NFL Draft Culture Creates the Worst Kind of Phonies: Draftniks
It's 8:47. You've been at work for 32 minutes and you have to get coffee before your central nervous system shuts down. You're dreading the trip to the break room because you know he'll be there: the draftnik.
Ever since that time you wore a jersey to work on a particularly casual Friday, you're the sounding board for his armchair general managing. He spams your inbox with ill-informed mock drafts, asks your opinion of random players just so he can interrupt you with his and never fails to tell you what he's "hearing."
The coast looks clear. You dart down the hall, slip in the door and make a beeline for the coffee pot. Quickly filling your mug, you think you're about to get away clean.
"Hey, you hear the latest?"
Your heart drops. Time to make small talk about the draft.
"Looks like everything's hinging on Cleveland," he says. "I'm hearing Holmgren's not sold on Tannehill yet. They may take the safe route with Richardson." You desperately want to tell him you read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column that morning, too, but you bite your tongue.
"I think that'd be a smart move," the draftnik continues. "I've got a second-round grade on Tannehill; I think he'd be a huge bust at No. 4." You know full well he hasn't got any grade on anybody, has never seen Tannehill play for a second and probably couldn't tell you what school Tannehill went to.
You grin weakly, nod assent at official-sounding scouting terms like "high-point the ball" and make your exit at the first opportunity.
What inspires silliness like this?
It wasn't that long ago that the NFL draft was an oddity—an obscure sideshow. ESPN hired Mel Kiper Jr. in 1984; as he told USA Today, ESPN might have been the only people in the world who thought a bunch of suit-clad men conducting business in a hotel ballroom would make for great TV.
"I had everybody telling me, 'You're crazy. You're wasting your time. It will amount to nothing.' I was, like, the point man for the draft to get ripped—and about seven, eight years ago, I noticed that all those massive critics shut up."
According to Variety, ESPN's prime-time coverage of the first round of the 2011 NFL draft drew a whopping six million viewers. That's incredible pull for a three-plus-hour live sports event that features no actual sports.
Part of the rise in the popularity of the draft is the way successful teams build through it. If you want your team to win year in and year out, they'd better nail the draft. Moreover, there's no football to speak of before or after the draft—the anticipation for the NFL's multimillion-dollar poker game has months to build and build and build.
The Internet took everything to the next level; draft-focused websites opened the information floodgates. Where Mel Kiper Jr. had once been the the casual fan's only source of year-round draft coverage, independent scouts and draft analysts got their work out to the masses for the first time.
NFL forum denizens and blog commenters started passionately debating over whose information was the best, whose analysis was the best and what player their team was mostly likely to pick. Some even started their own NFL draft blogs and websites.
Here's where things started to go sour.
With regular sports blogs, the information driving them is freely available—the games themselves and mainstream media. A talented writer who has passionately followed sports for years can quickly learn to cover sports like the pros they've always read; Bleacher Report is built upon that idea.
But with the draft, the information is much harder to come by. In order to evaluate a prospect, you need to see him play. Seeing hundreds of college kids from all around the country play requires access to film, lots of flying around the country or both. Further, once you do all the legwork to watch each prospect play, you actually have to know what you're looking at.
Someone who hasn't been trained by a professional scout in the art of watching film is not a scout. Someone who's watched some DVR'd college games or YouTube highlight reels and formed an opinion about some players might have some insight to share—but that's not the same as "grading" a player.
There's nothing wrong with sharing opinions, whether around the water cooler or online. But those who take the opinions of real scouts and pass them along as their own are not only disrespecting the thousands of hours those folks have put into the job, they're also disrespecting themselves—making themselves look foolish by pretending they have expertise they don't.
It's okay to love the draft, follow the draft and read the work of tail-busting scouts in the media like Kiper, the National Football Post's Wes Bunting and, of course, Bleacher Report's own Senior NFL Draft Lead Writer, Matt Miller.
In fact, instead of slaving over the world's 7,374,184th seven-round mock draft, the archetypal draftnik would be much better served reading more of the real experts' work, becoming a smarter fan and better draftnik along the way.
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