Here it was, a beautiful, sunny spring day, and I felt like a shut-in, an agorophobic albino, sitting in front of the television watching a meaningless exercise in inexact evaluation and prognostication otherwise known as the 2006 NFL Draft.

But, as much as I hate to admit it, I actually enjoyed myself.

It started with the tension-packed minute where Jets fans appeared to be contemplating burning down Radio City Music Hall when they lost out on Reggie Bush to the Saints.

Then Tom Jackson, channeling Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, started whispering “He just missed his system,” as Matt Leinart was being stood up by his old offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, and the Tennessee Titans

Then the Jets passed on Leinart for D’Brickhouse Ferguson (please tell me Berman isn’t already calling him that), and Leinart looked like he was practicing the facial expression his buddy Nick Lachey used when Jessica Simpson dumped him.

Yes, the first 45 minutes of the 2006 NFL Draft were as entertaining as any in recent memory. And unlike a Ben Stiller movie, the laughs hadn’t run out already.

Marv Levy’s first draft for Buffalo kept the comedy coming, which seems fitting since Levy always reminded me of comedian Pat Paulsen. Paulsen used to run a satirical campaign for President every four years, and I’d say he stood a better chance of winning than the Bills do as long as Levy is making his mind-boggling picks.

The funniest part of the draft, though, always comes just before the Patriots pick, when the so-called experts try to sound like they have a clue what Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli are thinking.

Sometimes they even outsmart themselves. Mel Kiper actually had the Pats selecting Laurence Maroney in one of his early, early mock drafts. But then the free agency defections started happening and everyone had convinced themselves that New England was either going to tap a wide receiver or defensive player with their first pick.

But as Belichick explained himself in his pre-draft press conference, the Patriots don’t place as high of an emphasis on need as they do on value. Maroney was their choice at No. 21 because they felt like he was the player that they could get the most production out of at that point.

Which is why we shouldn’t read too much into the selection and its impact on Corey Dillon’s future with the Patriots. Dillon is coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued 2005, but he could have duplicated his 2004 performance and Maroney would still be slipping on the red-white-and-blue next fall, in part because Dillon will be 32 when next season ends, but mostly because Belichick and Co. felt Maroney was the best value at No. 21.

Since I can’t remember ever seeing Maroney play, and neither can 90 percent of Patriots fans, we can only go by the scouting reports. I found one on CNN/ that is quite pleasing:

“Patient, elusive ball carrier with outstanding instincts. Waits for blocks to develop, weaves through the traffic and finds the open space. Quick-footed, cuts back against the grain and makes defenders miss. Bounces around piles or beats defenders around the corner. Does not go down without a fight and falls forward when tackled.”

Sounds a little like Curtis Martin to me. Even his weakness – “Cannot run to daylight” – is Martin-esque. What Patriots fan could complain about that? Let him learn the system, gain a little weight (he’s 217 pound), split the carries with Dillon and Kevin Faulk next year, and there’s a good chance you’ve got yourself a feature back in 2007.

The Maroney pick was a pleasant surprise, but the Patriots’ second round pick has a lot of Pats fans positively giddy. They traded up to pick Chad Jackson, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver with 4.35 speed, and all the reports are glowing: athletic, strong, sturdy, good hands, uses his frame well. His blocking is iffy, apparently, but outside of that, he sounds like a faster version of David Givens and the perfect complement to Deion Branch. We’ll even forgive Belichick for taking Jackson one pick ahead Virginia Tech safety Jimmy Williams and denying us the pleasure of cracking jokes about frogs having wings and bumping their booties.

So hopefully now Tom Brady has two more weapons with which to work. And even though none of us has any idea whether Maroney and Jackson are the next Curtis Martin and David Givens or the next Reggie Dupard and Hart Lee Dykes, we do know this:

The fun of finding out has just begun.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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