NFL draft once again has fans and analysts pouring over the latest crop of prospects

Gregg Patton reflects on this year's NFL draft.

The Chicago Bears' first-round draft pick quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo
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We are three months removed from the Super Bowl.

We are four months away from the first touchdown pass, the first fumble and the first brutal hit of the next National Football League season.

That does not mean the most popular league in North America has gone dormant.

The NFL draft of college talent was watched last week by near record numbers of television viewers, even though most football fans have never heard of the vast majority of the 200-plus players chosen.

Three once-dominant running backs, now in their 30s with questions about the state of their legs, recently signed with new teams and inspired media debate for days: which player in the Adrian Peterson-Jamaal Charles-Marshawn Lynch geezer trio has the most yardage left?

Yes, the NFL never sleeps. But more importantly for them, it is a league whose analysts and fans never sleep.

Despite the fact that this year’s draft featured absolutely no quarterbacks — the glamour position — who were regarded as cannot-miss, franchise-lifting players, some 9.2 million people watched two cable TV networks broadcast the first round on the first night.

The average audience for the three nights was 4.6 million, up six per cent from last year, and the second largest in history.

Once upon a time, the draft was considered too boring for television. That would have been before 1980, when ESPN — then a fledgling network hungry for content — asked the NFL for broadcast rights.

A monster was born, spreading like gooey science fiction plasma into three separate prime-time telecasts.

Even though it often takes several years before anyone can accurately assess how each team’s choices play out, instant analyses are offered and argued.

The favourite talking point of this year’s affair centred on the Chicago Bears, who traded up one spot and took quarterback Mitchell Trubisky second overall. For the most part, the reaction was “What’s wrong with those people?”

A month ago, Trubisky was just one of a handful of flawed college quarterbacks. The consensus was that none projected as a definitive, big-time pro, worthy of a top three pick. The Bears disagreed, making sure they got their strong-armed man from the University of North Carolina who can move out of the pocket to throw.

On the downside, Trubisky started just 13 games in college, playing in near anonymity for a below-the-radar programme.

As usual, we will not know if Chicago were right or wrong for a while. The Bears just signed free agent Mike Glennon for three years and US$45 million (Dh165.2m), presumably to start while Trubisky learns which laundry bin to toss his sweaty socks into after practice.

Then there are the three famous running backs. Peterson, 32, found a new home in New Orleans after rushing for 11,747 yards for the Minnesota Vikings. He vowed “revenge” on his former employer for not believing in him.

Lynch, 31, was the NFL’s most bruising runner from 2011-14. He helped the Seattle Seahawks win one Super Bowl and go to another, then retired after the 2015 season. He just signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Charles, 30, once was the most dangerous dual threat back in the league for the Kansas City Chiefs, but he only played in eight games the past two seasons. He is now with the Denver Broncos.

Sadly, last seen, they all were limping off the field, downed by serious leg injuries. Still, memories fuel hope and debate over who is best equipped to overcome those damaged wheels.

Never mind if the answer turns out to be “none of the above”. In the 2017 off-season, they were as huge as ever, stars again on the NFL’s always-lit stage.

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