The NFL Draft has grown steadily in popularity every year since has been televised. Now a primetime event with an in-your-face buildup and breakdown, a portion of the public is understandably suffering from “draftlash,” a knee-jerk aversion to all things speculative and celebratory about the league’s annual labor influx.
Is the NFL Draft over-hyped and over-analyzed? Almost certainly. Is it still the best off-season event on the calendar of the best sport on the planet? Absolutely. Here’s five reasons why.
The Combination of the Two Best Sports Ever
The only thing that might top the excitement of the NFL season is big-time college football. The draft is the melding of these two great enterprises into a single three-day highlight package. For NFL savants who live in college football-depleted regions (i.e. Baltimore), the draft is actually the most college football they’ll watch all season (albeit in twelve-second installments). For college football fans, it affords an opportunity to bid a final farewell to the familiar faces of the last few seasons and watch them evolve before our eyes.
As with any live event, Twitter has changed the way we experience the NFL Draft immensely. In the old days, you got Mel Kiper’s opinion and that of whatever drunken mob happened to be nearest to you. Now, you can watch along with the entire world, which is a key element of an event like the draft. Traditionally, the reaction that’s been monitored has been that of the largely New York-based fans in attendance at Radio City Music Hall. Now, as broadcast producers figure out better ways to integrate social media into the mix, we’re going to get the pulse of the entire football universe’s reaction to every single pick. Perhaps more importantly is the ability to get instant news and analysis from people other than Kiper, Todd McShay, or Mike Mayock. There are thousands of football analysts on Twitter, and about two dozen of them are really excellent. If you don’t like ESPN or the NFL Network’s live reactions to picks, there’s really no excuse not to find someone on Twitter as an alternative.
Going Beyond the Mock Draft
A big chunk of the animosity toward the draft centers around the thousands of mock drafts that are held and written before the real deal. For some reason, it offends people that a prognosticator might speculate on what each team is going to do. While mocks can certainly be a useful tool for gauging general consensus and playing out scenarios, a draftnik’s true accuracy is measured by the prospect rankings. It’s not about predicting the sometimes odd behavior of NFL GMs, but about answering the simple question “how good of a pro is this player going to be?” That’s the real debate worth having, rather than getting worked up about someone’s draft day fan fiction.
The NFL is run with such precision that at times, league events can feel a bit overly scripted. Not the NFL Draft. It is the one event a year where nobody knows what’s really going to happen next. There are no closed-door meetings, no rehearsals or PR people to package information before it’s released. It’s three days of live television and raw data. There’s no telling when someone’s going to give an awkward hug to the commissioner, shoot an icy stare at their agent, or say something bizarre in their first interview as a pro. And that’s just the players. Never mind the fact that the teams are playing with live ammo. Every second matters, and as we’ve seen, seemingly professional organizations have flat-out missed their turn drafting.
Promise, Hope and Opportunity
A pro sports roster never changes as much as it does on NFL Draft day. Over half a dozen players are added to every team’s mix. A handful of them will change the very landscape of the league within the next nine months. Just look at the class of 2011, and how drastically those rookies impacted the league in what was said to be a lost offseason for first-year players. As college football raises the level of competition to more closely mirror the NFL, players are coming in ready to make an impact. Take a look at what Detroit has done in such a short period. Stack up a couple good drafts in a row and you’re not just talking about being competitive, you’re talking about contending. Every team has a basically equal chance to get significantly better in a short window of time. “New” is always interesting, and there’s never more “new” than on draft day, when everyone’s a potential Hall of Famer.