Survivor's Guide to Reaching the NFL Draft Without Losing Your Mind

Mike TanierNFL National Lead WriterApril 18, 2017

Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

If you are the typical draft junkie, you are bottoming out right about now. 

You've read so many mock drafts that instead of counting sheep at night, you count Browns draft picks. You've watched Jon Gruden's QB Camp become the Inside the Actors Studio of NFL draft programming. You now recognize GIFs of Patrick Mahomes' hinky passing mechanics more readily than you recognize photos of your grandparents. You've spent spring afternoons watching pro days. Pro days.

We've done and said everything there is to do and say about the 2017 draft. And it's still more than a week away. At this rate, we'll all be cackling maniacs by next Thursday.

The best way to keep from going draft crazy this time of year is to watch baseball or playoff hockey/basketball to satisfy your sports hunger instead of listening to the umpteenth talking head debate Mike Williams versus Corey Davis. But you are the one who clicked this article, pal.

So the next-best thing is to filter the faint signal from the deafening noise, remember that this is all supposed to be fun and not grueling prep for the LSAT-like exam about obscure linebackers, and take the following tropes and traditions of the home stretch before the draft with as much salt as your dietician and cardiologist will let you have.

   

Anonymous Scouts

Contrary to popular opinion, anonymous scouts/personnel execs are not figments of our imaginations, nor are they fictitious characters who act like insult-comic sock puppets who say things on-the-record sportswriters could never get away with.

They are real insiders with real expert opinions. They help us learn more about the prospects, their teams and the evaluation process. Sometimes, they give us sizzling-sirloin takes about players who are ready to serve to the hungry draftnik universe. That's when the trouble arises.

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer has received plenty of scrutiny from NFL scouts for his skills and his personality.
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer has received plenty of scrutiny from NFL scouts for his skills and his personality.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

There's an old coaching adage about the passing game: When you throw the football, three things can happen, and two of them are bad. Coaches don't think that way anymore, so the proverb should be repurposed. When an anonymous scout is saying something highly quotable (yet still anonymous), three things could be happening, and two of them are bad:

  • He could just be advancing his team's agenda by taking a sure-to-be-publicized potshot at a player his team actually wants to draft with a later pick.
  • He could be dead wrong about the prospect, passing on thirdhand gossip as firsthand insight, or indulging some personal bias, all the while making it sound like truth from the mountaintop because he works for a team and we don't.
  • Or perhaps he is gifting the universe a nugget of absolute truth about DeShone Kizer's diva personality, and it's our journalistic duty to spread this enlightenment to the masses.

The fact so many anonymous scouts sound like they are mad that the bartender just announced last call makes the third option highly unlikely in many cases.

Those of us who do a lot of draft legwork hear a lot of rumors and off-the-record whispers from good sources, of course. Here's a good rule of thumb for separating meaningful observations from character assassination: If you have read questions about "work ethic" or "character issues" from multiple sources for many months, chances are the prospect doesn't spend all of his free time jogging from the weight room to the volunteer soup kitchen. But if a mystery expert starts popping off about a player two weeks before the draft like your angry uncle losing a political argument, it's best to just do what you do to your uncle and tune it out.

   

Back-to-Camp Rumblings

Nuggets of news emanating from team facilities at the start of offseason training activities (OTAs) are the opposite of anonymous scout eruptions. Anonymous quotes are zesty but, alas, uncorroborated. OTA rumblings are 100 percent documented and on the record but require the kind of reinterpretation usually limited to graduate comparative literature classes.

This year's OTA welcome-back interviews were more eventful than most. For example, Adam Jones went full Joe Pesci in Goodfellas on a reporter who asked one too many questions about his January arrest. (One question was apparently one too many.)

But most of the news and notes required a little between-the-lines reading to fully appreciate. Andrew Luck spoke enough about his January shoulder surgery and cautious approach to offseason work to make Colts fans scurry to the nearest draft ranking chart to see what quarterbacks will be available in the middle rounds.

And then there's Tom Savage's cryptic remark that the Texans quarterbacks will have "a fun and peaceful room," as John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported. Sounds like those tales of Bill O'Brien and Brock Osweiler stopping just short of clubbing each other over the head with 9-irons weren't exaggerations. Also, Savage's statement is probably wishful thinking, because O'Brien will still be in the room.

Tom Savage is looking forward to the calming fun of competing for the Houston Texans starting quarterback job.
Tom Savage is looking forward to the calming fun of competing for the Houston Texans starting quarterback job.Bob Levey/Getty Images

 

Back-to-camp sound bites are a welcome relief from the opinion-slinging of draft season. Just remember that 99 percent of the veterans who are holding out of OTAs, like Branden Albert of the Jaguars, will show up the moment they can be fined for not attending. And nearly everyone else is just spouting cliches that only sound fresh and interesting when compared to scouting jargon.

 

Sudden Risers

Sometime last week, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis rose from just another name in the middle of a long list of likely draftees to a likely first-round pick and the super-secret steal of the draft class.

Nonsensical draft chatter? Not really. Davis fits the profile of the classic draft riser. He's a defensive player who had excellent game film from before an injury-marred senior season, following in the footsteps of past risers like:

  • Karl Joseph, the 14th overall pick by the Raiders last season, who rose late in the draft process after he played just four games in his final season at West Virginia.
  • Dominique Easley, who rose to the 29th pick in the 2014 draft after playing just three games in his final season at Florida.
  • D.J. Hayden, who rose to the 12th pick in the 2013 draft after missing significant time at Houston with major injuries.

These players "rise" because of how mechanisms of draft coverage operate. Injured players get lost in the shuffle of media-generated draft lists, which start coming together as complete lists around bowl-and-junior-entry season in December and January. Injured players also miss out on the Senior Bowl and other all-star games, falling behind prospects who participate.

An injury kept Jarrad Davis parked at the bottom of most media draft boards.
An injury kept Jarrad Davis parked at the bottom of most media draft boards.Rob Foldy/Getty Images

But NFL teams keep better tabs on these players than media-based scouting services can. If a player with outstanding year-old video gets a clean bill of health at the combine or during private visits, he winds up higher on real draft boards than our media models.

The insider buzz eventually leaks out, causing the player to "rise," which just means we are catching up with a player that slipped through the cracks. The phenomenon is most noticeable for defensive players, since quarterbacks and running backs are unlikely to slip completely off the national radar.

There's another kind of predraft "riser," the one whose agent is successfully marketing as a "draft riser" in an effort to Jedi mind-trick the NFL. I'm not going to name names, but if a prospect at a spotlight position has been "rising" since January and is still fourth or fifth at his position on most draft boards, you're probably witnessing a marketing campaign, not a groundswell of opinion.

   

Ridiculous Trade Speculation

The Seahawks and Richard Sherman gave us all carte blanche to let our imaginations run amok with trade scenarios. Unfortunately, draft hype is all about novelty. When everyone is linking Sherman to the Saints, Patriots or Falcons, the speculation loses its fizz, forcing us to concoct even loonier trade scenarios in an attempt to hold your attention.

There are two types of trade speculation in the days leading up to the draft: insider reporting and wacky fanfic.

The Seahawks offered a rare confirmation that they have talked about trading Richard Sherman with other teams.
The Seahawks offered a rare confirmation that they have talked about trading Richard Sherman with other teams.Butch Dill/Associated Press

The insider reporting is at least based on real discussions with teams. But anyone who remembers when Chip Kelly reportedly planned to ship Fletcher Cox, first-round picks through the early 2020s and the Liberty Bell to the Titans in exchange for Marcus Mariota (it turned out to be the one bonkers trade he didn't execute) knows that even insider scuttlebutt is mostly idle gossip and disinformation this time of year.

As for the blogger fanfic...look, exploring far-fetched scenarios can be fun, and a scandalously juicy trade fantasy can liven up a dull afternoon on the internet. Just make sure you don't mistake fantasy for reality. Real trades involve give and take and the satisfaction of needs on both sides, kids.

When massive trades do occur in the hours before the draft, they usually come with little notice and involve players whose names were never mentioned as trade bait until the moment the teams pulled the trigger.

   

Bashing the Best Player for Fun and Profit

Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett is the best prospect in the draft, which means that nobody really likes him.

Oh, lots of people like Garrett. But draft coverage is all about debate and conflict, and Garrett has a duty to be a magnet for petty controversies and opinions.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has heard from a source that Garrett needs "a little more dog to him." Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's source thinks Garrett is "not really a tough guy."

Garrett, meanwhile, warned the Browns in an ESPN interview that he would punish them for 10 to 12 years if they did not make him the first player selected in the draft, as if the Browns haven't suffered enough for their own idiocy. There are reports that some factions of the Browns organization prefer North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to Garrett, though the more we dig, the more it sounds like each faction just thinks that some other faction feels that way. (That would be on par with typical Browns organizational communication quality).

Once he's done burying the Browns, Garrett wants to dig up dinosaur bones, because he is totally into paleontology. Do you really want a pass-rusher who likes dinosaurs, folks? Toddlers like dinosaurs, and toddlers are crybabies. Also, dinosaurs have short arms, limiting their pass-rush ability.

Myles Garrett is "not really a tough guy," according to someone who will never be sacked by him.
Myles Garrett is "not really a tough guy," according to someone who will never be sacked by him.Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press/Associated Press

Garrett also declined to be on a radio show with former NFL defensive lineman Anthony "Booger" McFarland because McFarland has been critical of Garrett in the past. McFarland got far more attention out of publicizing the snub than he would ever have gotten from the interview, which provides a little insight into how this particular sausage is made.

Garrett even reads poetry, according to that ESPN profile. Real pass-rushers eat poetry.

You get the idea. It's easy to paint a picture of Garrett as a thin-skinned, low-motor Poindexter Nerdlinger and ride the adulation of contrarian thinkers and SEC rival fanbases all the way to a successful day of internet draft traffic. When Garrett turns into Jadeveon Clowney without the three-year waiting period, no one will remember the silly stuff they spouted when deadlines were tight and news was scarce.

That's the dirty secret of the final days before the draft: The media is as burned out about covering the same topics and juggling conflicting reports and opinions as you are. We're all just trying to survive for a few more days.

Now if you will excuse me, an anonymous scout just informed me that Garrett is "a total weenie" and the Texans will trade a backup running back to move up and draft him so Tom Savage doesn't have to worry about a noisy/gloomy quarterback room.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.