Time constraints present new challenges

Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (left), Arkansas' Felix Jones (center) and Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall (right) are the types of running backs who could be drafted by teams seeking complements to existing first-string ballcarriers. Getty Images

With no quarterback considered worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick, this year's draft isn't considered as sexy as in past years.

Still, this draft, which starts Saturday at New York's Radio City Music Hall, is considered a good one. It's strong on offensive tackles, pass-rushers and running backs. The receiving class might lack star power, but it's solid and deep. There are plenty of fast cornerbacks.

One change in terminology comes out of this draft. Only two rounds will be held on Saturday instead of three, changing the meaning of "first-day choice." We all will just have to adjust.

1. Picking up the pace: To make for better television, the NFL shortened the amount of time between picks. In the first round, teams will have 10 minutes to make their selections instead of 15. The second-round window will be seven minutes. Rounds 3 through 7 will be five minutes. General managers can't linger on the phones too long as they explore draft day trades and try to maximize offers. If a team doesn't submit its selection card before the allotted time has elapsed, the next team gets to jump in and make a pick. That would be embarrassing, but the shortened time period won't prevent trades. Remember, teams have had a year to prepare for this. They had better be ready to make quicker decisions.

2. Veteran trades: Other than Jared Allen's being dealt to Minnesota, few of the potential trades involving veterans will affect teams' draft boards. The Cowboys won't shy away from taking a cornerback in the first round even if they can complete a trade for Pacman Jones. The Broncos probably will end up with Jets defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, but that trade won't cause a major ripple in the team's draft plans. Teams that have been eyeing the draft's top cornerbacks probably won't be in the mix for the Eagles' Lito Sheppard or the Raiders' Fabian Washington.

Don't be surprised, though, if there are more veteran trades than normal. There isn't much available in free agency, so trading 2008 draft choices may be the last chance to get a potential starter. One player who could influence the first couple of rounds is Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey. The 27-year-old Shockey could end up with a team such as New Orleans, which might think he is better than a second- or third-round tight end.

3. Cornering the small-college market: Proving that scouts will find top players no matter where they are, the cornerback position is especially fascinating because the top three are from small colleges: Leodis McKelvin is from Troy, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie is from Tennessee State and Mike Jenkins is from South Florida. The small-college connections might make teams in the top 10 gun-shy, but clearly, McKelvin, Rogers-Cromartie and Jenkins will go in the first round. After the top 10, the cost of the picks isn't as risky.

4. The perfect draft to fill two-back rotations: Darren McFadden is considered the only true three-down running back in the draft, but the eight underclassmen backs -- including McFadden -- make this a special group of runners. Only three of the top 11 backs are seniors. Four underclassmen -- McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart and possibly Felix Jones -- could go in the first round. Just about every team is going to a two-back rotation, and these are perfect backs to augment any backfield.

Jamaal Charles of Texas and Chris Johnson of East Carolina are fast, explosive backs with 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash. Chauncey Washington of USC is moving up draft boards with his recent 4.33 time in the 40. Steve Slaton of West Virginia, Ray Rice of Rutgers and Mike Hart of Michigan are good backs who will be available perhaps as late as the third or fourth round.

5. Tackling problems along the offensive line: The Falcons, Dolphins, Bears and Chiefs have no excuses if they can't fix their needs on the offensive line. At least six tackles will go in the first round: Miami's already signed Jake Long of Michigan as the No. 1 overall pick. After him there's Branden Albert of Virginia, Ryan Clady of Boise State, Jeff Otah of Pittsburgh, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt and Gosder Cherilus of Boston College. Five could go in the first 14 selections.

Albert might be listed as a guard, but at 6-foot-6, he is projected to be turned into a tackle. He's one of the hottest names in the draft. Sam Baker of USC is on the fringe of slipping into the first round. Young tackles, particularly left tackles, seldom hit the free-agent market, so this is a rare chance for teams to start rebuilding their offensive lines.

6. Abundance of pass-rushers: Normally, a draft offers maybe two or three potential pass-rushers. This year's draft has at least five who could go in the first round and there are two more who could develop into potential 10-sacks-per-season ends or pass-rushing linebackers. Chris Long of Virginia, Vernon Gholston of Ohio State, Derrick Harvey of Florida, Lawrence Jackson of USC and Calais Campbell of Miami each has had 10 or more sacks in a season in college. Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling and Quentin Groves of Auburn have 10-sack potential. All seven could go in the first round.

7. Weird year for wide receivers: At the combine, the receiving group reminded some scouts of the 2004 draft that featured Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams and Lee Evans, combinations of big bodies and good speed.

But except for Devin Thomas of Michigan State, who could end up going to Buffalo with the No. 11 pick, receivers -- big and small -- could slip into the high teens or the 20s. Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma, Limas Sweed of Texas, James Hardy of Indiana and DeSean Jackson of Cal could go in the first round.

Four of the five are underclassmen, with Sweed being the only senior of the group. If Thomas does slip close to 20, don't worry about this draft's being considered down on wide receivers. In 2006, the only first-round receiver was Santonio Holmes, who went to the Steelers with the 25th pick.

8. Character: Teams are concerned about character, but there is enough interest in some of the top players with character questions that they shouldn't drop too far. Some wonder about the people who surround McFadden, but the Raiders are warming up to taking him with the fourth pick in the first round.

Cornerback Aqib Talib of Kansas had some past issues with marijuana, but enough teams believe those issues are behind him. He has a first-round rating and should be selected that high.

9. Underclassmen: You have to wonder whether this draft would be a disaster without the influx of underclassmen. As many as 28 underclassmen could go in the first two rounds. Offense was bolstered by six wide receivers and six running backs who could go in the first round. On defense, five ends and four cornerbacks could go in the first day of the draft. Expect 13 or 14 underclassmen to go in the first round.

10. Parity plus: The Giants' Super Bowl victory, combined with a 32-32 deadlock in interconference play, allowed the NFC to catch up to the AFC last season. For years, the AFC had the edge on the field over the NFC. Also, the NFC enters this draft with a little bit more clout.
The 16 NFC teams have 129 draft picks -- six more than the AFC. The NFC East has the most with 36. After the Chiefs' trade with the Vikings for Jared Allen this week, Kansas City owns a league-leading 13 draft picks. but the Vikings had the draft-pick clout needed to pull off that deal. The Eagles and Bears have 11 apiece, and Philadelphia could end up with more if it trades cornerback Lito Sheppard.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.