Every year, millions of Americans tune into ESPN for their preseason fix of NFL action. Instead of getting the normal NFL fare—grown men brutally cutting one another’s life spans short—they will be watching the NFL Draft. I’ve never been a big fan of the draft. Mainly, my aversion stems from the Redskins head-shaking draft selection. However, as draft season rolls around once again, I’ve discovered that I actually have a smoldering contempt for the entire event. No longer does my frustration reside solely with Daniel Snyder’s muddled draft plan. The draft plain stinks. What began as a low-key meeting of owners in a hotel in 1980 has turned into a grand television spectacle. The draft itself, and the media hoopla surrounding the event, continues to perplex and frustrate me. Why do we keep switching on ESPN each Spring and soaking up the over-hyped mess which is our modern-day NFL Draft?
A big piece of the answer to this question probably lies in blind hope. Every fan is filled with the hope that their team will make some savvy decisions and build the future of their franchise. Often, these hopes are misguided. For whatever reason, in an age when NFL teams invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their scouting programs, it is still likely that a team’s first round draft pick won’t pan out in the long run. According to Matt McGuire, an online sports analyst and self-proclaimed draftologist, the chances that first-round picks “bust” is 33 percent. McGuire analyzed the past three drafts and found that one in three players picked in the first round has had little to no impact on overall team success. The style of football that is played at the college level, off which some players thrive, is not representative of the modern-day NFL landscape. Scouts are forced to evaluate college players on their raw athleticism as well as college track record. The NFL Draft is often times predicated on luck. Teams do their research for nine months, arrive at the draft, and hope to the football gods that the players they pick turn into productive NFL players.
The NFL Draft is statistically a crapshoot for teams, but you wouldn’t know that if you listen to ESPN’s gaggle of analysts and commentators. The names of the men in this group are almost as recognizable as the questionable hairstyles (looking at you, Kiper). Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, and Jon Gruden, along with a whole host of outside analysts, become experts every year come draft-time on team strategy and draft picks’ potential. The certainty with which these analysts speak is perplexing considering the unpredictable nature of the draft. When McShay and Kiper Jr. nearly came to blows on air over a prospect, one is left scratching their head. Analysts profess total knowledge each April and make countless mock drafts. ESPN’s host of talking heads are in no better position to predict NFL success than the average sports fan. Chris Berman and the ESPN posse have miss-stepped many a time and sung the praises of countless NFL busts. Ryan Leaf, Jamarcus Russell, and Tim Couch, to name a few, were all players praised during the NFL Draft. I’m not expecting Berman and the gang to get everything right every year, but it’s time we stop looking to these commentators to provide us with all the answers. Mel Kiper Jr. has been covering the draft for 32 years, but is still subject to its unpredictable nature.
This year, the draft will be held in Chicago, a departure from its normal home in Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Radio City Music Hall is filled to the gills every year with NFL superfans, mostly middle-aged and balding. These fans proceed to fill the venue with “boos” following each and every pick. Despite the venue change for this year, the routine will be the same. Roger Goodell will receive the first chorus of boos, and more boos will follow the announcement of the pick. Following the boos, Berman will send the program to a break, commencing three to five minutes of advertisements. Herein lies the reason why the NFL ever decided to televise the draft. Despite raking in $25 billion last season, the NFL continues to find ways to make money. Previously, television coverage of the draft was limited to a single night, the first round. However, since 2013, the NFL Network has aired rounds one through six, taking up three full days of television coverage. It’s a bold business move that other professional sports leagues have not been able to replicate. All professional sports leagues draft in relative anonymity, with the exception of the NBA.
I suppose at the end of the day there is no one but ourselves to blame for the way the NFL Draft has developed. We, the fans, are the ones that have created such a demand for analysis and coverage. Every spring the draft will roll around, and we will continue to watch Mel Kiper Jr. spew vitriol at anyone that disagrees with him.
There are a lot of aspects of the NFL Draft which I hate, but I think my most basic hatred for the draft stems from the quarterback the Redskins selected with the third overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Robert Griffin III. RGIII will most likely never return to the form of his rookie year, and sadly may become another high-profile crash and burn story in the NFL. The Redskins have recently picked up his fifth year option, throwing another $16.5 million at a player who took three first round draft picks to acquire. So, feel free to watch today’s coverage of the NFL Draft but keep a skeptical ear, because chances are you’ll be seeing a good amount of RGIII’s for every Andrew Luck that takes the stage.