Drafting the Best American Sports Drafts (In Honor of the NFL Draft)
More people care about the NFL draft than almost any other sport's actual games. Two years ago, the coverage of the NFL draft beat out playoff basketball for cable TV rating supremacy.
The NFL has had so much success with fans tuning in to see the next great stars (and busts) for their favorite teams, the league has turned the draft into a three-day player-picking parade.
Three days of draft-picking goodness. Don't kid yourself—you will watch; I will watch. Most people we know who love sports will watch at least part of the NFL draft marathon.
Having said that, is the NFL draft even the best draft of all the drafts? If we were to, say, create a draft of all the drafts, where would we draft the NFL draft in this hypothetical Draft draft?
(Note: Let's keep this to just sports, as good craft beer will win any true draft draft.)
With the First Pick...The NBA Draft
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The NBA draft is clearly the best professional sports draft. There are only two rounds, meaning most fans have heard of nearly every player being selected (half of the first round will be from Kentucky this year).
Even the foreign players that casual fans haven't heard of get so much buzz leading up to the draft that we can develop enough familiarity to pretend we can tell the next Dirk Nowitzki from the next Frederic Weis.
There is also a ton of drama at the NBA draft, especially in years where the top few picks are very hard to separate or, like in recent drafts, there are a handful of all-time superstars and a drop off for the rest of the lottery.
While trades at the NBA draft don't have the resonance as they do at the top of the NFL draft, they seem to happen so much more. Nothing is better than seeing a kid put on one hat and then have to put on another less than 20 minutes later.
Plus, the debate of skills translating from the college game to the pros is never more heated than in NBA circles. From the TV side to the tremendous upside of the players, nothing beats the NBA draft.
With the Second Pick...NHL All-Star Game Draft
This really could be the top draft in all of sports. Clearly, unlike actual league drafts, it doesn't have the long-lasting effects on the sport, but the NHL All-Star draft is a spectacular idea and has added a ton of buzz to the All-Star game and the sport.
Announcing captains and letting those captains choose teams on live TV like its a big pickup game is such a smart idea. The NHL deserves a ton of credit for pulling the trigger on this model a few years ago.
The only reason this isn't the top draft is because the actual execution has been a little wonky. The show drags on far too long, making the case that televising the event actually hurts the flow of the day in that the draft gets stretched out too much. Whoever had the idea to have every single player wear a suit, take off his jacket, put on his sweater and take a photo with his captain should never be put in charge of a TV show ever again.
In addition, the format of having captains and assistant captains announcing the picks—like a true pickup game—allows the captains to showcase their personalities, which can be bad if they're not outgoing.
Even when they are, that's not always a good thing, as the draft can pretty quickly turn into what feels like a bunch of frat guys picking sides for a beer pong tournament.
I'm sorry, did I say the draft can "pretty quickly" turn into that? It doesn't do anything quickly.
Still, the idea is fantastic.
With the Third Pick...The NFL Draft
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I may be in the minority, but I liked the NFL draft better when it was just two days. I enjoy the prime-time aspect of the draft to some degree, but I hate the logic that the second round becomes that much more important to teams because they have a night to prepare for it now. If teams need an extra few hours to decide who will be their second- or third-round pick, they surely aren't prepared enough for the draft.
Wait. Forget about the football side of the draft. I'm more concerned about the NFL draft as a TV show.
After the third round, the coverage of the draft is more just a continuous loop of the top storylines and first-round picks with the occasional pause to tell us who was drafted with the picks they ignored in real time.
Ironically, given the draft is now spread across three days, TV understands the draft is too long to hold the attention of fans, so they have to fill the final few rounds with interviews and rehashed stories to distract us from the hundreds of players who won't make NFL rosters anyway.
The NFL draft is great at the top, but just way too long. I know it used to be longer, but it just doesn't make sense why the league can't have a three- or four-round draft and create a deeper pool of free agents. How many players drafted in Rounds 5-7 make teams anyway? Those who do would still likely make a team on talent, plus they would get the chance to pick their team like undrafted free agents can now.
Oh, and it would make the show shorter, too. Everybody wins. Well, except Mr. Irrelevant.
With the Fourth Pick...The MLB Rule 5 Draft
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The MLB Rule 5 draft is not a very good made-for-TV event. In fact, it's not a TV event at all. But the Rule 5 Draft is the best draft in baseball for a few reasons.
First, it's fast. The conference call—streamed live on MLB's website for fans—is done in about half an hour. Second, the players selected in the Rule 5 draft have to make major league rosters, by rule, or get sent back to their original team.
The idea of the Rule 5 draft is to help players who may be buried in talent-rich farm systems by giving them a chance to make a major league club. Teams that select Rule 5 players make every effort to keep those players on the big league roster, so the players who get drafted can have an immediate impact on your favorite club.
Johan Santana, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Josh Hamilton are just a few current names to have been selected in the Rule 5 draft. It's a good draft.
With the Fifth Pick...The NHL Draft
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The NHL has done a great job of getting basically every top star to show up at the draft and was one of the early league adopters of putting the draft inside team arenas, creating more buzz around the selections for that team (and rivals) and giving the overall experience a more energetic feel.
To hockey fans, I can see why they might think the NHL draft is as good or better than the NBA or NFL, but the relative anonymity of the players to casual fans keeps the NHL draft from breaking through as one of the top sports drafts.
(Note: I'm sure if this were a Canadian draft article, it would be tops on the list. But fifth isn't bad.)
With the Sixth Pick...The MLB First-Year Player Draft
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Major League Baseball finally made the MLB draft a televised event five years ago and I'm not sure it made the draft any better. It certainly gave the draft more buzz and got more people to focus on the first round (TV will do that for anything).
Before TV, the entire draft was done via conference call (streamed online). The MLB draft goes lightning fast between picks and combines all the college players whose names you may know with hundreds of high school kids you've never heard of before.
The neat part of the MLB draft is hearing the number of "redraft" players—guys who were picked in high school but opted to go to college, only to get picked again a few years later—that get selected. The other neat quirk of the MLB draft is when teams have to choose how to list a player, as many top prospects play multiple positions.
The draft is long, yes, because MLB teams draft to help replenish their entire farm system every year. But the draft really does move quickly, making people wonder why other drafts—NFL, we stare in your general direction—need so much time between picks.
The problem with the MLB draft—even the televised first round—is that most of the players aren't that well known. Even the players everyone has heard of won't be seen on the major league level for more than a year, if at all.
It's great for fans of each team to track the drafted prospects, but MLB is unlike the other major sports in giving us an immediate payoff for the high-profile selections, keeping this draft in the middle of the pack of our Draft draft.
With the Seventh Pick...The MLS Superdraft
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MLS has done a great job of making their draft relevant in a sport where drafting players is totally foreign to basically any other league in the world.
In essence, the MLS Superdraft is an excuse to get the teams together to handle league business and pick a few dozen college players who may contribute at some point in the next few seasons. Maybe when MLS first started, the draft was a stronger pipeline of talent for teams, but the more established the league gets around the world, the less important its own draft has become.
The involvement of Generation Adidas is a key part of the Superdraft, allowing teams to select college players who are part of the program that won't cost the team against the salary cap. The league really does go far out of its way to infuse the talent pool with young American players.
Still, many teams find ways to build their rosters through free agency and designated foreign talent, mitigating the overall importance of the draft.
The draft itself is actually done well. The picks move quickly and the scarves given to each selection in attendance are way cooler than what other leagues do with hats and jerseys. Fans in attendance are often boisterous for their teams, but MLS needs to make sure to pick the right venue as sometimes the room can be completely flat for some top picks.
Even if fans are chanting for their own team, it's better than silence for all but one team's picks.
With the Eighth Pick...Expansion Drafts
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Expansion drafts don't happen often, but they are always full of drama. What players should teams protect? Who will the expansion teams poach unexpectedly from your roster?
Why in the world did the Houston Texans pick Tony Boselli?
MLS has had the most expansion drafts in recent years and there is always a ton of excitement surrounding the selections. Even within each team, simply who is protected and who isn't can stir up roster commotion.
If they happened more often, expansion drafts might be able to sneak up our draft board.
With the Ninth Pick...The WNBA Draft
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This draft isn't far down the list because of a lack of interest in women's basketball, it's simply because of where the league chose to host the draft this year. The WNBA draft was held at ESPN, and part of the ESPN cafeteria served as a makeshift media work room.
The league used to hold the draft the day after the Final Four, figuring many of the top players would already be there and all the women's basketball media would be in attendance as well. The draft is now held a few weeks later—perhaps to give teams enough time to properly scout and interview players or because the logistics of piggy-backing off the Final Four wasn't great for the WNBA or the NCAA—but hosting the draft at ESPN is just a clear indication of how little interest there actually is in the league.
There's not a hotel in New York or another team city that could host the draft? Was the WNBA so concerned nobody would cover the draft they felt they had to do it at ESPN? (Note: I'm sure I could ask someone why the draft was held at ESPN and I'm sure they would have an excellent reason. I know this, but I didn't ask because there is no way I'd get a real answer why a professional sports league would host its draft on the campus of a media partner.)
Just imagine if the NFL draft was held on the campus of ESPN. The rest of the sports media world would go ballistic. We would have story after story after story about how ESPN paid billions of dollars for the rights to the NFL and now the league is handing the Worldwide Leader a top TV property and how it's unfair to all the other media outlets that spend their own billions.
Some news outlets would probably boycott if the NFL draft (or NBA draft) was held at ESPN.
With the WNBA, nobody seemed to have any issues with ESPN hosting the draft. Which is probably the real reason it's this far down this draft board.
(Note: I wish there were more women's sports leagues to put on this list. The WPS is on hiatus or it would be here. It's a credit to the WNBA—and NBA Commissioner David Stern—that the league has been around this long.)
With the 10th Pick...NBA Rising Stars Challenge Draft
The NBA borrowed a page from the NHL to draft players for All-Star weekend, using TNT's stellar crew to pick teams for the Rising Stars game. TNT created "Team Chuck" and "Team Shaq" in a mix of first- and second-year players.
The idea was great, but like the NHL, the execution of the TV show was poor. I like Shaq, but he seemingly forgot he was on TV, waiting the full allotment of time before even speaking a word during some picks. Even then, he would just blurt out a player's name at the last second without giving any buildup to why he picked a guy.
If TNT continues to do this, which they should, they need to let Kenny Smith be a GM, not a de facto Vanna White relegated to putting names on the board.
I'm sure the brilliant folks at Turner know this has the potential to shoot up our draft board if the right people are involved. Or in Shaq's case, not involved.
With the 11th Pick...Supplemental Drafts
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You can make a case the Rule 5 draft is a supplemental draft, but this category is more to focus on those players who are rookies and for some reason or another did not qualify for a league's traditional first-year draft or did not qualify to stay eligible at school and had no other option but to go pro earlier than expected.
The NFL has a supplemental draft. So does MLS. To be honest, I'm not sure what other leagues still have supplemental drafts and I really don't know why either of those still do.
The draft has become such a big deal in American sports that supplementing those drafts with additional drafts seems unnecessary. The rules should either make those players wait until the following year or make them immediate free agents. I know the NFL uses the supplemental draft to take away the corresponding round from the next year's draft, but it still doesn't make sense why it's needed.
If players could be free agents by avoiding the draft, would that help any of them make big signing bonuses? No. The system of the draft is what gives players the big bucks, so making anyone else a free agent after the draft is done would render an August supplemental draft unnecessary.
Is there some benefit to the supplemental draft that I am missing?
With the Final Pick...Your Fantasy Draft
Play with headphones on. Somewhat NSFW innuendo.
This is important: Nobody cares about your fantasy draft.
Nobody cares that you were able to get Arian Foster with the seventh pick or that you lucked into Cam Newton in the 10th round of your keeper league last year.
Oh, you got Stephen Strasburg in a trade for Robinson Cano and next year's fourth-round pick? No way! Please tell me more about that so I can justify my decision to stop being friends with you.
I'm fine with people asking questions on Twitter about what players to take in the draft. I want to win my league just as much as you do, so go ahead and ask the experts on Twitter for help.
Once your draft is done, nobody cares about your team.
You know what, maybe the players care. Tell them about your team. Seriously, tweet the players that you picked them and tell them how much you need them to play well this year because there's a big trophy at the end of the season for the team that wins.
That will probably make them very excited to work even harder than ever. For you. And your fantasies.
(I am sure I left out some drafts and I apologize if your favorite sport or draft was not represented, World Team Tennis, lacrosse and whatever other sports didn't make the list. If you feel a draft should be included, leave it in the comments or consider it an undrafted free agent of the Draft draft. Please note I left out the WWE draft on purpose. While it's a great idea to reshuffle the deck of each show, it would be better if it was actually real.)