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2009 NFL Draft: Is he a good pick? Depends on who picks him

NEW YORK - In college football there's a theory, supported by some solid evidence, that a high school player's rating is influenced by the schools recruiting him.

A player can go from a three-star prospect to four stars when Urban Meyer shows up at his door. When that player decides to go to Florida, the Gators' recruiting grade gets an extra boost because they signed a four-star prospect instead of a three-star.

Shady, right?

A similar dynamic seems to be happening in the NFL draft.

Players selected by the most successful organizations generally have their positives accentuated by the pundits and experts. So when the Indianapolis Colts took running back Donald Brown from Connecticut with the 27th pick in the first round, the choice was mostly well received.

Brown was regarded as a good citizen and a very good player. He had a huge 2008 season, running for 2,083 yards and 18 touchdowns before deciding to skip his senior season.

"We said, 'Here's a guy that fits everything we want. There isn't a thing wrong with him. He's everything we want to have,'" team president Bill Polian said.

Great pick, right?

Well, the consensus had running back Chris Wells from Ohio State rated ahead of Brown. Wells went to Arizona with the 31st pick.

Also, increasingly NFL teams are shying away from taking running backs in the first round because it's usually a deep position with good players available later in the draft.

The Philadelphia Eagles, for example, took LeSean McCoy from Pittsburgh in the second round with the 53rd pick. An argument can be made that Brown and McCoy have similar enough potential that the Eagles got the better value.

The same could be said for the New York Jets, who took the bruising Shonn Greene from Iowa in the third round, and maybe even the Carolina Panthers, who took the speedy Mike Goodson from Texas A&M in the fourth.

And another thing: Don't the Colts already have Joseph Addai, a first-round pick from 2006?

Two-back systems are all the rage in the NFL, but did the Colts really need to use a first-round pick for a complement to Addai when they had needs at linebacker and defensive tackle?

Of course, Polian drafts about as well as anybody in the NFL and has earned the right to avoid criticism. Indy's top choices the last 11 years all became starters.

The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, have been bungling their way through most of the decade, with owner Al Davis as the circus' ring leader. Oakland is 24-72 since the start of 2003, the worst in the NFL over that period.

Poor Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Maryland receiver whose stock plummeted when he became the newest Raider. He was selected No. 7 overall and welcomed to the NFL by a chorus of boos from Raiders fans in attendance at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday.

"This is a guy that I had targeted a month ago," said Raiders coach Tom Cable, who apparently fell in love with Heyward-Bey's blazing speed.

If Cable was watching ESPN and/or the NFL Network, he got to hear all the things Heyward-Bey doesn't do well - inconsistent hands, doesn't go over the middle - and how he clearly wasn't as good as Michael Crabtree, who went three picks later to San Francisco.

It sure looks as if the stopwatch-obsessed Raiders reached for Heyward-Bey, and then did it again when they took Ohio University defensive back Michael Mitchell and his 4.4 speed in the second round.

The Cincinnati Bengals are another of the NFL's toxic teams. The Bengals' first three draft picks were players who, at one time or another, were being pegged to go sooner than they did.

During the season tackle Andre Smith looked like a potential first overall pick. Cincinnati got him at No. 6. USC linebacker Rey Maualuga looked like a sure first-rounder. The Bengals got him early in the second. Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson was being touted as a potential first-rounder before his senior season; he went 70th overall.

If the New England Patriots had made those picks, they'd be praised for maximizing value. The Bengals make those picks and the focus is on Smith's immaturity for ducking out of the combine early, Maualuga's tendency to overrun plays and Johnson's lack of effort.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots traded down a bunch, loaded up on second-round picks and grabbed players who were lauded for being good fits for New England's system. Oregon safety Patrick Chung? The perfect replacement for the aging Rodney Harrison.

The Cleveland Browns, now coached by Belichick protege-turned-adversary Eric Mangini, traded down in the first round and stocked up on second-round picks. The Browns took center Alex Mack from California with the 21st pick, right around where he was expected to go.

The reaction from one Cleveland sports writer's blog: "All that trading for a center?"

Sorry, Alex, the wrong coach knocked on your door.