NFL Teams Partyin’ Like it’s 1981

With no combine having been held this year because of the pandemic, the 32 NFL front offices will be "partying" like it's 1981 — the year before the first combine, which was in 1982 — for three days, starting on Thursday, in a grim parody of Prince's 1982 hit single (Gonna Party Like It's) 1999 (Prince also ghost-wrote the Bangles' 1986 hit single Manic Monday under the pseudonym "Christopher," just in case you ever do get on the post-Alex Trebek Jeopardy).

And the lack of a combine will affect no other position in the draft as much as wide receiver — and no other wide receiver as much as Alabama's Devonta Smith, who did not even run at the Crimson Tide's Pro Day, citing a "lingering finger injury" for why he didn't do so.

Not that Pro Day 40-yard dash times are famous for their accuracy: Freddie Mitchell, Philadelphia's decidedly forgettable wideout, allegedly ran a 4.26 at UCLA's Pro Day in 2001 — speed that he never even came close to duplicating at any point during his four-year NFL career.

And Devonta Smith has something in common with one of his Mitchell's Eagles teammates — the even more forgettable Todd Pinkston (who was so forgettable in fact that Eagles fans dubbed him "Stinkston"): Smith was listed in his senior year at Alabama at 6'1", 175, but both figures are regarded as significant exaggerations (6'0", 160 has been suggested as more plausible, at least to some observers). The Eagles listed Pinkston at 6'2", 174 — also highly questionable, certainly as to weight anyway (Southern Miss listed him at 167).

(Height is almost as often embellished as speed or weight is: Cal had the unmitigated gall to list DeSean Jackson's height as 6'0" in his senior year at that college, which was 2007; true estimates of Jackson's height are as short as 5'7", and in recent years he has been listed at 5'10".)

So here you have a wide receiver who might end up having the wind knocked out of him on every other play on the "next level" — and he may not even have much in the way of speed.

(See not only Pinkston here, but also the 6'3", 193-pound Ashley Lelie throughout his seven-year career in the 2000s, the first four with the Broncos. His lack of, how shall we say, durability, led to his first name becoming a snide tagline).

If you are an NFL general manager, do you potentially waste a top-10 pick on what could turn out to the biggest bust that the NFL has seen at the wide receiver position since David Verser 40 years ago? (Verser, who was the 10th overall pick in the 1981 draft by the Bengals, never even had so much as 200 yards receiving in any of his four years at Cincinnati; he then appeared in one game for Tampa Bay in 1985, did play at all in 1986, and appeared in two games for Cleveland in 1987 before his inglorious career came to an end.)

This is why linemen, on both sides of the ball, will probably go higher in this draft than in most years. The risk factor is a lot lower. And this could be both the deepest and most talented crop of quarterbacks available in the same draft since 1983, when a record six quarterbacks — John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien, and Dan Marino, in that order — were selected in the first round.

So maybe teams will party like it's 1983.

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