The Mystery of NFL Draft Stock: What's Hype and What's Real?
The calendar has officially flipped to April. Spring is now here, and with it comes warmer weather, the return of skirts to women's arsenal of clothing and, of course, the NFL draft being just weeks away.
But the NFL doesn't officially recognize spring as its current season of note. No, the NFL's calendar says that this is an entirely different season altogether.
Right now it's lying season in the NFL, and I'm here to let you know what you can and can't believe from now until the draft begins Thursday, April 25.
From my experience working in league circles for the last decade, I've been able to (sometimes) ascertain what's fact and what's fiction. I reached out to several of my league contacts for their thoughts on this phenomenon, and it's a fascinating process.
It's time to debunk the myth of NFL draft stock.
In order to figure out what's hype and what's real, here's the first important point.
When a GM or coach opens his mouth in April, he's lying
This was a favorite saying on the SiriusXM Blitz for many years. Simply put, you can't believe anything that a coach or general manager says during draft season, aka "lying season."
Don't be so naive as to think that teams aren't using the media to push their agenda. Smokescreens don't only happen—they're the norm this time of year.
Perhaps my all-time favorite involves Jon Gruden and the 1999 NFL draft. If you remember correctly, 1999 was the draft that saw five quarterbacks go in the first 12 picks. Leading up to the draft, Gruden was all over Akili Smith, talking him up as a potential franchise signal-caller at the NFL level.
Well, you know how things turned out with Smith, selected No. 3 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. He is considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. And I have it on good authority that Gruden used to show his quarterbacks cut-ups of Smith in meeting rooms, in order to show them how not to play quarterback at the next level.
The point? Coaches and general managers lie this time of year. They lie, often and compulsively.
Once you understand this basic point, the myth of NFL draft stock becomes easier to figure out.
So, when you hear a report of a team "coveting" a certain player in the same way a teenage boy "covets" Kate Upton, I'm not saying to completely dismiss it as malarkey, but certainly take it with a grain of salt.
The media does affect the draft, but not as much as you might think
One of the worst things that an NFL coach or general manager can do in this time of year is succumb to pressure from the local media or fanbase. That will generally spell doom for even the savviest personnel.
Think about the intensity with which the NFL is covered, from the heart of the season to every facet of the offseason. Each transaction, news conference and draft pick is scrutinized with the same fervor and intricacy that the New York Times uses to review restaurants. With this incredible coverage comes significant pressure, and it'd be foolhardy to think that some teams don't feel it.
Fans, writers and radio/television personalities will spend the year talking about what Team X needs: a franchise quarterback, a fix for the offensive line, a fast wide receiver, a pass-rusher. It's easier for new regimes to deal with this, but for a coach and general manager coming off two lackluster seasons and hanging by a thread, it's definitely appropriate to assume that they feel the need to please the men and women who might be calling for their jobs.
Take the Jacksonville Jaguars two years ago, with the drafting of Blaine Gabbert. While this isn't a moratorium on Gabbert's career, it's safe to say he hasn't yet lived up to the lofty expectations associated with being the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft.
The Jaguars, always looking to increase visibility in the NFL's weakest market, likely saw the value of taking a quarterback early in the draft. All it takes is one man to pull the trigger, and in this case, it was former general manager Gene Smith, who ultimately paid for the decision with his job.
Another example of this phenomenon is the Broncos' selection of Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft.
I spoke with many people in the league about Tebow during and after that draft process, and it's safe to say that not many teams considered him a first-round talent. But with the media coverage of the draft being what it is, ESPN and the NFL Network forced Tebow down the throats of viewers for months, effectively increasing his profile and getting fans and media all lathered up about the possibility of their team selecting the Florida quarterback.
Again, all it takes is one man, and in this case it's former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. Fans loved the Tebow selection. Problem is, of course, Tebow can't throw the ball, and he's now likelier to start for the Montreal Alouettes than he is for the New York Jets. Perhaps coincidentally, McDaniels is no longer in Denver. Perhaps not.
This year, the media darling appears to be Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. The NFL people I've spoken to all agree that Te'o probably isn't a first-round talent, but the media hype is in such overload that, really, who will be surprised if he goes in the first 32 picks?
That's why the best teams follow the same approach and tune out what the media and fans say.
Trust your board and pick the best player available
NFL teams get into trouble when they succumb to outside pressure and draft for need. This is historically the wrong decision, and it proves itself every year.
Look at some of the best organizations in the NFL, all success stories over the past 10 years: the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens. All of these teams tune out the noise and trust their boards.
Giants fans have begged general manager Jerry Reese to draft a linebacker in the first round for years. Reese ignores the chatter and selects the best player on the board, and the Giants finish with a winning record.
Packers fans get on general manager Ted Thompson every offseason for his inactivity in the early stages of free agency, and for his draft picks that lack sex appeal. But guess what? His draft picks are solid more often than not, and the Packers are a winning outfit.
Pundits eviscerated the Ravens early this offseason for letting players like Ed Reed and Paul Kruger walk, along with trading Anquan Boldin, but they've reloaded, proving again that they're one of the best front offices in all of sports.
The common thread? The best teams are the ones that turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the complaints of fans and the media. They trust their board and pick the best player available who can come in and help their team win football games. Period, end of story.
In conclusion: Don't trust anything, and don't be shocked when nothing happens as you predicted
Do you believe NFL teams succumb to pressure from media and fans during the draft?
Part of what makes covering the NFL draft so much fun is its volatile and unpredictable nature. People are always amazed at the end of each April when teams throw us curveballs and do something completely unpredictable.
That's why I hope that after you read this column, you'll be a little more jaded by the process. Assume that people in the league lie. Don't believe the media hype. That's how you debunk the mystery of NFL draft stock and begin to figure out the difference between what's hype and what's real.
Of course, pray that your favorite team tunes out the noise and trusts its board. If it doesn't, you're likely in for a long, long campaign—and a long, long campaign generally results in the season that comes before the lies begin:
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