A Casual Fan's Guide to NFL Draft Rituals
The NFL draft is a universally-anticipated event because it appeals to both the hardcore and casual fans of the league and sport.
Just last year, the NFL Network set a ratings record as an average of 757,000 viewers tuned into the event each day, according to the Nielson Company.
Hardcore fans appreciate the year-long process and know all of the players inside and out. They know how the draft works, and they know it well.
Casual fans appreciate the annual rituals of the draft, but simply want to know who their favorite team is adding for next season.
In the following slides, we'll run down some of the rituals that fill out the draft for hardcore fans and keep the casual fans coming back year-after-year.
On the Clock
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Nothing during an NFL offseason tops the moment your team is "on the clock," regardless of the round.
The anticipation begins immediately after the previous pick, when the commissioner announces that, "Team X is now on the clock."
From there, television production crews begin their on-screen countdown timer, as fans, analysts and teams conclude who should be the next pick.
Fans, whether through social media or sitting on their couch at a draft party, make their arm-chair predictions. Television analysts from across the various networks break down the best available players and fits. Teams are both working the phones for trades and deciding which player on their big board is best suited to join the franchise.
It's a frantic, heart-racing time for everyone involved.
The 10 minutes or so (first round) can certainly feel like a lifetime, even after the NFL bumped down the wait from 15 minutes for viewing purposes. But the process of being "on the clock" has become every bit a part of the draft as the selection itself.
The Green Room
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The green room, or the area where the league houses players and their families who are invited to the actual live event in New York, is a somewhat recent addition to the rituals of the NFL draft.
According to ESPN, the green room was created sometime in the late 1980s, when the top pick in the draft was flown to New York. In the 1990s, the green room still consisted of only five or six of the top picks, and it was rare for a player to wait long before hearing his name called.
Fast forward 20 years, and the production value of the NFL draft has increased exponentially. Now, the NFL wants as many players at the event as possible.
Instead of a handful of players attending the event, the NFL is continually adding players to the stress-filled green room. Add in cameras focused in on every player in New York, and you get reality television at its very best.
In 2013, a record 23 players will be in attendance.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel and four players from the University of Alabama (D.J. Fluker, Eddie Lacy, Dee Milliner and Chance Warmack) will be among the players in attendance at Radio City Music Hall.
Popular players such as USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o decided to decline their invitations and watch the draft from home.
Expect this ritual of green-room participation to continue to grow as more and more eyes fixate on the draft every April.
Commissioner Roger Goodell Hugs
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Throughout most of the draft's televised history, players who have been drafted from the green room embrace the NFL commissioner with a traditional handshake on stage at Radio City Music Hall.
Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner since 2006, has started his own new ritual.
In 2010, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with the third overall pick, Goodell skipped the handshake and gave his newest employee a big hug. The trend has caught on in recent years.
Now, it's commonplace for first rounders to give Goodell a bear hug after arriving on stage in New York.
For a closer look at Goodell's new tradition, check out Jim Weber's countdown of his top five draft-day hugs at Yahoo! Sports. He's had some classics over the years, including humorous embraces with Dontari Poe, Melvin Ingram and Fletcher Cox.
If we're lucky, maybe Goodell will add one to the highlight reel Thursday. With big men such as Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Sharrif Floyd live in New York, Goodell come have another memorable hug in store.
The Last Pick, or "Mr. Irrelevant"
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Not only does the NFL draft celebrate the first pick in the draft, but it also makes sure the last pick feels at home, too.
"Mr. Irrelevant", the title given to the final player selected in each draft, has been around for the better part of the last 40 years.
Since 1976, former 10th-round pick Paul Salata has helped advance the cause of Mr. Irrelevant. During his "Irrelevant Week," Salata treats the last pick in the that year's draft to a week of luxury in Orange County, California.
In recent years, the NFL has had a special jersey designed for the that lucky player to be drafted last (see picture above).
Some notable Mr. Irrelevants from past years include Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop (2009) and New England Patriots linebacker Marty Moore (1994), the first last pick to play in a Super Bowl (XXXI).
Last season, Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish was made 2012's Mr. Irrelevant by the Indianapolis Colts. Harnish spent the majority of last season on the team's practice squad.
Indianapolis also holds the last pick in the 2013 NFL draft. It will mark the fifth time in franchise history the team has picked Mr. Irrelevant.
The Green Room Loner
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As green rooms have expanded and more first-round unpredictability has set in, the prevalence of green-room loners has also increased.
There's possibly no better example of such a loner than Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had plans of being the first overall pick in 2005, but was actually forced to wait several long, excruciating hours in the green room before the Green Bay Packers selected him with the 24th overall pick.
He sat through 16 first-round picks by himself in the lonely green room. However, with an MVP and Super Bowl MVP now under his belt, it's hard to feel too sorry for Rodgers. Everything has worked out in Green Bay.
A few years after Rodgers, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn suffered a similar fate.
Expected to be a top-10 pick at the very worst, Quinn eventually fell all the way to No. 22 overall. The Cleveland Browns halted his free fall, and Quinn was finally freed from his green-room prison. He hasn't had the same post-green room success as Rodgers, however.
Inevitably, the increase in green room participation will lead to more players waiting for hours on end, with more and more cameras available to catch every awkward second.
For better or worse, the televised suffering in the green room is now an established part of the process.
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For draft prospects, being selected by a team is just the start of a whirlwind of events compressed into a short period of time.
The emotional roller coaster is kicked off with hugs and tears with close family members and friends in the green room, who all traveled to New York to share in the moment.
Then, there is the walk across the stage and handshake (or hug) with the commissioner.
Next, you pose for an endless stream of pictures holding your new jersey and wearing your team's official hat.
To finish off the process, reporters from across the nation want answers to hundreds of very similar questions. It's a dizzying series of events that finish off a long and difficult journey.
The NFL wouldn't have it any other way.
The league certainly makes a production of the draft, and featuring each top prospect is a big part of the deal. The more faces are in New York, the more stories the NFL can tell.
The Live Phone Call/Announcement
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Outside of the commissioner stepping to the podium for the first time, is there a more iconic draft image than live coverage shifting their attention on a prospect who's just learned that he's been drafted?
In most cases, we're seeing one of the happiest moments in a young man's life unfold on live television. Like the whole draft process, it's reality television at its absolute best.
The player involved is usually on the phone with his new employer when we see a big smile come across his face and an ensuing roar from his surrounding draft entourage.
It's a powerful moment.
In other cases, we don't see the initial phone call, but the actual reaction once the commissioner calls his name in New York City. Not as powerful, but still great television.
Either way, broadcasting these moments is an inspiring ritual that serves as a jumping off point for many NFL careers. It's just one of the many reasons why hardcore and casual fans alike keep coming back year-after-year to consume the NFL draft.