The NFL draft is a hope factory, which is why it’s dissected relentlessly for weeks. The heart can’t control what it wants, but it’s important that throughout the process we all remember this: too often hope is mistaken for knowledge.
The online draft community has grown in recent years, pushed by the access to All-22 film. Increasingly there are more voices, and with that comes more thoughts, varying perspectives, and the ability to form a far more well-rounded opinion on these new prospects, many of whom you haven’t been exposed to much.
Still, there’s an element of groupthink which stems from the leading analysts. When the likes of Mike Mayock, Gil Brandt, Todd McShay, Ron Jaworski, or Mel Kiper Jr. say something, it sticks and resonates. Normal humans don’t have the time or resources to match their tape study and evaluation. That’s why we hang from their every word, and often find merit in even the most outlandish evaluations.
The effect is either an echo, or a violent counter echo. Either way it’s noise, and a lot of it is white in color both before the draft and during the analysis immediately after. The result can be the misguided uproar we saw after Donovan McNabb was drafted years ago. Or more recently, this…
The next five weeks are easier to consume if you embrace the noise, and follow these not at all easy steps.
Beware of the extremists
A lot of smart people said a lot of wrong things about Blaine Gabbert in 2011, and they’re all pretty facepalm-y in hindsight (more on that forthcoming). Pretty much everyone was wrong then, but when you’re the lone dissenting voice, that’s a problem.
Right, Phil Simms? Andrew Luck seems to be pretty good at throwing those deep balls. And right, Jaws?
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 27, 2014
Any prospect at any position can bust, which is the randomness of the draft. But unless it’s an admitted experiment or Pete Prisco, finding a mock draft without Johnny Manziel in the top 10 is pretty difficult. Anyone thinking that a strong-armed and mobile quarterback — two important attributes in today’s NFL — will fall to the third round or beyond is then the extreme outlier, and is someone you should approach with caution.
Maybe Manziel is among those potential land mine busts, and maybe his style won’t translate well. Maybe he Gabberts himself, and Jaws is then vindicated. But outliers who are truly ahead of the rest stand by their convictions, and he’s not doing that by changing his analysis significantly after a scripted Pro Day workout when Manziel competed against only air.
Beware of name dropping
Mike Evans has the best hands I’ve seen since Calvin Johnson.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 27, 2014
As humans, we relate to what we’re familiar with. And what we know best comes in the form of examples which can be visualized.
To create that image at draft time, comparisons are often made to current players. They’re not meant to be definitive, of course, and are usually far from it. But when Prospect X is compared to Pro Bowler Y, it can still lead to wildly unrealistic beliefs and expectations.
Beware of the Pro Day
Every step in the draft process matters. The Combine matters, Pro Days matter, and individual workouts matter. But none of it matters more than game film because it shows prospects actually playing football.
This is why while it was fun watching Manizel go “BOOM!” last week, and not so much fun watching Teddy Bridgewater with his far fewer booms, listening to those who change a prospect’s grade drastically in either direction after a Pro Day workout isn’t wise.
The truth is always in the tape, where the real mechanics are seen when a pass rush is on its way. More importantly, managing that rush and going through progressions is crucial, and can’t be gauged without a defense.
That was the central problem with Gabbert’s Pro Day before he was a bust in Jacksonville, where he became notoriously skittish in the pocket. Also notorious: Mike Mayock’s quotes assessing Gabbert that day…
“He drives the ball with accuracy, he drives the ball with timing, and his arm strength is more than I expected. I’ve got no problem with that.”
“I think it was a better throwing mechanics workout than what Matt Ryan had. I thought it was very similar to Sam Bradford.”
“Bottom line: he’s the first quarterback off the board, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina takes him at No. 1″
He’s not necessarily wrong with the first two, but we know now that projecting Gabbert to be selected ahead of Newton in 2011 ended in tears. With Gabbert and the shotgun system he came from, it was difficult to make a proper assessment until he faced an NFL pass rush.
The vast difference between college and pro offenses is beginning to be a lesser concern, with each often borrowing from the other. But in the past that uncertainty produced the Gabbert gaffes, and this infamous Aaron Rodgers whiff…
With the draft pushed back this year, there’s two more weeks of hearsay, speculation, and noise. Some of it will mean a lot, and some will mean nothing. The problem is it’ll all sound the same.