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Monday, April 13, 2015

After the Masters, the Next Big Sporting Event Is. . . the NFL Draft

Not the start of the baseball season.

Not the NHL or NBA playoffs, presumably because so many teams make it in and there are so many rounds that the rounds people really care about will still be around after. . . the NFL draft.

Primary evidence of the prominence of the draft as the next big sporting event is that ESPN's home page is dedicated to the Masters and the NFL draft.  Major League Baseball?  Not really.  NBA playoffs?  Perhaps more so than the NHL playoffs.  NHL playoffs?  Not really, or not at all.  MLS?  Are you kidding me?  International soccer?  Perhaps in areas outside the United States, where people really care who wins their league, their domestic cup and the Champions League.

Welcome to the world of picking people and getting into how decisions are made, whether either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota will be a good pro or this year's renditions of Tim Couch and Akili Smith, whether the Eagles will trade up for Mariota or pull another dumb move and over-stretch to grab a Marcus Smith II, and which coach might emerge as the next Jimmy Johnson.  Is the corner from UConn the real deal or a combine wonder?  Whether anyone will hold Mel Kiper, Jr. or Todd McShay accountable for misstating the case about players annually or whether I misunderstand and should know that both are there to predict what player teams will select, but not which player should be selected.  As an aside, I don't misunderstand it -- these guys get it wrong a lot, as does the entire league.  Someone, somewhere, has metrics as to how to determine what player you should draft where and how they project; Sam Hinkie is doing this with the Philadelphia 76ers (jury is still out), but is anyone doing this in the NFL?

For several weeks we'll hear all sorts of rumors, discussions, debates and human interest stories.  We heard one several years ago about an overaged former Canadian firefighter ripping it up in the Big 12 -- he became a first-round pick at 26, only to return to being a firefighter a few years later.  Apparently, he was better at putting out real fires than ones on the field, and the human interest story eclipsed actual production or the potential for production at the next level.  Good story for the fans at draft time, but the result wasn't so pretty.  It all gets dizzying, we all lock and load on certain players, not everyone turns out, people will give teams grades after the draft and all coaches go into OTAs and the like hoping and praying that the players they draft turn out to be what they need.  But we haven't had a coach like Jimmy Johnson in a long time, one who always knew where to draft the right player.  Hard to figure out why that is, but with all the energy teams put into the draft, you would think that teams would better be able to pick a group of potentially productive players than they have.  That's a vexing problem for many teams; ones that can "crack the code" so to speak have a chance to outwit and outplay opponents for several years (at least until some of their assistants in the front office get lured to envious competitors). 

So, watch your MLB team freeze, your MLS team toil in anonymity, your NBA team either await its lottery pick or play in a round so early that no one will remember it and your NHL team (if, in fact, you are one of the 20,000 or so people in any city who follows the pro hockey team) play in a similar early round of the playoffs.  Combined, though, at this time of the year, no one seems to care as much about those games as they do about the NFL Draft.


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