It’s that time of year again, the holiest of holy days for hardcore football fans, the first day of the NFL Draft. Millions of fanatics around the country have spent the past few weeks reading mock drafts, blog posts and articles in an attempt to figure out which players their team should and will select. Tonight they’ll don their jerseys and get together with their buddies to wait in breathless anticipation for the selection of the player that will change the course of their franchise.
After following the NFL for many years and attending several draft viewing parties myself, I can’t help but wonder, why all the fuss?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure of the draft. It’s developed into a holiday, an oasis from the drought of five months between the Super Bowl and training camp. Unlike the Super Bowl, the commercialization of which has drawn all sectors of society, the draft is reserved for serious football fans. Hope springs eternal for supporters of all teams as they look towards the future. In fact, the more a fan base has suffered, the greater the excitement, as the teams select in inverse order to last season’s standings.
The draft also appeals to the widespread interest in fantasy football in this country. What are mock drafts, but fantasy additions to real rosters. ESPN has been tweeting mock draft picks for each team, one at a time, as if they’re actually occurring. Speculating as to which player will go where provides a fun diversion from work and other boring or stressful aspects of life.
Then there’s the reality show aspect of the draft, as we watch the 20 or so players in attendance sweat it out as they wait to be selected. There’s the built-in drama of the last player present to be selected. Who can forget watching the expression on Brady Quinn’s face change from excitement to despair as he slipped to the 22nd pick in the 2007 draft? ESPN works the emotional angle with feature pieces on a few of the players who persevered through particularly trying childhoods in pursuit of their dream to play in the NFL.
I also appreciate the importance of the draft for its impact on the future of a franchise. Due to restrictions on player movement created by the salary cap and franchise tags, management must acquire young, relatively low-cost talent through the draft in order to field a competitive team. If a franchise misses badly with their selections, it will come back to haunt them in years to come, whereas, selecting a stud player in the first round or a diamond in the rough later on can make a team a perennial contender.
Sports networks and publications, ESPN chief among them, have preyed on fans enthusiasm and unquenchable thirst for information about their teams to convince them that they 1) have the inside scoop on who their team is going to select and 2) are qualified to make an informed judgment as to whether that selection is a wise one. Those assumptions lead fans to read a new mock draft every day, watch hours worth of draft specials in the weeks leading up to the draft and devour every review of their team’s selections. The problem is, for the most part, those assumptions are incorrect.
While there are some exceptions, the so-called draft “experts” don’t have any better idea than you or I which player a team will select. Teams guard their interest in players as if they’re matters of national security. In fact, much of the information leaked and reported on by the media is disinformation generated by teams with the intent to mislead other teams as to their intentions.
Much of the draft-related news the sports media reports isn’t news at all. For example, various media outlets noted this week that the New York Jets contacted highly coveted running back Trent Richardson. The Alabama product is a beast and every team in the league would love to acquire his services. The fact that the Jets contacted him provides no indication as to whether they will trade up to select him as many analysts have suggested. They may simply be doing their due diligence, collecting as much information as they can on every draftee.
There are only two players in this draft whose destination the draft “gurus” can predict with any degree of certainty, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and fans don’t need an expert to tell them where those guys are going. Luck has been the presumptive number one pick in this year’s draft since he announced that he would be returning to Stanford for his Junior season over a year ago and the Colts publicly confirmed that they’ll be selecting him this past Monday. It was also evident that the Redskins intended to select the only other franchise quarterback in the draft, Griffin III, the moment they traded four picks to move up to the number two spot. The known destinations of Luck and Griffin III, the only two superstars in this draft, only removes suspense from the evening for the casual NFL fan.
Despite what ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay want you to believe, nobody, including the so-called “experts” has any idea how successful an individual draft pick or a team’s draft on the whole will be. History has proven that at best, the experts’ predictions are a little better than fifty/fifty. That’s the case across positions, for the highest picks, up to and including the first overall selection.
For every Peyton Manning – the 11 time Pro-Bowl quarterback selected first overall by the Colts in 1998 – there’s a David Carr – the first overall pick by the Texans in 2002 who settled in as a career back-up – or JaMarcus Russell – the first pick of the 2007 draft who was out of the league after three years with the Raiders. And those are players who were picked first overall. For those chosen in the later r0unds, it’s a complete crapshoot. So what’s the point of listening to a panel on ESPN or the NFL Network break down a team’s pick?
I’m not trying to dissuade anybody from watching the draft. It’s a great opportunity to hang out with the guys while getting your football fix. Any serious fan would want to know about the newest additions to his team’s roster and how those players may be able to help. Just remember that some of the guys your team picks will pan out and some won’t and regardless of what the blowhards at ESPN say, you won’t have any idea which category your team’s selections fall into until they strap on the pads for real in September. Until then, don’t believe the hype.