Grading on a curve

Every draft offers value for those who understand the game within the game

Updated: April 7, 2011, 12:57 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesHad he succeeded, JaMarcus Russell still would not have provided much value relative to No. 1 picks in other sports.

When we watch a just-drafted athlete hug his mom, put on a goofy cap and smile for the camera in anticipation of a multimillion-dollar contract, it's natural to wonder how he could possibly be worth all that money before ever playing a minute in a pro game.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.