The NFL Draft has been transformed from an obscure, closed-door event to a 3-day televised Prime Time event. What used to be almost a secret event is now subjected to months of intense, bordering on unhealthily obsessive, scrutiny.
We have draft experts who spend all year watching tape, breaking down film, talking to NFL personnel executives and conducting Mock Drafts where they can pick players every possible combination of teams. Kind of like filling out 20 March Madness brackets.
What’s a worse punishment; having to listen to Mel Kiper and Todd McShay drone on about their Mock Drafts and ‘skill sets’ analysis or Joe Lunardi and his mind-numbing Bracketology? These are jobs robots and computers should have taken over by now.
A new industry has been created as a result of the NFL Draft becoming a thing, most notably the NFL Combine, which gets almost as much coverage as the draft itself. In addition to seeing all the drills the NFL uses to asses talent, we’ve learned that size matters, in more ways than one…hand size, that is. C’mon, this is a family blog…
Seriously. Not just height and weight. Hand size, arm length, shoe size, noggin size.
We hear about the kinds of questions prospects are asked in the effort to determine their mental ability. Fans are privy to Pro Days, where a super star by himself or select group of players, perform combine stuff in a more intimate setting than the one offered by the Big Combine.
Never before in the history of sports mankind have so many know so much about a group of athletes.
And yet all we hear about in the lead up to the NFL Draft is the uncertainty or unknowns surrounding prospects. And in the aftermath, sometimes as soon as a year after a draft has been conducted, we’re regaled with stories detailing who is shown to be a bust and who’s a surprise.
With all of the knowledge complied by the massive data collection machine created by the NFL how can so many teams make so many mistakes when it comes to picking players? How can the first round of the 2014 draft be explained in light of all of this ‘knowledge?’
Teams pick players in the first round who have had ACL surgery, shoulder surgery, other surgeries and concussions. Did they somehow forget to ask about these issues when measuring hand size or asking a player to figure out how many coins they’d have if they had 48 cents? Did they miss the memo that talks about how the greatest predictor of future injury is past injury?
Forget about the Browns and the Jets (cue the laughter), but what explains the terrible decisions made by so many teams? The list of poor decisions made in the past few drafts alone is long and could provide material for a really long book.
Despite all of the ‘analytics’ the Houston Texans picked Jadeveon Clowney overall number one despite his reputation as being a lazy player in college. The highlight clip of Clowney tattooing an undersized running back on a play where Clowney was unblocked was played thousands of time, seemingly to prove that he was some kind of stud.
Ryan Tannehill was the eighth overall pick despite playing one season in college and the Dolphins have suffered as a result of playing him as if to prove the pick wasn’t a mistake.
Is Mitchell Trubisky the 2017 version of the 2012 Tannehill? A great athlete with minimal experience as a starting quarterback, Mitchell has been projected as everything from the first pick overall in the draft to a late first rounder.
This year we have Jon Ross, a dynamic, fleet-footed but under-sized wide receiver from the University of Washington with a reputation for being fragile, and teams are questioning his ability to hold up physically in the NFL. At the combine he ran a 4.22 40 and then called it quits because of a calf injury.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
This should tell experts all they need to know about their major concern about this player. Yet all we’ve been told about Ross is that he can be a game changer. Based on past history, a team will roll the dice and pick him in the first round, despite all the hard-earned data that speaks to the contrary.
So the question needs to be asked: Has the NFL created a situation where they gather too much information, information that is bad, or that the teams don’t know how to interpret?
Clearly watching game film isn’t enough in this day and age. Drills performed in shorts and a t-shirt in a sterile and controlled atmosphere that bears no resemblance to the controlled chaos of a football game are given more weight than what’s happened in actual game play.
With so much attention being paid to minutia, such as a half an inch in arm length and whether or not a fragile player runs a 4.22 versus a resilient player who runs a 4.55, the NFL is missing the Forrest for the trees.
With the advances in testing, data collection, and analytics, the NFL Draft should represent a confirmation that the combine and all the associated efforts work, and result in teams making a higher percentage of good picks. Instead, despite all of this info, uncertainty and risk seem to be at an all-time high.