So … would anyone here be surprised to learn that I spent last evening watching ESPN’s coverage of the first round of the NFL Draft? I should certainly hope that is not the case.
I recognize the importance of making the programming “compelling” and “commanding”; ESPN does not want thousands of viewers tuning away after the first couple of picks. Nonetheless, some of the deathless prose offered up by the ESPN Draft experts simply fell flat.
Let me point out ever so gently here that at least 20% – and maybe 40% – of the first-round picks will never live up to that billing for the entirety of their professional football career. I say that with confidence because that is what has happened in many of the previous years of the NFL Draft. And in fact, there was a free agent signing about 10 days ago that points out the fact that drafting football players is not a science. It is two parts art and one part luck.
- In the 2014 NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney was the overall #1 pick. Everyone raved about him and how he was a dominant defensive end/edge rusher; his highlights from college days at South Carolina were nothing short of amazing; none of the draft experts thought that was a “reach”.
- Clowney spent 5 seasons with the Texans followed by one year with the Seahawks and another year with the Titans. He signed about 10 days ago with the Browns on a one-year deal.
- In his seven seasons in the NFL, Jadeveon Clowney has a total of 32 sacks. That is not remotely close to what the “draftniks” projected for him on Draft Night in 2014.
Here is the essence of the problem of projecting a player from college into the NFL. If you think the word “projecting” is too high-fallutin’ let me say it is not much more than a guess on the part of the “scout”. The issue here is that college football is a totally different game than NFL football for one simple reason:
- In college, a potential high draftee is playing against an opposing unit that may have one or two NFL caliber players on the field in most if not all games.
- In the NFL, that same draftee will take the field against an opposing unit with 11 – and sometimes more – NFL caliber players.
Not only does it make a difference – – it makes a BIG difference…
Moving on … If anyone actually believed that there was even a shred of ambiguity as to whom the Jaguars would take with the first overall pick, that person probably thinks the way to save time is to deposit an alarm clock in your bank account. Notwithstanding the fact that the top draft pick had no mystery surrounding it, the folks who make their living turning the days leading up to the draft into a vaudeville show felt the need about a week or so ago to create doubt about Trevor Lawrence’s ”worthiness” of such an exalted status. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginia- Pilot summarized that nonsense in this comment:
“What a warped world — sports division — we live in when Trevor Lawrence finds himself defending comments that he doesn’t carry a huge chip — real or manufactured — on his shoulder. After dismissing one of the fundamental tropes of sports hagiography, the presumptive future Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback was run through the mill by football analysts needing more grist, no matter how nonsensical. Worse yet, Lawrence said that his self-worth is not entirely tied up with football. Oh my. He’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Or what some might call a well-adjusted person.”
Another “lead-up to the draft narrative” concerned the intentions of the Denver Broncos with their first-round pick.
- Would they take a QB?
- Would they trade up to get a QB?
- Would they trade down if the QB they may have wanted was off the board?
Just before draft day, the Broncos seemed to settle that speculation by trading a 6th round pick this year to the Panthers for Teddy Bridgewater who has one more year left on his current contract. The Panthers will also pay part of Bridgewater’s salary this year as part of the deal. If you are wondering how or why the Panthers would give up such a large amount for a 6th round pick, the answer is that in the world of NFL salary cap financials, the Panthers gain about $8M in cap space to spend on some other part of their team. Remember, the Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the Jets for 3 draft picks about 3 weeks ago. The fact that they let Bridgewater go means that the Panthers’ braintrust is convinced that Sam Darnold can be “the guy” in Carolina.
The fact of this trade says something else from the Broncos’ side of the transaction. What it says to me – loudly and clearly – is that Drew Lock is going to have to up his game to the point where he beats out Bridgewater for the starting job in Denver. Lock played well in 2019; he started 5 games then and the Broncos were 4-1 with him as the starter. However, last year he started 13 games and the Broncos’ record was 4-9. Here is the most telling stat to me:
- In 2019, Lock completed 64.1% of his passes; and in 2020, he completed only 57.3% of his passes.
That is a significant decline, and the sample size is adequate – – 443 pass attempts in the 2020 season.
With the Draft over and with the owners’ meeting over where they would decide on any rule changes for 2021, the next big event for the NFL as it seeks 12-month news prominence will be in mid-May when it announces the full schedule for 2021. Until then – and after that until minicamps and training camps begin – the league will have to settle for news about how the owners and players are disagreeing on this or that issue and how everyone on both sides is pissed off to the Nth degree. Hi … Ho!
Finally, let me close today with one more observation by Bob Molinaro from a couple of weeks ago:
“Future watch: If Mike Tomlin coaches through his new three-year extension, the Steelers will have had only three head coaches in 56 years. The Browns have had four since 2018.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………