The race is on for the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
One lucky NFL team is going to "acquire" the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and land the surest quarterback prospect in decades. Unfortunately, in order to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, one NFL team is going to have to be very (un)lucky on the field in 2011.
At the quarter pole of the NFL season, four teams have separated themselves from the pack as the top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it) contenders for the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams each have started the season 0-4 and each has a good shot at getting Luck with the first pick. (Just for good measure, keep an eye on the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, as each could easily slip into this race as well.)
Since the St. Louis Rams already have their franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford — and are struggling so mightily due in large part to a rash of injuries — they will clearly not be in the market for the Stanford signal-caller. Additionally, playing in the NFC West should afford the Rams a few more chances to win than if they played in the, say, AFC East.
The Minnesota Vikings have proven in short order that they can compete with just about anyone — for 30 minutes. With the most talented running back on the planet and a potential Hall of Fame quarterback under center, Minnesota should be able to reach four or five wins, which would likely take them out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. There is also that small issue of last year's first-round pick, Christian Ponder — and all of his money — which also impedes the Vikes from selecting Luck.
That leaves the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts.
The Andrew Luck watch — aka "Suck for Luck" — should be on in full force in both cities, and one lucky team will get the stellar quarterback. The Colts have a roster loaded with veteran players who are accustomed to winning — and winning big. The team has played well against the Steelers and Bucs in its last two losses — clearly making a big mistake by showing actual desire to win football games. So with games against Kansas City, Cincinnati, Carolina, two with Tennessee and Jacksonville each still left on the schedule, the odds say the Colts win at least four if not five games.
No, the smart money is on Andrew Luck returning to the site of his Orange Bowl thumping of Virginia Tech and becoming a member of the Miami Dolphins. The Fish still have to play the entire NFC East, Oakland, Buffalo twice, the Jets twice and New England again. Kansas City and Denver look like the only two winnable games left on the schedule. So assuming — because this is the NFL, after all — that the Dolphins pull off one upset, they are looking at a 3-13 record at best. Top it off with a coach who could be receiving his pink slip at any moment and you have a recipe for disaster (or in this case, celebration).
So if the Dolphins — and any player with more than one year left on the contract — were smart, they would start the rebuilding process today by losing as many games as possible. It sounds pathetic and flies in the face of all that sports represent, but underachievement from here on out might be the best way to improve the franchise long-term.
Because a player like Andrew Luck does not come along very often.