I’ve learned two things this weekend.
One is that being able to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates doesn’t make you a good team any more than calling a product “fruit snacks” makes it any healthier than candy. (If my two-year-old daughter is reading this, I’m on to you!)
The other thing I’ve learned is that the NFL Draft is one televised event that definitely belongs on cable.
Let me explain: When my parents first plugged into cable way back in 1985, there was a distinct difference between broadcast television and cable television. Broadcast television content was cleaner, to be sure, but it was also unspeakably better.
In the last twenty-five years (Wow. It’s been that long since I used to waste hours upon hours waiting for the “Like A Virgin” video to come on?), the broadcast/cable line has been blurred to the point that it basically has ceased to be. No better reminder of that exists than this week’s announcement that TBS will next year begin to share March Madness with CBS, including having exclusive rights to the Final Four and championship game every other year beginning in 2016.
To me, having the Final Four on anything other than broadcast television is shocking, although many younger people probably see little difference between TBS and CBS. (Which is why Conan O’Brien going to TBS isn’t anywhere near the step down career-wise that he self-mockingly pretends it to be).
That’s why I find the annual airing of the NFL Draft so retro, so comforting. It is a cable show that simply isn’t good enough for broadcast.
Don’t get me wrong. I was right there through much of it, but no one with a pulse would argue that it’s good television. The awkward silences as the panel (I chose to stick with ESPN over the newer-kid-on-the-block NFL Network) waits for Roger Goodell to announce the picks. The constant repetition (I think Jon Gruden repeated about five different phrases all weekend). The confusion over which correspondent is set to interview who where. The missed camera cues as Tom Jackson slowly lulls viewers and cameramen to sleep.
Not good television, but perfect cable television.
And after all 800 hours of it was over, Mel Kiper’s hair still looked perfect, Jon Gruden still looked constipated, and 32 NFL teams hoped that they had bettered their team for 2010 and beyond (if there is a beyond).
And although it’s impossible to accurately gauge the success of this year’s draft months before any of the chosen players take the field for their new teams, it is possible to look at the quality of players each team received and how each team targeted their respective areas of need.
So how did the NFC North teams do? Let’s take a quick look:
Green Bay Packers. The draft started out wonderfully for Ted Thompson as offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga unexpectedly fell to them at No. 23. But then things got a little questionable. The trade up to get safety Morgan Burnett should result in a good competition between him and injury-prone Atari Bigby.
But the fifth-round pick of Penn State’s TE Andrew Quarless was outright bizarre given Quarless’s past suspensions for drugs and alcohol and that the Packers, with Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee, and the on-the-rise Spencer Havner, had no need at that position.
And while no one would argue that running back was a need for Green Bay, why Buffalo’s James Starks, a player who missed the entire 2009 season with a shoulder injury?
More troubling was that the need areas of cornerback, linebacker, and punter (yes, punter) went unmet. We get it, Ted, that you don’t draft for need, but do you have to be so obvious about it? Grade: C+.
Minnesota Vikings: The most maddening thing about the Vikings’ otherwise solid choices was their obvious desire to not make Brett Favre mad.
Why else wouldn’t they have snapped up Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy when both QBs fell to them? The move also speaks volumes about Favre’s apparent unwillingness to mentor a QB in what everyone assumes—despite the danger inherent in assuming anything about Favre—will be his final—no, really—season. Purple fans would have been ecstatic to know that their team had someone, anyone waiting to take over other than Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels when Favre retires or dies, whichever comes first.
Also, with Adrian Peterson’s stock falling and Chester Taylor now in Chicago, why let Detroit snap up Javhid Best? The Vikings have to hope that second-round pick Toby Gerhart will be good enough to make fans forget they passed on Best. Elsewhere, the Vikings did very well, addressing need areas of cornerback, linebacker, and offensive and defensive linemen. Grade: B-.
Detroit Lions: It’s easier to draft well when you have an early pick and so many needs. Still, the Lions have to be commended for voodooing the Vikings into a trade that allowed them to take California’s Javhid Best—relying on the mediocre Kevin Smith so much had become predictable and ineffective.
And many had DT Ndamukong Suh rated as the best player in the draft. Suh will make the Lions’ defensive line a force immediately. Similarly, adding on Iowa cornerback Amari Spievey in the third round will improve their backfield. It seems like we say this every year, but is this the season we have to start taking the Lions seriously? Grade: A-.
Chicago Bears: The Bears, along with the Steelers, Jets, and Redskins, have been one of the busiest teams this offseason, acquiring stud defensive end Julius Peppers and former Viking running back Chester Taylor to fill two of their bigger needs.
Those moves offset the fact that they didn’t have a pick in the 2010 draft until the third round, having traded their second round pick last October for defensive end Gaines Adams (who unfortunately died in January) and their first-round pick as part of the deal that landed them Jay Cutler.
So the Bears didn’t have a great draft simply because they didn’t have a lot of picks (five total) and none before No. 75. Still, they addressed some defensive needs—remember when the Bears used to be able to stop teams? And I like the addition of Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour in the sixth round to backup Jay Cutler, who spent much of the 2009 season on the verge of complete implosion. However, failing to draft a desperately needed receiver may just result in Cutler finalizing that implosion. Grade: C.
Time for me to go catch up on some good broadcast television—what am I going to watch next year when Lost and 24 are no longer on? And time for Mel Kiper, Jr. to go back in storage.