I have always liked the NFL Draft. As a college football fanatic, I have always viewed it as something of a graduation ceremony for my favorite sport’s biggest stars and a celebration of what they have more than earned through three, four, or five seasons of playing for free while the coaches and programs the represent earn millions each year.
Like so many others, I get caught up in “draft analysis”. I am a sucker for what Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay are hearing. I open a new web browser any time Trevor Sikkema, Jordan Reid, or any of their colleagues at The Draft Network drop a new mock. This is the time of year we get to see the fun cross section of the pro and college levels of football and hear just how dumb some of these GMs are…or perhaps how gullible and desperate for a scoop some reporters and analysts are.
This is the thing about the lead up to the NFL Draft, which I think we all need to remember: none of it means anything and none of what we hear can be trusted. From the second a team’s season comes to an end until the end of the three day event, teams are playing an extended game of poker. There’s deceit meant to get an opponent to act. There’s bluffing to throw other teams off the scent of your true intentions. The media is just another useful idiot in the scheme.
Mock drafts are like scavenger hunts. The masters behind them are using their knowledge and clues accumulated along the way to solve a puzzle. Everyone can put it together differently.
Just look at the way we are talking about the San Francisco 49ers trading up to get the third overall pick. Clearly, that is a move to get one of the better quarterbacks in this class. Consensus says that the Jacksonville Jaguars will take Trevor Lawrence with the first pick and then the New York Jets will use the second pick to take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. That means that the 49ers would have their pick of Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, or Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Different mock drafts have predicted each one of those QBs will be San Francisco’s pick. It is all a guess.
That is the thing you have to remember about the NFL Draft. It is a single event. This isn’t NASCAR where we have concrete proof of who is in what position at this particular moment. It is what makes the over-analysis of Justin Fields so absurd and Dominique Foxworth’s point about the criticism of Ohio State’s quarterback feeling a little too familiar worth considering.
We posted this story at the end of last week and were met with dumb comments on Twitter like “oh, I guess now we can’t criticize any Black player”. That wasn’t every comment or even the majority of the comments, but those comments were there. The comments may be tinged with racism, but I don’t believe the people making them are abhorrent racists. I believe they are lazy and reactionary and not interested in doing any critical thinking. Dominique Foxworth even says that criticisms like not being able to go through his progressions or being able to read defenses may be fair when it comes to Fields. They just happen to be the same “concerns” we heard about Robert Griffin III, Lamar Jackson, Donovan McNabb, DeShaun Watson, and so on.
Guys like McShay and Daniel Jeremiah are in no-win situations. They have to report what teams are telling them. That is what gives credence to their “NFL Draft Insider” title and that title is what justifies their employment. But they also have to know that they are trying to report on an event built around smokescreens. It isn’t unfair to ask them to use some critical thinking in their reporting.
If “what I’m hearing” includes criticisms of Justin Fields that are the same things that we’ve heard for years about Black quarterbacks, isn’t it fair to give the audience that context? Isn’t it fair to wonder if a guy that just lead his team to a national championship game (although they didn’t deserve the chance to play for it) is really as inept as scouts say or is that criticism part of those scouts’ larger strategy to not give anything about what they are thinking away?
You aren’t going to meet many bigger Bama fans than me, and I will openly mock anyone that tries to sell me the idea of Mac Jones as a first round quarterback. It is amazing how a receiver like Devonta Smith, who can contort his body into any imaginable shape, can cover up a wildly inaccurate throw and how one of the best college offensive lines ever assembled can eliminate virtually any pressure in the backfield. I’m not telling you Mac Jones isn’t good. I am telling you no reasonable person would look at tape of Jones and then look at tape of Justin Fields and say Mac Jones is the one they want.
NFL Draft insiders absolutely do earn their money. This column is not meant to degrade the position. There aren’t a lot of roles in the sports media that require you be able to work sources with just as much expertise as you can breakdown film.
The position and their work should be approached in a totally unique way to anyone else on staff though. This, at least in my mind, is sort of what Foxworth was hinting at. A draft insider may be delivering news and reporting on what sources tell them, but they are reporting on something that is theoretical until it actually happens. In that way, the position is just as much about entertainment as it is about information. It isn’t too much to ask that that be acknowledged.