Feeling the Draft

Thursday, April 24th, 2008, 10:42 am

Look, I’m as big a fan of the NFL Draft as you’re gonna find. I used to play sick so I could stay home from school to watch it–and yes, kids, the Draft used to be held during the week. There was no Internet in those dark days either and so I’d haunt the magazine racks and pick up every sports mag on the shelves and turn right to the draft previews. Of course the Bible in those days was Pro Football Weekly, with page after page of player profiles and team needs and anaylsis from PFW’s resident savant and weirdo, the late Joel Buschbaum. Buschbaum become a draft guru without leaving his Brooklyn apartment. Many of his editors never met him in person. Mel Kiper might be the guy that everyone associates with the NFL Draft, but Buschbaum was respected and admired both by NFL execs and by lunatic draftniks like myself.

But crazy as I am, the Draft has gotten a bit out of hand. Well, maybe more than a bit–in the old days an NFL beat writer might publish a mock draft the day (or the week, or the month) before the Draft, just to give the frothing mob something to chew over before the actual event. This year, ESPN’s Todd McShay has issued eight mock drafts. EIGHT?? The first came out when there was still a month to go in the regular season. How the hell can you predict who teams are going to select when you don’t even know what order they’re gonna be drafting? On top of that, a lot of the players McShay listed were juniors who went back to school. Look, I’m all in favor of stirring up the pot a bit and generating some conversation, but that’s just silly.

In comparison, Mel Kiper has issued a mere four mock drafts so far. Of course, yesterday Mel showed that his grip on sanity is as tenuous as ever by predicting the ENTIRE DRAFT. All seven rounds of it, right down to the compensatory picks. That’s nuts. That’s loco. I hope that Kiper just had the players ranked in some way and had a spreadsheet or something compile his list–I hate the idea of Kiper, sitting in a room by himself, going through every pick, team by team, trying to decide which player that team would select in that situation. Talk about wasted effort.

As always I’m focused on who the Steelers might select with the 23rd pick. My buddy Mark and I have had sober, serious, dare I say introspective discussions about who the Steelers should pursue. Offensive line seems an obvious place to start–in the Draft parlance we love so much, the Steelers need to go after someone "girthy", with "long arms", who can bench the weight room and plays with the de rigueur mean streak.

In McShay’s first mock draft he had the Steelers picking 29th (showing how our season petered out at the end) and selecting OT Michael Oher from Ole Miss. Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side, decided to stay in school. Spilt milk, and in his second mock McShay had us taking Jeff Otah, the hulking tackle from Pitt. Would be a nice pick, except that Steeler fans remember that back in ’89 we picked a Pitt OT in the first round, and Tom Ricketts was El Busto. So some bad karma there.

Otah’s reputation grew as the offseason progressed and it appeared that he wouldn’t be available when the Steelers turn came around. So McShay had us taking Branden Albert, another hulking gentleman who played guard at Virginia. Good, we need a guard to replace Faneca, and it was reported Albert might be able to play tackle as well. Versatility is always a good thing. This seemed like a classic Steeler pick–pick a junior who plays an unglamorous position and might’ve been a top 10 pick the following year. Exactly what we did with Faneca. Yes, Branden Albert. That’s the man.

Except that Albert did exceptionally well in his workouts, and now he might go as high as #5. Crap! That’s what makes these mock drafts so damned irritating–it’s like these jerks are saying, "Here’s what you’re getting for Christmas!!" and you get all excited and then they come back a few weeks later and say, "Your present? Sorry, the Atlanta Falcons just took it away from you. But hey, here’s Huey Richardson instead!"

In their most recent mocks both McShay and Kiper have the Steelers avoiding the heavy beef. McShay has us taking Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart, while Kiper says we’re gonna take malcontent Oklahoma WR Malcolm Kelly. I think the chances of the Steelers taking Kelly are approximately nil, and perhaps Kiper thinks the same way, since he’ll probably issue two or three more mock drafts before Saturday, and then amend his picks on an almost minute-by-minute basis. That’s one of the great things about being a draft guru–the more information you throw out there the more insidery and oracular you appear. When in fact what you’re supplying is DISinformation. Fun and interesting disinformation, to be sure, disinfo sure to spark spirited conversation at the bar, but come on. The NFL Draft is a clumsy demonstration of Chaos Theory. You have your first round all mapped out, every pick is falling into place…and then the Detroit Lions step to the podium and Matt Millen blows it all to hell. He makes some pick that has everyone in the gallery hooting and your carefully constructed mock draft collapses like Jenga. The Lions pick means that the next team in line can grab a guy they thought would NEVER be there, and then there’s a trade up to seize some player who’s inexplicable slipped a few spots and before you can blink it’s all gone to hell.

This year actually brings about the biggest improvement in the draft since it was moved to Saturday. In the first round the teams will only have 10 minutes to pick, instead of 15, and the time for second-round picks was reduced from 10 minutes to seven. Anyone who watches the draft knows that around pick 18 a kind of death-march mentality takes hold–you start to think the the torment will never end, that nothing is ever going to HAPPEN. This misery is especially acute if your team picks late–you look up at the clock, it’s 4:30, you’ve already had a dozen beers and eaten way too much pizza and chips, and your team is still 2 hours away from its turn. Plus it seems that the Draft always occurs on a picture-perfect spring day, and knowing that you’re missing out on all that sunshine, that instead you’re sitting on the couch eating crap and drinking beer watching a group of extremely fit guys become rich, can depress you something fierce. So, the reduced time between picks should be a good thing. Plus it starts at 3pm this year, giving fans a chance to go out early, play some golf, walk around the park.

When we flew back from Vietnam our last connection was in Philly. I sat down next to a youngish guy wearing a Indianapolis Colts polo. He was fiddling with his laptop and punching numbers into his cell phone, and without trying to eavesdrop I heard him setting up meetings to time people in the 40-yard dash and the shuttle run. After a bit I asked if he worked for the Colts and indeed he did, he was a scout for them. Of course we started chatting about the upcoming Draft, which he described as hectic beyond words. He was spending all his time in airports, hustling all over the Northeast looking players over. As we boarded he finished one last call and said, "I think I found my first big sleeper".

"Reallly," I purred, my fangs protruding just slightly. "Any hints about who it might be?" But he was coy, and we walking down the ramp so I couldn’t bonk him on the head and drag him into a supply closet for interrogation. I guess if the Colts draft a reciever from New Hampshire A&M or a linebacker from Quebec Tech I’ll have my answer.

UPDATE: Whoops! I didn’t see that Todd McShay ALSO did a full seven-round mock draft the other day. Probably McShay felt that his ESPN bosses would think he was slacking if he didn’t match Kiper’s insanity level.


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One Response to “Feeling the Draft”

  1. donkeypuncher Says:

    I think that you Steelers fans will really like Mendenhall. He’ll provide a good change of pace from Parker.

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