Ugh. The NFL free agency period has been sporadically interesting, particularly if you were hoping a talented (and possibly misunderstood) wide receiver would fall from a divisional opponent into the Redskins’ laps. But there are. Still. So. Many. Days. To go. Until the NFL draft, which begins May 8. And, as things currently stand, it’ll be an even longer wait for fans of the Burgundy and Gold, who don’t have a pick until the second round, on May 9.
What’s even more frustrating is that the draft got pushed back from its traditional late-April period because of a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall that turned out to be no conflict at all. The New York landmark was planning on drawing in hordes of springtime tourists with a new show called “Hearts and Lights,” featuring “state-of-the-art puppetry” and, natch, the Rockettes. But shortly before the show was scheduled to open in March, it got postponed until 2015 because its production company decided it needed extensive re-tooling. That production company? MSG Entertainment, which reports to Knicks owner Jim Dolan. Is there anything about New York sports events he can’t ruin?
So no NFL draft in April, and no state-of-the art puppetry to boot. Bummer! But what we do get, in the meantime, is a ton of pre-draft blather. Including, of course, mock drafts. One after the next, they come tumbling forth, and will continue to do so until the real thing arrives.
Which is fine. For people obsessed with the NFL, reading about who their favorite team might pick next month still beats reading about, say, Bryce Harper’s apparent lack of hustle. As an ardent Jets fan, I myself consume these things as much as the next guy. (Heck, I’ve even done a couple of fantasy football mock drafts, so you know I’m in deep.)
And it’s not like there’s nothing of value in these mock drafts. Even if most of them are inherently flawed in their specific predictions because they don’t take into account trades (of which there are always a few), they generally do a good job of pinpointing what players will get picked in the first couple of rounds. In the Huddle Report’s accounting of more than 100 2013 mock drafts, all of them had at least two-thirds of the eventual first-round picks, even if the best of them only had 12 correct matches of player to team.
But what mock drafts don’t tell you is which players will turn out to be complete bums. That’s something one would think a truly accurate forecast of the NFL draft would attempt to do, considering that something like 30 to 40 percent of first-round picks turn out to be bad players.
Let’s take the man synonymous with
amazing hair NFL draft analysis, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. In his recent Mock 4.0 (warning: paywall), he predicts the first two rounds of the draft. And not just as how he, Kiper, would make picks if he were in charge of the whole thing, but as “how I believe decision-makers for teams currently value players.” In other words, Kiper is trying to make a realistic assessment of who will actually be chosen in the draft’s first two rounds, and he gives us his thoughts on each player’s worth.
But the odd thing is that Kiper appears to believe that all of these players will turn out to very helpful to their respective teams — even though we know that a sizable portion of them inevitably won’t be. His descriptions of the first-rounders are littered with phrases like, “dynamic talent,” “good building-block,” dominating ,” early impact maker,” “potential difference-maker,” and “extremely dangerous [note: in a good way].” And, of course, there are those old draft-speak chestnuts: “best player available” and “good value.”
Hey Mel, how about writing something like, “I think this guy is a total stiff, but I keep hearing the Lions love him, so I’m holding my nose and giving him to them at No. 10.” Now that would be a prediction! The closest Kiper gets is with quarterbacks, a notoriously bust-laden position. He never actually says he thinks the likes of Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr will fail, but in this context, his faint praise for them comes off as damning, indeed.
Kiper’s tag-team partner at ESPN, Todd McShay, seems a little more willing to express reservations about prospects, but even his first-round forecast (more paywall) never goes so far as to suggest that any player is highly unlikely to succeed.
Similarly, over at nfl.com, Bucky Brooks nary has an unkind word for any of the 64 picks he thinks NFL general managers will make. The closest he gets are comments like “lacks polish,” “far from a finished product” or “isn’t the most explosive athlete.” Ooh, burn. C’mon Bucky, shouldn’t at least one of your entries be along the lines of, “Sorry, Titans fans. I have your team taking this player here, and I think he’ll have you pining for the days of Pac-Man Jones”?
I’ll give CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang some credit for predicting a trade — although, oddly, just one (the Falcons moving up to No. 2) — and for couching a lot of his projected selections as being potentially attractive to particular teams. For example, of the 49ers’ second-round pick of Minnesota’s RaShede Hageman, Rang writes, “Jim Harbaugh loves a challenge and may be able to coax stardom from Hageman.” And that’s about as close as we get to one of these guys saying they think someone’s not going to make it.
So I’ll just go ahead and take a stab at predicting that some picks will look horrible in retrospect, using Kiper’s mock draft.
- No. 1 — Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Texans). It’s usually a mistake to assume that a player’s motivation level will increase once he’s handed millions of dollars.
- No. 4 — Quarterback Johnny Manziel (Browns). This is simple: Browns + first-round QB = disaster.
- No. 14 — Defensive tackle Aaron Donald (Bears). Only in the NFL could a 6-foot, 285-pound man be described as “small.” But this is the NFL, and he is small.
- No. 30 — Wide receiver Jordan Matthews (49ers). Dude, Mel, this is the eighth WR you have going in the first round! And they’re all going to be good? Gotta draw the line somewhere, so let’s start at the back with a guy who seems to have a case of the dropsies.
See? It can be done. And by a complete NFL draft non-expert, no less.