The NFL draft is less than 48 hours away and fans everywhere are bubbling with anticipation. The league does a great job keeping fans engaged year-round, and the draft has become its signature offseason event.
As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But, the NFL is always looking for ways to improve its product, both on and off the field, which begs the question: is there any way to improve the NFL draft?
When considering alternatives, the NBA’s draft lottery system immediately comes to mind. I’m not a fan of the NBA’s system, but it’s not because I don’t like the lottery in theory.
The NBA has enough problems trying to create league parity without adding randomness to the process of improving teams through the draft. If ever there was a league that needed to provide a more direct correlation between team performance and draft status, it’s the NBA. But this isn’t an NBA column, so at least for today, David Stern is on his own trying to figure out how to save his league.
This is the NFL’s day in the sun, and there are a number of reasons why the lottery system could be great for pro football. So let’s add a little more spice to the “No Fun League,” and take a look at how the lottery system would improve the NFL draft and eventually, its overall product.
The NFL has by far the greatest level of parity among the four major North American sports leagues, making the lottery system ideal for the pro-football draft. Because the draft lasts seven rounds over three days, it is less likely that an under-performing team will have their future successes ruined by losing out on the top picks guaranteed by the current slotting system.
NFL teams do a fine job blowing top picks on their own. Look at this year, for example.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson confirmed that Stanford’s Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft. But what if it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he’d be a Colt next season?
How many non-playoff teams this year would have their futures significantly altered by acquiring the Stanford quarterback? How much more drama would it add to the offseason if we didn’t know which team was getting the No. 1 pick before the regular season ended?
More people would watch the Pro Bowl if the NFL took a page out of the NBA’s book and aired the draft lottery at halftime of the exhibition, which occurs a week before the Super Bowl. This would still give teams plenty of time to prepare for the April draft, which would inevitably lead to better pre-draft or draft-day trades.
While the NFL is generally terrible when it comes to player movement via trade, it does have the most movement in draft picks.
Imagine the possibilities if the Dallas Cowboys, a team that just missed out on winning the NFC East, won a NFL draft lottery.
How much sexier would the draft speculation have been if we could have spent the last three months debating whether the Cowboys should trade Tony Romo and draft Luck as his replacement (or local product Robert Griffin III for that matter)? Or we could revisit history, imagining the Hershel Walker-type haul they’d receive for the No. 1 pick from another quarterback-starved franchise.
Just the possibility of a scenario like that would give NFL pundits a lot more material to feed to the legions of NFL fans who eat this stuff up. Big win for the media, big win for the NFL.
Finally, an NFL draft lottery might spare us the late-season questions about teams tanking for a shot at the top spot in the draft.
As the Indianapolis Colts demonstrated over the last few weeks of the season, NFL players don’t tank for draft status, despite what management might think is in the best interest of the team’s future. Players have too much pride and make too many sacrifices to their physical well-being to sacrifice their season for a shot at some unproven 22-year-old draft pick, regardless of the kid’s talent.
Sure, having the worst record increases a team’s odds of landing the top spot. But not being guaranteed the No. 1 pick should reduce the amount of time we are forced to spend listening to speculation about a team’s on-field effort. That’s a win for the players, a win for the coaches and a win for the fans.
As for the sports media? Well, I already threw us a bone by increasing overall draft uncertainty, so I think we come out ahead in the end.