There are jokes to be made.
Jokes about Mel Kiper’s hair. Jokes about booing Jets fans. Jokes about the overuse of the word “potential.” “Intangibles.” “Blue-collar.” “Mr. Irrelevant.” “Bengals.”
Ryan Leaf will be laughed at; so will Tony Mandarich and JaMarcus Russell. Players picked “too early” will be made fools of and GMs will be painted as clowns for “uneven” trades.
These jokes are made every year. They’re funny the first few times and oh so tired by the last beer Sunday afternoon. They’re consistent.
But there are other jokes that nobody makes. And they’re just as funny, and consistently apt, as those made about the draft participants.
Why doesn’t anybody laugh at the analysis?
Every joker who gives a grade to a pick the moment he steps to the stage to shake the commissioner’s hand. The expert who dubs the “reaches” and the “value” picks. The columnist who anoints the “winners” and “losers” on Monday (who, inevitably, writes the “re-draft” column three years later “re-picking” prospects based on how their careers have fared up to that moment completely disregarding why).
This is the sports journalism equivalent of Dane Cook writhing around on stage screaming about peanut butter. It catches your attention. It’s stupid.
I can’t claim to be innocent of such frenzy. In my younger years, I ate it all up, even filling the role of “draft expert” for the long-defunct eaglesanalysis.com. “Big Carp” was relentless in his projections. “Big Carp” screamed at the television, along with Kiper and Tom Jackson, when his Packers took Nick Barnett in 2003 instead of Boss Bailey (and he probably would have had an aneurysm if they had taken Nnamdi Asomugha). “Big Carp” was an idiot.
Let me note that I am not intending to criticize the process of evaluating prospects — it’s important to relay information on players’ abilities to interested parties. I also am not contending that predictions made on draft day (“steal,” “bust,” “good fit”) are inaccurate — Kiper, McShay, Mayock and others have ended up correct in a great number of their projections. Even “Big Carp” was correct in his suspicion that Justin Harrell was not going to work out (the futon he broke in his rage after the pick still hasn’t forgotten about that one).
What I am criticizing is the frenzy the media — and, in turn, the fans — gets into over who goes where and tell me what will happen in their careers and will they make any Pro Bowls and is he a Hall of Famer NOW. It’s impossible.
The draft is a snapshot of a moment. The moment when players transition from college to the pros and are judged based on their abilities at that time. That snapshot does not determine future value. That snapshot does not take into account situational consequences. That snapshot does not project a career. But it more than likely affects it.
Players have a tendency to look back at those snapshots. Some high picks, *cough* JaMarcus *cough*, see them much like a college student sees the Facebook photo of his high school conference semifinal slam dunk — as justification to have another burrito. Others, such as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, equate them to a Polaroid of an ex — motivation to get better.
How can one judge how well a team drafted when the draft is inherently one of the most impactful moments of a player’s career? Heck, even the draft judgments themselves can make a difference: “Reach” DT Tyson Alualu of the Jaguars used the negative comments from draftniks to drive him to an all-rookie season.
Yet you’ll still see draft grades plaster sports sites Monday, an annual tradition as inevitable as the montage showing Penn State running backs floundering in their professional careers. Fans clamor for them like baby birds waiting for mama to come back to the nest.
And they’ll read them, enjoy them for a moment, then forget them, like the post-“Big Daddy” Adam Sandler movie jokes they are.
The NFL draft is an exciting couple of days, especially in this strange, locked-out (sort of?) atmosphere. It could be the only time in the next year that teams add players to their rosters. By all means, you are allowed to be pleased or displeased with a draft pick. I’ll be watching with joy trying not to be jaded because A.J. Hawk probably will never become Dick Butkus.
But hold on to your long-term judgments, and do your best to ignore those of the people talking at you on television and online. Have the patience to see how things go and the understanding that the guys in the war rooms have done a lot more preparation and have a lot more at stake than you do. Players might pan out. They might not.
The funny thing is, nobody is going to know that this weekend.
Editor’s reminder: Carp has already submitted his entry to my second guest post contest. It’s super easy to play and is kind of all just luck anyways. You need to join in.