[Editor’s Note: this post originally ran a year ago, right after the 2010 NFL draft. The day after the start of the 2011 draft, it still seems topical — plus, I’m too swamped to otherwise post right now. And yes, I saw that Auburn QB Cam Newton went first, and that the Vikings drafted Florida St. QB Christian Ponder 12th.]
Even after all the interviews, debates, and due diligence, the choice is ultimately still a crap shoot, taking years before it’s apparent whether the choice is a Hall of Famer or a bust.
The NFL draft?
Try, picking U.S. presidents.
Just as in pro sports, sometimes consensus first picks turn out to be busts — and sometimes lowly ranked players (or walk-on’s!) end up being Hall of Famer’s.
At least in my view, here are the four categories that (most) U.S. Presidents fall into:
1. Consensus 1st Pick: ‘What You See is What You Get’
George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower: both highly regarded national leaders who literally were drafted to serve as President. Their successful Presidencies were characterized by the same leadership skills, judgment, etc. they exhibited prior to their election.
2. 1st Round Busts: U.S. Grant, Warren G. Harding.
Both men were central casting’s idea of what a U.S. President should look like — and disappointments (or worse) in office.
Call them the “Ryan Leaf’s” of presidential politics (Leaf was chosen second by the San Diego Chargers in 1998, right after Peyton Manning — and never heard from again).
3. Late Round (or undrafted) Hall of Famer: Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman.
Lincoln had achieved some measure of fame debating Stephen Douglas, but was largely unknown nationally prior to his election. He emerged in 1860 only because the leading Republican contenders (William Seward, Salmon Chase) deadlocked.
“Plain-speaking” Harry Truman emerged from FDR’s shadow to become a near-great (and favorite underdog) President.
4. Late Round (or undrafted) Bust: Jimmy Carter. Obscure former Georgia Governor with a squeaky clean image that was especially appealing after Nixonian sleaze.
Great ex-President, mediocre President.
So where does that leave Barack Obama and George W. Bush?
Obama is like the high school phenom so talented that they skipped college and went directly to the pro’s — as the very first pick, no less.
Time will tell whether he turns out be another Kevin Garnett or LeBron James — or Kwame Brown (Kwame who?).
George W. Bush, meanwhile, is like the walk-on who got installed as starting NFL quarterback not because of a stellar college career — but because he was the owner’s son.