In an election, you can never predict the result based on the early returns. You have no way of knowing where the votes have come from, so early returns are not a reliable indicator of who the ultimate winners will be.

In my first race for governor in 1986, at 9 p.m., Channel 6 reported that I was leading Bob Casey Sr. by 10 percentage points. My York County coordinator, a great young woman by the name of Vicki DeLeo, was so excited that she and a few friends piled in her car and drove down to Philadelphia to join our "victory" celebration.

The only problem was the early returns were from Philly, and by the time Vicki reached the Schuykill Expressway, the returns from the rest of the state started to come in, and we were being crushed.

The NFL draft is very similar to an election — the early returns don't mean much, and only time will tell. That's really a shame, because all of the postdraft evaluations give the Eagles extremely high marks. Mel Kiper Jr. (I know his hair is bizarre, but he knows his stuff) rated the Eagles and Tampa Bay as having done the best. Our own Daily News football guru, Paul Domowitch, gave an "A" to only three teams' drafts — the Bucs, Colts and Birds.

Before you get too excited, player evaluation is, at best, an inexact science. Even experts such as Kiper, Domo and even the great Ray Didinger can be way off-base. More important, even Andy Reid and Howie Roseman, who appear to have done a great job, can and have been wrong in the past. There has been a lot of high-fiving over trading up to get Fletcher Cox. We are told by the analysts and by Andy and Howie that he is the real deal, the best d-lineman in the draft, a dead-red QB wrecker. He seems great, but let's pause to remember that we were told the same thing about Corey Simon, Jerome McDougle and Brodrick Bunkley.

In 2000, we took Simon three picks before the Bears drafted Brian Urlacher. In 2003, we traded up to take McDougle one pick ahead of the Steelers, who took Troy Polamalu and 16 before the Raiders, who selected Nnamdi Asomugha. In 2006, we took Bunkley ahead of Tamba Hali, Nick Mangold and DeMeco Ryans. All three of our picks were hailed by the early returns and turned out to be mistakes — not disasters, but not the players we thought they would be. I hope Cox breaks the trend and becomes an All-Pro. I advocated in this column that we trade up to draft wide receiver Michael Floyd from Notre Dame to make our offense unstoppable. When we traded up, I thought it might happen, and Floyd was still on the board at 12. My thoughts went back to when I wanted us to take Randy Moss. As the draft unfolded, no one took him because of his character issues. I couldn't believe he was going to fall to us. When our turn came and we passed, my heart sunk. I could see the Lombardi Trophy slipping from our grasp. I sure hope Michael Floyd doesn't turn out to the next Randy Moss.

Our second-round pick, Mychal Kendricks, was also lauded. He was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, ran the fastest 40-yard dash time at the combine and is a flat-out great hitter. But caution!! He is only 5-11 and a key part of his responsibility will be to cover tight ends. In the NFC East that means dealing with such studs as Jason Witten, Chris Cooley and Jake Ballard, who are 6-5, 6-3 and 6-6, respectively. Throw in Tony Gonzalez at 6-6, whom we will face when Asante Samuel and the Falcons come to town, and all I can say is good luck, Mychal, and I sure hope you have the Michael Jordan hops they say you do.

I don't want to end on a pessimistic note. I, too, think we did very well. Second-rounder Vinny Curry was a steal (though what does taking a defensive end this early say about Brandon Graham's future). Brandon Boykin, the cornerback we took in the fourth round, fills the Asante-less depth problem we had there and, best of all, he may finally give us a top-flight kick and punt returner. Late-round offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, of Purdue, and Brandon Washington, of Miami, seem to bring real value that late, and sixth-rounder Marvin McNutt may not be Michael Floyd, but he's big, strong and was All-Big Ten with 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns (answer to our red-zone woes?).

So don't worry, Bird fans, be happy. It's quite possible we've hit the mother lode, but we definitely did better than most! n

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