In case you didn’t know, the much-awaited Fast Five hits the box office this weekend.  Kind of astounding when you realize they actually made a fifth, almost like it was part of a dare or something.  Of course, the great irony here is that nobody didn’t know about this picture.  You couldn’t turn on your television without being stalked by a monotone Vin Diesel.  And you can’t say anyone was truly waiting for it, either.  Most level-headed moviegoers threw in the towel midway through the first sequel.  So, with no discernible plot and acting that is second to everyone, why’d they even bother making this?

Your answer: Because they could.  That’s the best I can come up with.  Because some kid with a spoiler will always pay $17.50 to see fast cars at the local IMAX.  Because guys don’t care about storylines when they can oogle at Jordana Brewster for two hours.  Because the rest of the world seems like it’ll watch ANYTHING.  Fast Five will be gratuitous at best; lazy at worst.  But it’ll still gross $500 million at the end of its run

Unfortunately, the same holds true for the way ESPN covered last year’s NFL Draft.  The suits knew up front that a certain percentage of the viewing public would tune in no matter what, so they could be cocky and float a few trial balloon.  Just because.  So, Steve Young got a larger soapbox for his smugness.  Jon Gruden was allowed to fawn over everyone.  Mel Kiper was barely even featured.  Most notably, in its arms race to one-up NFL Network, ESPN let Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen telegraph every pick well in advance of the official announcements, which totally killed the buzz and sent online wagering sites scrambling to disable live draft betting.  It was like watching a movie for the first time after reading a lengthy spoiler.  Or like watching Jacory Harris throw into traffic.

Despite all that, I returned to the Worldwide Leader as the THREE-DAY DRAFT EXTRAVAGANZA got underway.  As far as I could tell, the draft went something like this:

8:00 – We’re off to the races!  The 2011 NFL Draft has officially begun on ESPN, and with a refreshingly modest cast of characters: Chris Berman, Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper.  Things may change as the weekend progresses, but this is a nice change of pace, as the producers emptied the clip last year with every analyst under the sun.  Without Steve Young on set, the compliments are bound to be out of control.  Hold onto your hats.

8:02 – Annnnd Chris Mortensen’s teleprompter dies during a spirited discussion of NFL rules.  We’re only two minutes in.  It’s possible it picked up interference from Cecil Newton’s suit, who is shown hugging it out backstage with his son, while wearing snow white pinstripes.  ESPN should flash a “Needs Improvement: Keeping a Lower Profile” graphic just to be snarky.

8:03 – There it is.  It’s not official (yet), but it looks like your first overall pick will be Auburn’s Cam Newton.  As usual, this was the worst-kept secret in a draft that feels like it’s bound for a weak first round.  Gruden hits the nail on the head by saying this creates “a unique running game” in Carolina.  You can say that again.  As Steve Young pointed out in his pre-draft analysis, Newton only threw 50 careers passes from within the pocket.  What’s not to love here?

8:04 – Roger Goodell walks to the podium and is predictably booed.  In a weird moment, Goodell responds with “I got cha,” almost as if he’s buying a drink for Snooki.  The Panthers are now officially on the clock.

8:06 – Well, that didn’t take long.  The first pick is in.  It’s Newton, who might also be getting booed by the crowd.  Berman responds with a strange comparison to Peyton Manning, which feels as out of place as his brightly-colored tie.  In other news, Ed Werder is reporting that Jimmy Clausen’s Escalade can be heard running, somewhere, in an airtight garage.

8:10 – Gruden waxes poetic about Newton, saying “he has all the tools I’m looking for,” before rattling off a laundry list of things that the Cam must improve, including “digesting an NFL playbook.”  This is as close as it gets to criticism from Gruden, whose glasses are never half-empty, nor full, but always overflowing.

8:11 – Ah, there it is, folks.  Gruden’s first “this guy” of the night.  For the record, I invited my cousin over for tonight’s proceedings, almost exclusively to track this situation.  The over/under for this needs to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 60, right?

8:12 – Wait, Denver did complex “computer analysis” on Von Miller, comparing him to other defensive starters in the NFL?  There might be a joke in here about Match.com now scanning for sex offenders, but I’m not going there.  Miller is the best player you’ve never heard of in this draft, and represents one of the safer picks in the early first round.

8:14 – Gruden rattles off three “this guys” in about 10 seconds.  He came ready to play tonight, folks.  Meanwhile, Von Miller appears to have stolen Haley Joel Osmont’s glasses from Sixth Sense.  If they helped Osmont see Bruce Willis, maybe they can help Miller find Brady Quinn?

8:17 – In a stunner, Gruden says he had Von Miller as the top player on his draft board, putting him in a dead heat with roughly 327 others.

8:19 – Buffalo opts for Alabama’s Marcel Dareus at No. 3.  Solid pick here for a team with a lot of holes.  Kiper defends the pick against people asking “why not Blaine Gabbert here?”  I’ll tell you why: They watched college football all season.  That is all.

8:25 – Predictably, the Bengals select A.J. Green.  Thus far, there have been absolutely no surprises, and two of the first four picks were suspended for part of the season.  According to Gruden, Green was the best offensive player in the draft.  His main area of concern with Green?  Well, he has none.  Meanwhile, Kiper compliments Green for being “angular,” which means… honestly, I have no freaking idea.  Somewhere, Jay Bilas just nodded in approval.

8:30 – The Cardinals sprint to the podium to lock in Patrick Peterson at No. 5.  This pick was a no-brainer.  More importantly, Peterson is wearing a checkered shirt that may contain a hidden sailboat if you cross your eyes.  When did this become acceptable attire?

8:35 – AND WE HAVE A TRADE! Atlanta sells out and trades up to add Julio Jones to its already impressive arsenal of offensive weapons.  There were rumors that the Falcons might try something like this.  Conveniently, Jones is already wearing Atlanta’s colors… and, I don’t want to say it, but we’ve got a bit of a fashion war brewing.  Jones’ costume tonight: a sportcoat with a red dress shirt and silver bow-tie.  Who are you wearing tonight, Julio?  Joakim Noah and a Red Lobster waiter.

8:40 – BLAINE GABBERT WATCH!  BLAINE GABBERT WATCH! Never mind.  The 49ers opt for Missouri’s Aldon Smith, who should give them some versatility on defense.  Meanwhile, Gabbert is getting antsy and talking nervously on his phone.  If football doesn’t work out, his hair could put him in line for a cameo as a heel on Monday Night Raw.  Just sayin’.

8:44 – Tennessee finally breaks with the Vince Young era… by drafting another mobile quarterback with questionable decision-making and accuracy from within the pocket!  Welcome to Nashville, Jack Locker!  I know, I know, that was cruel.  I find myself rooting for Locker to live up to the hype that built after his junior year.  But I’m just not sure he’s accurate enough to succeed in the NFL.

8:49 – Gruden says about Locker: “This is a guy I’d like to coach.”  For those keeping score, Gruden’s “this guy” count is already an alarming 19.  Bodog needs to offer a prop bet on this next year.

8:57 – The Dallas Cowboys select USC’s Tyron Smith to help anchor its offensive line.  But here’s a better question: what the hell is this E39 Electronic Compression Shirt from Under Armour?  What exactly does it do?  So many questions here.  Is this what Robert Downey Jr. used to keep himself alive in Iron Man?  Does it have HDMI output?  Does it link into the Playstation Network at all?  Not anymore!  Heyyyyyyy-o!

9:00 – While we’re bitching about commercials, when’s the last time Taco Bell made a watchable commercial?  Who’s running this ad campaign, Rusty Hardin?  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching these.  Here’s a wild idea: trim 25-percent from your horrendous brand budget and use it to upgrade to Grade D beef.

9:04 – Well, our long national nightmare is finally over.  Jacksonville trades up to get Blaine Gabbert and makes him the third quarterback taken.  Obviously, the Jags had some questions at quarterback, but this just feels like strange pick.  It’s not inconceivable that Jack Del Rio goes completely crazy in 2011 and runs and exclusive two-quarterback, shotgun-oriented system.  You heard it here first.

9:06 – Suzy Kolber asks Gabbert “What was said on the phone?”  Gabbert: “They asked me if I wanted to be a Jaguar.”  Here’s the thing: I’m not so sure this was rhetorical question.  By all accounts, Jacksonville is a horrible NFL city with a spotty fan base an odd mix of mega-churches and strip clubs within its city limits.  Poor kid is behind the eight ball before he even started.

9:10 – The Texans select J.J. Watt from Wisconsin, who might be the unsexiest pick of the entire draft.  You never would’ve guessed, but Gruden likes the pick.  I haven’t been this shocked since Clay Aiken came out of the closet.

9:15 – Ladies and gentlemen, our first real upset.  Christian Ponder (!?!) to Minnesota.  In all my life, I never could’ve envisioned the Joe Webb era ending so abruptly.  It was fun while it lasted.  Meanwhile, Kiper seems miffed by the pick and compares Ponder to Chad Pennington, locking up the evening’s Billy Packer Award for “Best Backhanded Compliment.”  You can always tell when Kiper is a little irked by a pick.  Ever since the Raiders reached on Darrius Heyward-Bey, he simply goes into his shell and remains eerily quiet.

9:19 – Oh geez.  Berman just had to sneak in that gratuitous Brett Favre reference, didn’t he?  That clever little minx couldn’t resist.  I had this on the watch list headed into tonight’s draft along with a dead horse reference to the Royal Wedding.  You know it’s coming.

9:21 – OUTSTANDING pick by Detroit to grab Auburn’s Nick Fairley, who’ll line up next to Ndamukong Suh.  Jim Schwartz has to be dancing in the streets right about now.  Two years in a row of picking the most dominant defensive player in college football.  The new strategy in Detroit appears to be the complete and total opposite of everything ever attempted by Matt Millen.

9:22 – On a side note, it’s almost like Fairley was tipped off.  He’s already wearing Lions colors, along with a bow-tie, a vest, and nerdy, hipster glasses.  If Rivers Cuomo were black and over 300-pounds, he’d look something like this.

9:27 – You know the Rams were hoping for Julio Jones to fall, but instead they grab Robert Quinn from North Carolina.  Not a bad move here, and a good value buy for St. Louis, who is quietly building itself a franchise.  I have visions of them ending up with Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph in the second round and mowing through the NFC West in 2011.

9:30 – Let’s also chat about Mark Ingram, who has now become the main talking point on the set.  Several questions: (A) How is it possible to fit that many diamonds on any one object, let alone a wrist watch?  (B) How does one get hair so perfectly manicured without the use of laser beams or Mike Tomlin’s stylist?  (C) Is it just me or does he look like a young Ice Cube?

9:35 – The Dolphins aim for the center of the fairway and take Mike Pouncey from Florida.  Along with Von Miller and Patrick Peterson, this pick has as low a risk factor as you could ever want from a first round selection.  There’s simply no reason to think that this Pouncey can’t be as sure a thing as his brother who plays for the Steelers.  In fact, there was some talk that Tomlin gave his staff the directive to trade up for Pouncey if it were reasonable.

9:41 – Everyone is talking about the Redskins’ quarterback situation, and rightfully so, but I like the fact that they’re holding back and going with Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan here.  Kerrigan figures to be a nice fit for the Washington’s defense, and gives Mike Shanahan a playmaker on defense with an outstanding work ethic.  If you were taking a quarterback here, which direction would you even go?  Ryan Mallett?  Andy Dalton?  Colin Kaepernick?  Feels too early for any of those guys.

9:44 – Just wondering… how many times tonight did Mitch Mustain check to make sure that his landline was still plugged into the wall?

9:47 – You know who New England is?  They’re that guy in your fantasy league who waits until round 15 to start taking pitchers, and still ends up with 9’s in every pitching category come September.  There is absolutely nothing exciting about the pick of Colorado’s Nate Solder here.  Nothing at all.  Except for the fact that everyone below New England would’ve taken Nate Solder if he were available.

9:52 – Despite the fact that ESPN has spoiled almost every pick, I have to hand it to the producers for making this year’s coverage is much less in-your-face than 2010.  Thus far, I’ve been really impressed with Gruden knowledge, the lack of cut-aways to other “experts” in the studio, the obsequious job Berman is doing, and Kiper’s insight.  Also of note: Todd McShay might be dead.  Once thought to be the heir-apparent to Kiper’s throne, McShay is nowhere to be found.

9:54 – San Diego takes Illinois’ Corey Liuget at No. 18, a “guy” who was “a very good high school wrestler” and isn’t “a big human being” despite being “over 300-pounds.”  Classic Gruden.  I’m not even sure what he just said, but is there any doubt he’ll be coaching somewhere within the next two years?  Actually, he could probably make more money as a PR consultant to the Big Ten.

10:02 – WHOOP!  WHOOP!  CHEAP ROYAL WEDDING JOKE ALERT! Scroll up, damn it… I called this an hour ago.  Somehow, the Giants just landed Prince Amukamara from Nebraska to boost a secondary that has been plagued with injuries over the last two seasons.  But clearly, the story here is Berman trotting out a “Prince on the eve of the Royal Wedding…” line.  I gotta hand it to him, I didn’t see this coming.  It was right there in front of us the whole time and I just… didn’t… see… it…

10:08 – Iowa’s Adrian Clairborn to the Bucs.  Nice story for Claiborn getting to the NFL, despite battling Erb’s palsy since childhood.  No doubt there are durability concerns associated with this pick, but his leadership and pass rushing skills should be a welcome addition.

10:16 – Cleveland trades up to get Phil Taylor, who Kiper calls “mountainous” and compares to a young Shaun Rogers.  Of course, stamina is going to be a concern here since Taylor is 700-pounds, but so what.  Cleveland is a winner by default for getting a king’s ransom from Atlanta… wait for it… ON THE EVE OF THE ROYAL WEDDING! See what I did there?  Your move, Berman.  Moving on…

10:19 – Oh, look at that.  Peyton Hillis, the new Madden cover boy, stopped by to announce the Taylor pick and thank the heavenly father.  Hopefully, Mark Hamill won’t mind that Hillis borrowed his Luke Skywalker outfit from Return of the Jedi.  Hillis really needs to team up with Mike Alstott and start a White Running Backs Tour this summer.  They could open for the American Idols and make fun of Jason Sehorn.  Just a thought.

10:26 – Indy takes Anthony Castonzo from Boston College to bolster a line to struggled to create running lanes in 2010.  Another crafty pick by the Colts, who constantly seem to make intelligent picks.  For the life of me, I cannot stop thinking about that Seinfeld episode where George uses his last name like the “By Mennen” jingle.

“Alright George I’ll be honest, the first time we went out, I found you very irritating, but after seeing you for a couple of times, you sorta got stuck in my head, Co-stan-za!”

Maybe that’s why Indy pulled the trigger here?

10:30 – Nice, a Hangover 2 trailer.  That reminds me, the Eagles are on the clock.  Every year this is and adventure in eastern PA which dominates a full news cycle on Comcast SportsNet in Philly.  You can practically set your watch by a pick that involves a lineman who slipped due to injury concerns or some other question mark.

10:34 – YES! Danny Watkins!  The 26-year old Canadian who played at Baylor!  Gruden likes his “anger and athleticism.”  Kiper likes his “rugby background.”  Know what Philly would like more?  A 22-year old American with a football background.

10:37 – Philly message boards are irate.  “How good was this pick?” says one poster.  “The only highlights they showed were of him as a firefighter.”  Enough said.

10:43 – WHOA! What the hell is Cameron Jordan wearing?  With the 24th overall pick… the New Orleans Saints selected… Al Borland wearing a shiny cream suit from the University of California!  Can we blame Craig Sager for this?

10:48 – Jon Gruden has a fantastic question: “What is Seattle doing?!”  Exhibit A: Overtrading to get Charlie Whitehurst for the team’s live nativity display.  Exhibit B: Firing its offensive coordinator despite having no offensive weapons and an aging, injury-prone quarterback.  Just a year ago, we were singing the praises of Pete Carroll’s first draft with the Seahawks.  Now, it’s Alabama’s James Carpenter from Alabama and lingering questions about the quarterback position.  Yes, Pete, football is much more difficult when all the other players are getting paid, too.

10:48:05 – OK, that was low.  Sorry.

10:52 – If you’re still keeping score, Gruden’s “this guy” count is up to 56.  I’m certain we missed a few, mainly because Gruden is so quick with them and also because my cousin’s pen literally ran out of ink keeping track.  I’m not making this up.  There might not be enough ink in this apartment to handle something like that.  We might need to start using human blood pretty soon.

10:57 – Annnnnd… we have a Drew Rosenhaus spotting with Colorado’s Jimmy Smith.  My favorite Rosenhaus moment remains the 2007 NFL Draft when he was repping Lawrence Timmons, Greg Olsen, and Drew Stanton and managed to appear, on-camera, with each player, on the same day, with different backdrops… making it look like he was in three places at once.  That was tremendous.  This Jimmy Smith project should be just as fun if you factor in the positive marijuana test, two previous arrests, and NFL teams “monitoring his Facebook page.”  If pro football doesn’t work out, I’m sure Florida would offer him a scholarship.

11:00 – So, wait… the Ravens just let the clock expire?  Geez, with all the lights, you could barely even see Mike Tice enter the building.  The Ravens should draft the 400-pound fan that ESPN just showed wearing a Ray Lewis jersey; he’d probably work for free.

11:02 – Confusion remains.  Nobody knows who’s on the clock, who’s picking, or who’s been picked.  This feels a lot like the quarterback situation at Penn State.  Standby.

11:04 – The confusion has been cleared up.  The Chiefs sneak in a Jon Baldwin pick ahead of Baltimore.  Scouts didn’t like his attitude, but I didn’t like Tino Sunseri.  At all.  So, he gets a mulligan.  You could argue he should’ve gotten the Calvin Johnson treatment and had points added to his scouting report for having to deal with a stiff throwing him passes all season long.

11:08 – The Ravens finally pull the trigger on Jimmy Smith.  Gruden really seems to like this pick despite the obvious character issues.  Apparently, Baltimore had a trade in the works that fell through, hence the confusion.  I still want to know where Mike Tice is hiding.

11:14 – A TRADE! The Saints come marching in and swap with New England in order to grab Mark Ingram.  Gruden loves the pick, as does Kiper.  New Orleans’ leading rusher last season was Chris Ivory, so this is an obvious upgrade.  Ingram talks with Suzy Kolber who reads a congratulatory e-mail message from Mark Ingram Sr., who is currently incarcerated in the evening’s most touching segment.

11:19 – OK, I’ve waited the obligatory five minutes, and I’m dying to know… is Mark Ingram Sr. using Gmail or another service?  Bodog would have Gmail at -500, Yahoo! at -150 and the field at -115.  I would bet on this.

11:28 – While I was being a jerk, the Bears took Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin and the Jets took Muhammad Wilkerson, and the Steelers drafted a plaided Cameron Heyward.  Plaid is apparently the “in” thing this evening.  Know what isn’t?  Jim Tressel!  BA-DUM-CHA!

11:37 – Derek Sherrod from Mississippi State goes to the Packers to close out the first round as a Packers fan inexplicably screams bloody murder.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been that excited for anything in my life.  I don’t even think Derek Sherrod is that happy.

11:40 – And that does it for your 2011 first round.  All told, a night with few surprises, better-than-expected television coverage, and 74 “this guy” drops by Jon Gruden.  Not bad for a night’s work.

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