiper. So does the hair.

Kiper does one thing, and the draft is it. He’s not terribly accurate. But he’s exceptional at lending gravity to all 256 picks. If a team doesn’t take a player he believes it should, it’s their fault and not his, and he’s confident enough to defend his position. Nobody is as adept at being breathless.

The NFL draft receives more attention than any first-round NBA playoff series, and the NBA playoffs are one of our great sporting events. Look around, read the sports section of newspapers and sports websites, listen to sports talk radio, visit Forbes’ website. Even Forbes is hung up on the draft.

Those of you that subscribe to the argument that the NFL no longer rules U.S. sports are mistaken. The NFL’s ascendency was such that it could not be sustained. There probably is too much NFL on TV, and last season’s Thursday night games were consistently unfortunate. But we’ll watch this Thursday night.

I’ve done one mock draft in my career, in 2011, and it was numbing. I don’t claim to study tape the way Kiper does, but I believe I got the first four picks correct. In order they were Cam Newton to the Carolina Panthers, Von Miller to the Denver Broncos, Marcell Dareus to the Buffalo Bills and A.J. Green to Cincinnati. After that, I have no idea.

Some of you will check. And if I have a 7-year-old tweet dangling in cyberspace, you’ll find it. I salute your free time.

Green, the fine Georgia receiver, had long been atop Carolina’s board. But as the draft approached, he was displaced by Newton. What upended most mock drafts was Denver taking Miller and not Dareus with the second pick. John Fox, Carolina’s former head coach, coached Denver then, and Fox favors disruptive Julius Peppers-style defenders. In Miller, he found one.

The draft was televised on a screen outside Bank of America Stadium. Newton had numerous critics before the draft. We pretend now that he was a clear No. 1, but it isn’t so. On draft night, however, fans wanted to believe, and when the Panthers chose Newton, fans cheered as if the quarterback had handed the ball to a kid after hurdling a tackler for a touchdown.

The draft is a challenge. Nobody has valid sources on all 32 teams. So you project. Or you plug in the players you, the prognosticator, would take.

If you attend news conferences and listen to general managers and coaches, you’ll know less when you leave the room than when you entered. They’re not evil or duplicitous, the GMs and coaches. But why give anything away?

Quarterbacks have dominated 2018 draft conversation. Four are projected to go in the first round, three almost immediately. Do you like any of them as well as the quarterbacks that went one and two in 2016? The Los Angeles Rams took Jared Goff with the first pick and the Philadelphia Eagles took Carson Wentz with the second. Those are quarterbacks teams covet and construct an offense around.

How do you compare the quarterbacks in the 2018 draft (Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen) to the first three quarterbacks taken last season? They are Mitch Trubisky (second), Patrick Mahomes (10th) and Deshaun Watson (12th).

The call is easy. I’ll take Goff and Wentz over any of them, and I’ll take Deshaun Watson over each of the four 2018 draft quarterbacks, too.

I keep hearing that Jackson is a project, and that time will be required before he reaches fruition. That might be accurate. But can’t you also say that about Darnold, Mayfield and Rosen?

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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