When Roger Goodell shuffles up to the podium at tonight’s NFL Draft to announce the first pick, he’ll do so with the knowledge that the player isn’t in attendance. That player, according to the yammering prognosticators, will be Jameis Winston and the former Florida State quarterback has already said he’s staying home. Same goes for the consensus number two pick, Marcus Mariota. If ever there was a sign we should all ignore this dog and pony show, this is it. The men at the center of tonight’s festivities don’t even want to be there, so why should we?
Despite all the buildup, the NFL draft is a largely inconsequential carnival that we only bother with because we’re desperate for football. The Super Bowl was three long months ago, and we need to feed the beast. But that doesn’t mean we have to subject ourselves to this waste of time. The issue with the draft is that the results are known ahead of time. Not the picks themselves (though that’s often the case with the top players) but the general results. There’s virtually no chance your team will land a franchise-changing player, and if it does, you won’t know it on draft day. Meanwhile, there’s a 100 percent chance your team lands a handful of solid contributors who fill holes on its roster. There’s your draft recap.
And yet, millions of fans will watch. Some will even attend in person. But why? It’s not like anyone involved with the draft knows what they’re doing. According to an analysis from a few years ago, the draft is a total crapshoot. Teams are essentially equal because no one really knows which players will succeed and fail in the NFL. They can make guesses and follow hunches. They can tabulate combine numbers and college stats. But beyond a few sure things, no player is a sure thing in the NFL. And even the “sure things” aren’t always as sure of a thing as we think.
Part of the problem is that the college and pro games are so different now that NFL teams are left scratching their heads when watching college players. As the Wall Street Journal explains it, the proliferation of the spread offense in the amateur game makes it difficult to evaluate players for the NFL style of play. With game tape largely useless, teams rely more and more on combine performances, physical attributes and pro days held around the country. They crunch these numbers as best as they can and emerge with the kind of inefficient evaluations that result in two receivers going off the board before Odell Beckham, Jr. last year and Eddie Lacy lasting well into the second round the year before . It’s the tedious foreplay to the unremarkable intercourse that is the draft.
Just last year, Teddy Bridgewater’s small hands “freaked out” one NFL Scout. Forget the big numbers and gutsy performances the former Louisville quarterback put up in college, his puny paws, along with a less-than-impressive pro day, sent him careening down draft boards. This is the reality of the NFL draft. The games you play in front of rabid fans are less important than the drills you perform in front of clipboard toting polo shirts. And so Bridgewater, whose hands are only an eighth of an inch smaller than Aaron Rodgers hands, fell all the way to the end of the first round. Then, in his rookie year, he emerged as the Vikings quarterback of the future while completing 64 percent of his passes. And now, the nonsense icing on the dear-god-this-is-stupid cake: Winston, the consensus number one pick, has small hands too.
If you want to watch the NFL draft, that’s your decision. Fans are going fan. I get that. But before you commit, ask yourself if you really want to spend 84 hours over the next three days listening to Mike Mayock ramble on about players that will be largely inconsequential in the NFL. If so, you’re a true—and completely insane—fan.
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