The NFL draft is the foundation for each franchise, and the gem of each draft is the first-round selection.
The difference between the No. 1 pick and the No. 32 pick is monumental. Let's divide the first round into three sections: top selections, middle first-round selections, and late first-round selections to examine each area.
The team has probably already suffered through an awful season to get this pick, but now it is time for that payoff. The franchise will get one of the best four to five players available in the draft. This selection should be a college star with a spotless résumé void of character and health issues. Although this is a team's best chance to get a franchise quarterback, any player at any position slotted to go this high should be a leader and a star.
The trade value of these high selections is enormous. The compensation for moving down is enticing. The franchise will likely give a player who has never played a single NFL snap the longest and most expensive contract in franchise history. During my career in Tennessee, we drafted two No. 3 overall picks. One was recently retired league co-MVP Steve McNair, and the other was 2006 Rookie of the Year selection and rookie Pro Bowler, Vince Young.
The middle selections are my favorite area of the first round. You have a great combination of value, versatility, imagination and risk. This player will probably not carry a franchise label. He will be very good but he is probably the second or third player in a key position, or the best player in a secondary position. You hope that there is a franchise-caliber offensive guard or defensive tackle who will slip to you, but it isn't likely. Trades here are easy. For a reasonable price, you can move up and down three to four slots. If a franchise wants to drop out of the first round, it is within striking distance. Middle-first-round-selection contracts are slotted and modest in comparison to top picks. Character and injury issues are more often a concern. Doctor's reports and background checks will now require discussion and risk evaluation.
In 1996, Tennessee had the No. 9 overall selection and we really wanted Eddie George. We believed we could still get him in the middle of the round, so we traded down to the No. 16 pick. At the last minute, thinking we might miss George, we quickly traded back up from 16 to 14 and still got our player. Out of the deal we ended up with an extra fourth-round selection and we drafted All-Pro offensive tackle Jon Runyan with that pick. I also drafted All-Pros Albert Haynesworth at 15 and Jevon Kearse at 16.
The last four to five first-round players will be very good but not among the pre-draft elite. Unless you are selecting the best center or safety, you are probably getting anywhere from the second- to fifth-best player at his position with these selections. Depending on the draft, the selection might even carry a second-round value. The key to late first-round success is finding the best match in value, need and system. The No. 30 pick might be a Pro Bowler in your system but wouldn't even play for another team. It is expensive to move very far up the draft ladder from here and not as rewarding to drop down. Contracts are hard-slotted and obviously the cheapest of the round. Character and injury issues are not uncommon in this area and they may be the reason a quality player is sliding here. In 2001, we traded our 29th overall selection to the St. Louis Rams for defensive end Kevin Carter. The Rams then used that selection on Ryan Pickett, a defensive lineman from Ohio State who was the ninth defensive lineman taken in the first round. Carter was a player we considered drafting in 1995 at the No. 3 overall selection, but we eventually got him for a great value. In 2000, we drafted All-Pro Keith Bullock with the No. 30 overall selection.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes to ESPN.com.