The NFL Draft, the event in which the top college football prospects learn their destinations, got underway yesterday. Before the draft, you had probably already seen several mock drafts from self-proclaimed “draftniks” who thought they know which player would go where, as well as multiple anonymous reports from “sources” about which players’ stock were rising and whose were falling. All of the speculation and buildup to the draft ended, and we have since found out that Jameis Winston will suit up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the first overall draft pick.
While I will be looking forward to finding out where everyone else goes and which teams draft the best players available and/or those that fit a need, there’s one problem that I’ve had with the draft these days.
It’s the way that the draft is covered and analyzed from so many different angles.
Now I get that most fans would like to know which positions their favorite team needs to focus on in the draft, as well as who the best prospects are at that position.
However, do we really know who those players are at the time of the draft? While we may have had an idea on the can’t-miss talent in the past, such as John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Peyton Manning, I’d have to say no for the majority of players.
And not only do the fans not know, but neither do the so-called experts on TV or in your favorite publication, nor do the front office staff charged with drafting the talent.
One of the biggest annoyances involved with draft coverage is when analysts declare which teams were “winners” and “losers” in the days after the draft ends. How can we possibly know whether a team had a good draft or not if the draftees haven’t even reported to their teams?
Each year, advanced analysis site Football Outsiders aggregates NFL Draft “report cards” from multiple media outlets, including but not limited to ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Yahoo! Sports. Looking back at 2011, the combined average grade of the Seattle Seahawks draft was a 2.03 (on a 4.0 scale), good for last in the league. Clifton Brown of Sporting News gave the Seahawks a D, opining, “Their decision not to pick quarterback Andy Dalton could haunt them, especially if Matt Hasselbeck leaves.” Wes Bunting of National Football Post said that he had “questions about CB Richard Sherman holding up on the outside.” Granted, many of these analysts said that the Seahawks had the best draft in 2010 when they selected Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Golden Tate, all of whom served as key players on the Super Bowl-winning team in 2013. The 2011 class didn’t quite have the star power of the previous year, but with the All-Pro Sherman and starters K.J. Wright, Byron Maxwell, James Carpenter and Malcolm Smith, this Seahawks class outperformed many experts’ expectations.
In the same year, the Green Bay Packers had the fourth-highest grade among the same pundits at 3.46, with grades ranging from A to B-. With the Packers having won the Super Bowl the previous year with younger depth players playing key roles down the stretch, it can be easy for analysts to believe that this draft would yield more of the same. But of the ten players drafted, only Randall Cobb and Davon House emerged as starter-caliber players, while first-round pick Derek Sherrod’s career is on the brink after recovering from a severe leg break in his rookie season that cost him nearly two years of playing time and sapped him of much of his effectiveness. The other players either did not make the team, or were merely replaceable filler. Now it’s plausible to say that hindsight is 20/20 and that the Packers couldn’t have known that Sherrod would have broken his leg as badly as he did ahead of time.
But that’s the point. We don’t know. Nobody knows. The people in the media who are paid to know this don’t even know. The NFL Draft is one big yearly educated guess on who will succeed in the NFL and to which extent. The fact that ESPN’s and NFL Network’s coverage of the draft is a major TV event tells you everything you need to know about the league’s hunger for year-round publicity. If anyone really knew, then Ryan Leaf wouldn’t have been taken second overall, and Tim Couch and JaMarcus Russell would not have gone first overall in their respective drafts. When you think about it, it becomes hard to take talking heads like Mel Kiper seriously when he bloviates about Russell having elite potential in a few years.
As for me, I won’t even pretend to know whether anyone had a great draft or not until after I see the players performing.
And after Mr. Irrelevant is chosen Saturday afternoon, you too should take any analyst’s opinion about the draft with a grain of salt, because they probably know just as much about it as you do.