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Feeling a draft


The NFL Draft is astonishingly popular during this age of instant gratification. Fans have to wait several months for the rookies to wear pads and actually play football. It goes against what is largely appealing about sport: That a game reaches an outcome within a few hours and doesn't drag on like the search for Osama Bin Laden.

            The NFL Draft, however, drags on for two days and takes about 16 total hours. The actual outcome --- the point when newcomers make an impact --- usually takes at least a year.

            Yet, NFL fans love it. They don't even care that they'll mostly swear at those players during the 3.5 seasons the NFL Players Association says their careers will average.

            Really, this weekend's annualdraft is the power source of fan frustration. The biggest certainty is that most players drafted won't amount to much, such as Erik Flowers.

Buffalo selected the Arizona State defensive end 26th overall four years ago. He stunk.

            I really liked Flowers as a person, though. He was pleasant and caring. One time he asked me whether I heard if Aaron Schobel's wife had the couple's first baby. That was the first thing out of his mouth. I thought that was nice, but a Bills fan might have thought he should spend more time caring about sacks than Schobel's wife's baby.

            I remember Nate Clements telling me that Flowers excelled at the John Madden NFL video game. I'd occasionally call Antoine Winfield's home, and he and Flowers would be playing Madden. One day I asked Winfield about how the game turned out and he said he beat Flowers something like 12 straight times.

            Flowers lasted two seasons in Buffalo. Perhaps the emotional distress of relinquishing the Bills' Madden title was too much to take.

            Personally, I don't think Flowers wanted to work any harder than he did in college in order to succeedat pro football. Without the desire, he never played physically enough. He was quick, but if a tackle engaged him, he'd be neutralized the way Pepto-Bismol neutralizes indigestion. Naturally, Flowers rejected my suggestion that he avoided contact, but he almost never challenged a tackle one-on-one.

            After no-name defensive-end Kendrick Office took over for him midway through 2001, I asked Flowers what the problem was. He said he was too light, weighing less than 250 pounds. That was the year Gregg Williams arrived and told Flowers to lose weight for more effectiveness. Flowers went from the 270s to the 250s, nearly dissolving like an Alka-Seltzer.

            He told the story of how offensive lineman Jerry Ostroski picked him up and set him down like a pillow during practice. Flowers was embarrassed, which led to desperation. He told me his weight plan --- and I'm not kidding --- was to eat at McDonald's, and when he was full, take a few more bites.

            Well, it works for America.

Flowers, perhaps unwittingly, pulled a bait-and-switch. I think he went to the 2000 NFL Combine, looked impressive, and pretended to be enthusiastic about a football career --- thinking it didn't take any more work than his usual effort. Then the Bills made him a first-round pick and gave him a $2.7-million signing bonus. Once Flowers discovered he really had to work to reach his level of collegiate dominance, he didn't want much part of that.

            Today he's on St. Louis' roster and mostly plays special teams. He's in his fifth NFL season, and he's made a fortune by being below average.

            The question is: How can the Bills avoid the Flowers mistake with their 13th overall pick on Saturday?

            Using analytical skills gleaned from TV's criminal profile shows, I'll list the exact characteristics Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe needs to find in that player. Incidentally, this is based on Buffalo's top picks from the last three years. The profile is constructed from the assessments of the players' college coaches, because the draft is based on college information.

            Cornerback Nate Clements, 21st-overall pick, 2001: His Ohio State position coach told me he was a shy kid with a swagger. He wasn't an introvert, but he wasn't very talkative.

            Right tackle Mike Williams, fourth-overall pick, 2002: His Texas position coach told me he was a dancing bear and a great Christian.

            Running back Willis McGahee, 23rd-overall pick, 2003: He hasn't played, but his Miami position coach told me that he wants to be first at everything he does. Uh-oh. I had heard something similar about Flowers. A Bills scout described how competition consumed Flowers so much, that he would do anything to excel. One story was that Flowers continued playing an NBA video game against a high-school friend who had beaten him 42 consecutive times. On the 43rd try, Flowers won.

            Generally, Clements has been very good, Williams has been disappointing, and McGahee is a mystery. However, because of similar character descriptions between Flowers and McGahee, I will apply what I know about Flowers to McGahee.

            Here's the profile: Donahoe needs to find a quiet yet confident kid who doesn't dance like a bear but worships Satan and is not competitive to the point of stupidity.

            There. How's that for instant gratification? If the Bills find that player, you're not going to have to wait one to three years wondering how it will all turn out.