Air show

The Baltimore Sun

One of the terrifically dramatic subplots of the NFL draft is the now-famous "Green Room."

That's where the NFL invites the five or six college players most likely to be taken high in the first round to gather and wait for their names to be called so each can stride to the podium, smile for TV and hold his new team's jersey across his chest.

There's lots of genuine jubilation as the players selected earliest in the draft can virtually start counting the cash, and sometimes there's a heartwarming moment - Maryland tight end Vernon Davis, for instance, bursting into joyful tears when the San Francisco 49ers made him the No. 6 overall pick two years ago.

But more recently, the Green Room has also been a torture chamber for some high-profile players who unexpectedly waited and waited, hour after hour, for their turn, like the short, pudgy kid in a schoolyard game of pickup football.

In 2005, it was Aaron Rodgers who lasted until the Green Bay Packers took him at No. 24. The next year, it was an obviously steamed Matt Leinart fretting until the Arizona Cardinals called his name at No. 10. Last year, there was the pathos of Brady Quinn sitting with his girlfriend and sister until the Cleveland Browns took him with a second pass at No. 22.

From excited anticipation to discomforted surprise to hangdog resignation, their emotions become the grist for the country's entertainment.

"It makes for incredible television," said Josh Hoffman, who will be ESPN's producer at this weekend's draft at Radio City Music Hall.

"We don't want to embarrass anyone or put them on the spot. I can say this: At least most of the people who had that happen went on to do pretty well."

Well, maybe they'll do pretty well. Rodgers finally gets to start in Green Bay in the post-Brett Favre era. Leinart and Quinn remain quarterbacks-in-waiting for their respective teams.

At least this much is certain - despite dropping in the draft and missing out on millions of dollars, they still all became more modest millionaires.

Which brings us to this year. The NFL has announced the following Green Room invitees: offensive tackle Jake Long, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, defensive ends Vernon Gholston and Chris Long, running back Darren McFadden and quarterback Matt Ryan.

Well, we know who will be first out of the Green Room. The Miami Dolphins, who have the No. 1 overall pick, announced yesterday that they had signed Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long. But who will be the last man in the Green Room on Saturday?

ESPN football analyst Ron Jaworski says he has no doubt: Ohio State's Gholston.

"I don't have him as high as some other people," said Jaworski, who will be commenting on the draft from New York.

"I see him as a rigid, straight-line guy, and when I look at him on tape, I don't see him showing up for every play."

Jaworski said if Gholston isn't taken especially high, he could tumble to late in the first round.

Quinn, who was rescued from the Green Room last year when the wait became insufferable, said in an interview later, "At a certain point when you're past those teams that you've built some sort of relationship with, you're entering an unknown and you don't really know what's going to happen."

Hoffman, the ESPN producer, said it's the league and not the network that selects the invitees, and obviously, the NFL is trying to pick players it thinks have the best chance of going early in the first round.

"With all the access to the teams and the ability to predict that the league should have," Hoffman said, "and a guy they invited still drops 20 spots, that just shows how unpredictable the draft can really be."

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