NFL Draft hype is the worst thing in sports. Well, maybe not the worst thing considering off-field incidents and on-field injuries, but it’s the worst kind of hype.
Every year the road from the end of the college football season to the NFL Draft is filled with rumor, speculation and the meticulous breakdown of every single athlete from how high they can jump to how quick they react to a football in the hands of an assistant coach. At the NFL Scouting Combine, these same athletes are poked and prodded like cattle in an effort to find any little weakness.
It’s not all bad. Teams are investing millions of dollars and the on-field success of their franchise on one or a bunch of these players. It is fair to try to find out as much information as possible. But inevitably, two things continue to happen.
Paralysis by analysis or overrating what players do in practice drills relative to their game film.
NFL coaches and scouting departments are much less likely to fall victim to those two aforementioned issues, but many in the media, and subsequently the fans, are. How could a player go from a top pick to nearly out of the first round without suffering an injury or playing any games?
Take last year’s final pick of the first round Teddy Bridgewater. The quarterback out of Louisville was projected by many to be the No. 1 overall pick when the college season concluded. By the time he finished an uncharacteristically poor pro day, pundits were unsure if he would even be drafted in the first round.
That premise itself is quite silly. If there are multiple years of game tape on a player that leads analysts to believe he could go in the top five, how can one bad practice (insert Allen Iverson joke here) drop someone that far down draft boards? That’s not to say people can’t change their minds, but it happens far too often.
Bridgewater ended up going No. 32 overall to the Minnesota Vikings and was the team’s starter by season’s end. Many considered him the best rookie QB of the bunch — something everyone thought was likely until a bad pro day ruined his draft stock.
It happens the other way as well, players get talked up until they get way over-drafted. Vince Young coming out of Texas and Mark Sanchez out of USC are perfect examples. While Young moved into the top five largely do to his National Championship victory, Sanchez moved up boards during a period when no games were played.
Quarterbacks are typically the fastest risers and fallers on draft day, but other positions experience the same issues as well.
It’s hard to identify what exactly causes these drastic rises and falls since we don’t truly know what NFL teams are thinking until they get up to the podium. Are pundits overreacting because they have to keep things interesting in the months leading up to draft day? Are there really teams that value drill numbers more than game film? It’s hard to imagine the latter is true, but the former is a possibility.
That’s not to say the Combine is useless or rankings should not change from January to April. Players from small schools, players recovering from injury or players protected by a certain system have a lot to gain by breaking out in offseason activities. But players with 2-4 years of film playing a game of chutes and ladders leading up to the draft is perplexing.
It’s tough to win in the NFL and it’s even tougher to recover from a bad pick high in the draft. However, teams, pundits and fans sometimes put too much stock in what a player can do with his raw athletic ability in shorts and a t-shirt rather than what he’s done on the gridiron.
Sometimes they can just play football.