The NFL is just like any other mass cultural phenomenon. It appeals to wide, diverse audience; it's primary channel being broadcast television, where you can still be entertained for a minimal cost. Ain't that America.
Fitting that the league has its own version of the most profitable of all reality genres: the star-maker. Voyuerism takes many forms. Watching people pull themselves up by their bootstraps lines up nicely with all the classic tropes we'll here from now through the NFL Draft in April.
Players emerging out of the hidden lochs of FCS schools, guys succeeding in spite of the scouting reports and the perennial story of a guy that once lived in his car, the march to the NFL's premier offseason event looks an awful lot like that Fox show where singers get judged by the old leather handbag with feathers in his hair, the one with the booty and the guy that may or may not be related to Michael Jackson.
That show starts off with trips to the hinterlands, offering yokels the chance at their fifteen minutes and maybe a trip to L.A. That's exactly where the NFL Draft story is this week, auditioning a gaggle of players at the East-West Shrine Game. The C-List celebrity judges replaced with men in sweat pants and pleated khakis.
Most of the players practicing in Tampa for the Shrine Game this week come from small schools or big schools where they're been obscured by brighter stars. Every year a few players shine at the Shrine Game, boosting their draft stock and maybe getting themselves a shot at an audition on a much bigger stage.
Who might be moving on from this year's Shrine Game?
Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina
A Horatio Alger story in the making, Norman burst onto the scene this week. He's shown ball skills, quick feet, swivel hips and an explosiveness to close in and shut down his targets. At 6'0" 203 lbs, his size matches up well against bigger, more physical receivers. A 2011 FCS All-American First Team corner, Norman will be at the Combine in February, the first player from Coastal Carolina at the event since Jerome Simpson in 2008. Russ Lande of the Sporting News said on Wednesday that Norman could sneak into the second round of the draft. Scouts may get the chance to see more of him next week, where he could be first on the list as a replacement player in the Senior Bowl.
Future: He could turn into the Chris Daughtry of cornerbacks, except for the fact that, you know, Daughtry sucks. But like Idol's "post-grunge" rocker, he could stick around as a consistent NFL starter.
Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
His speed, a sub-4.4 forty, and effectiveness as a return man were well documented prior to this week. He played a key supporting role on a successful Division I team. The question he needed to answer in Tampa Bay was how well he could play on the outside and whether or not he could work routes in the more crowded middle part of the field. Wright did drop some balls on the first day of practice, but looks the part as a vertical threat. Teams like to pick speedsters like this in the second and third round of the draft, and Wright could be another example of that in the mold of Torrey Smith or Titus Young.
Future: Deep threats and good punt returners are invisible to the average fan until they're running 80 yards for a touchdown. It's not really a one-hit wonder, more of an occasional star.
Chase Ford, TE, Miami
He got the praise of Todd McShay, which is either a kiss of death or nice omen. Of course, being a tight end from The U, as the kids like to call it, carries a certain pedigree. Early reviews on Ford aren't exactly as glowing as the early word on Jimmy Graham, the Saints' tight end and former Hurricane, was two years ago, but he is showing some potential. Ford lacks Graham's speed, but people on the scene are raving about his hands in practice. Ford's blocking is being criticized, but at 6'6" 258 lbs and solid hands he could be a quarterback's friend in the red zone.
Future: Good tight ends are always emerging from the ethereal, and Ford has the pedigree to join their ranks. Could he be the distant runner up that outshines all the finalists?
Brandon Brooks, OG, Miami Ohio
Small school starters plucked from the late rounds of the draft or even the legions of undrafted players are like a holy grail for scouting departments. Brooks had that look about him after a solid senior campaign. His play this week had Tony Pauline at SI.com projecting him as a potential top-100 pick in the April draft.
Future: Adequate linemen can always find work in the NFL, especially one that can play multiple positions. They're like the backup singers that occasionally pop out for their own album, adored by critics and ignored by the masses.
Tyrone Crawford, DE Boise State
Quiet during the season, Crawford's bull rush move is getting applause from those on the scene. He showed the kind of raw power and moves befitting of a late-round pass rusher that teams can develop. His repertoire makes him look more like a 4-3 defensive end.
Future: The UFL is full of pass rushers who flashed some raw talent in the lead up to the NFL draft. Crawford could turn out to be another one of those players. He could be like the old guy that won Idol once, hitting state fairs as part of the variety show before being completely forgotten.