This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … NFL draft acumen.
NFL training camps opened this week, and once again I am reminded that this nation has approximately 132 million football experts. It seems just about every male in this country fancies himself (That’s right, Mr. Testosterone, you’re a “fancier.”) a gridiron guru. They memorize names, numbers, standings, and records. They know the basic strategies and what plays are called for in different game situations. They can spot the mental mistakes of players and the occasional coaching gaffe, and they shout these at their big screen, hi-def televisions with breath befouled by nacho cheese and Budweiser. God knows they can rattle off statistics, especially in this age of Fantasy League Geekiness.
But once you get past all of that, once you get into truly analyzing the talent of the individual players, most fans don’t know jack. Unless you make your living playing, coaching or scouting football beyond the high school level, chances are your crackerjack ability to evaluate the athletes, especially the ones your team just drafted, comes solely from what you heard from the alleged experts on the NFL Channel, ESPN and those boring-assed sports talk shows your pathetic ass has listened to since you were 12. Yet football fans go around spouting off their analyses about players as if they really do know just what the hell makes this Division I player better than that one. When it comes down to being able to identify and rank talent, most fans don’t know shit.
The average fan (you) couldn’t analyze the difference in blocking techniques between the all-universe guard from Oklahoma, whose cost of a college education at a decent school entails lifting, blocking and banging the chunkiest cheerleader, and the couldn’t-block-a-one-legged-Emanuel Lewis guard from Temple, whose cost of a free education at a decent school entails a weekly ass-whooping from one Big East defensive tackle after another. To test this theory, I’d like to take fifty random Division I college quarterbacks and have them show up at a combine in identical uniforms with no names on their backs and dark visors over their face masks. I’d fill a stadium with 50,000 football “experts,” meaning know-nothing fans, then have the QB’s go through a series of the same drills that allow scouts to get a handle on which players are the best pro prospects.
I’ll bet the combined total of six of your fantasy league fees that every one of these quarterbacks, from the Heisman favorite on down to the poor bastard who’s going to lead his inept MAC team to yet another 2-10 Bowl-less season, will look pretty much the same to Joe Fan, a.k.a. The Water Cooler Draft Expert You Work With, or, you know … you.
This would even hold true for the expert NFL analysts from whom most fans get their expert opinions. As good as TV football analysts like Sal Palantonio, John Clayton and Chris Mortensen are at their jobs (and they’re great), they’re just reporting back what they’ve heard from the real talent evaluators who live inside the game. Their true skill isn’t player analysis; it’s gaining access, asking the right questions and being able to digest the info and present it to the average fan. (And we’re all average fans, believe me.) Take away the access these guys have, and they don’t know any more than the rest of us Lombardis of the La-Z-Boys.
Listening to quasi-expert fans analyze the yearly draft would be an easier task if they would at least preface their opinions with phrases like, “I heard on ESPN that …” or “This one scout claims that …” or “That geeky John Clayton, who is usually right, reported that …” At least I’d know the fan was being honest and just citing what some NFL insider claims to know.
Yes, “claims” to know. Even the expert hires on NFL payrolls often don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. You want evidence? Say hello to first rounders Tony Mandarich, Brian Bosworth and Ryan Leaf. Now say goodbye. Meet first-pick-in-the-entire-1999-NFL-draft Tim Couch. What’s that? Oh, sorry … he’s already out of the game. Save a seat for Joey Harrington and Akili Smith, all selected very early in the draft on the advice of the experts who make a living inside the game of football, experts that the average fan echos in his confident attempt to sound knowing. You ever hear of Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien or Todd Blackledge? They were all quarterbacks chosen in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft … before Dan Marino.
The most pathetic draft comments come from those avid, bleed-their-teams’-colors fans, the Kool Aid guzzling goofballs who swear every year that this year’s (Redskins, Steelers, whoever’s) draft was just amazingly stupendously awesome youbetcha. They’ll talk about how their team “addressed weaknesses” and “got stronger in the defensive backfield” and even “acquired some much-needed depth at wide receiver.” They look at what positions were drafted, then declare that that’s where the team is going to improve. Well, no shit, Shula-lock. Anybody can figure out that that’s how a team drafts. You don’t see New England wasting their first two picks on quarterbacks. They look at their weaknesses and address their needs, such as hiring more trustworthy video operators who won’t run their mouths and get their team in a heap of shit, not wasting a pick who has no chance in hell of replacing all-world quarterback and top-rate poon hound Tom Brady.
What fans often fail to realize is that every draft is pretty much a crapshoot that can’t take into account the myriad factors that determine how good or bad a player might turn out. Will he be able to control his diet, or will the already fat fuck eat himself into a training camp cut by his third season? Will this guy Hennessy himself out of the starting lineup by the end of his second year? Will that first rounder you so adore lose all his motivation once he cashes that six million dollar signing bonus? Will Lawrence Phillips continue to manhandle women? Will Pacman Jones ever stop being Pacman Jones?
We don’t know. Even the teams don’t know. But the fans will continue to don the rose-colored glasses and declare that each kid in the draft is potentially Canton-bound. Have you ever heard a fan analyze the draft and claim that a drafted player might not be good? You hear nothing but raves. My favorite is when they claim that a player “is supposed to be good.” As in, “Yeah, you know, I hear that kid they took in the seventh round, that tight end out of Oregon? He’s supposed to be pretty good.” Well, no shit, Mr. Amos Alonzo State the Obvious. Of the thousands of college football players who graduate every year, only a very tiny percentage get drafted, and only after months of scrutiny by NFL teams who spend obscene amounts of money preparing for this once-a-year shot at making their teams better. And your crack analysis amounts to, “He’s supposed to be good.” Gee, thanks for the tip. I’m so glad they went out on a limb and drafted someone with promise, because that guy they took in the second round, the one they gave the $1.5 million signing bonus to? I heard he’s “supposed to pretty much suck.” At least that what Rich Eisen says.
Then again, maybe a conversation like this could actually take place and be believable. I mean, have you followed the Cardinals and Lions over the past 10 years?
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.