There are a little less than six weeks left until the NFL draft.
Six weeks?! That's an NFL eternity.
There will be few trades and no major free-agent signings in the next six weeks, give or take Adrian Peterson. There are no games, obviously. Little will happen at NFL teams' headquarters except meetings and some fitness training: no press conferences, practices, coaching additions or publicized power struggles. There will be no real NFL news for the next five weeks and two days.
But none of your favorite NFL writers are going on vacation. This is draft season: the month-plus when hundreds of journalists devote thousands of articles and features to the same half-dozen high-profile players, none of whom are doing anything of note at the moment except lifting weights and practicing in empty gyms.
This is the long, silly hype season, and it is sillier and longer than it was just two years ago. The draft used to occur in mid-April, but the league moved it two weeks later last year. Those two weeks make a difference for how we do business in the sports media industry. They can also impact your sanity. Draft hype is currently being cranked to 11, and it will stay there until after the cherry blossoms bloom.
You love the NFL and enjoy a little predraft conversation. But holy cow, how will you endure six more weeks of mock drafts, scouting reports, Jon Gruden Power Hours and Twitter arguments about which cornerback you have barely heard of has better footwork?
Fear not. Bleacher Report is here to help. Seriously! Sure, we are in the hype-slinging business, but we want you to make the best possible choices to get the most from your predraft experience. Here are some Do's and Don'ts to get you through the next six weeks happy, healthy and well-fed (but not gorged) on high-protein, low-fat draft content.
DO: Watch tape of rookie prospects yourself
Nothing chases away a predraft headache like watching actual tape of actual football players participating in actual games. Tired of hearing breathless speculation about who will draft Brett Hundley? Load up some tape of Hundley and UCLA against USC or Arizona! Sick of roundtable arguments about whether Nebraska's Randy Gregory is "just a speed rusher"? Watch the Huskers' Michigan State game (or a cutup of it) and see for yourself.
You don't have to be an NFL scout to get access to tape. The folks at Draft Breakdown have posted hundreds of cutups of college game footage absolutely free. Often, the player you want to watch is highlighted with a little square or arrow on every play (unless he's the quarterback). Sports-tier television networks such as the Big Ten Network, SEC Network and ESPNU rebroadcast whole games during the lulls between softball and wrestling tournaments. Check their websites for streams and scratch a dozen scouting itches at once by rubbing your back against Alabama-Auburn or Ohio State-Wisconsin.
You will be watching television tape, not the All-22 film scouts use. You lack the trained eye of a Mike Mayock or John Schneider, but you know a pancake block or a dropped pass when you see one. Watching a 10-minute cutup with your own eyes is worth 10,000 words of secondhand speculation. You can use your firsthand knowledge to corroborate, inform or perhaps contradict the expert opinions you see and hear elsewhere.
If nothing else, you will be transported away from Twitter or the television studio to a football field in autumn. You love the draft because you love football. Why not prepare for the draft by watching football?
DON'T: Watch highlight montages with hip-hop soundtracks
Nothing against hip-hop: If the highlight montage is to "Master of Puppets," "This is How We Roll" or "Supper's Ready," you still should not watch it.
Just about every college football player has a highlight montage these days—it doesn't take much know-how for a devoted fan, dorm-mate or cousin to edit together some clips with a funky soundtrack. Here's an NSFW example showcasing Cameron Stingily from Northern Illinois, a decent mid-major rusher who looks like Walter Payton for two-and-a-half minutes. (Stingily happened to be the first name I didn't immediately recognize when scanning a draft list). Multiply that video by several hundred, and you have an entire corner of YouTube devoted to long runs, big hits and unlicensed use of all sorts of copyrighted material.
The problem with highlight montages is that they are montages of highlights. It would be easy to assemble a three-minute video of Jets footage that makes Geno Smith look like Steve Young. If a player is so obscure that all you can find is a highlight montage, you should probably focus on another player. If you want, you can crank up the new Drake album while you watch.
DO: Get to know Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota better
They are interesting, important players. Learn more about them, but use your time wisely. Tons of game tapes and cutups are available. Many profiles and breakdowns have been written about them over the years by reporters who got close to them, and by experts who know what they are looking at. If you are reading, watching or listening to fresh information, firsthand knowledge or a unique perspective, dive right in!
DON'T: Make the next six weeks a Winston-Mariota binge
We are already dissecting Winston's decision to not attend the draft and reading the tea leaves to determine whether Mariota is "too laid-back." Soon, the Winston-Mariota narrative will consist of reactions to reactions to reactions. If you find yourself arguing on Twitter about Bill Polian's reaction to something Tony Dungy said about Winston's character, immediately unplug and take a walk in your local park. Or at least watch tape of Devin Funchess, Duke Johnson or one of the 300 other prospects whose every burp doesn't cause a hundred headlines.
DO: Follow the other quarterbacks
Hundley, Bryce Petty and the other rookie quarterback prospects are not getting much attention right now, because they stink.
No, no, they do not really stink. They just lack the attributes that would make them top prospects. But Hundley, Petty, Garrett Grayson and others will get drafted, play in preseason games and convince local fans that they are better than that overpaid bum who currently holds down the starting job (Aaron Rodgers). There's a good chance one or two of this season's "other" quarterbacks will blossom and have an interesting career. Watch them, learn about them, keep tabs on them and find reasons to get a little excited about them if you root for one of the many teams in the market for a quarterback of the present or future.
DON'T: Use Russell Wilson as an example for every under-regarded QB
Claiming that a quarterback is just like Russell Wilson because he, too, is overlooked and physically unimpressive is a logical fallacy because it is not falsifiable: No one can prove that the quarterback won't be awesome.
Besides, you don't need to study formal logic to realize that a Wilson comes along once every 15 years or so, so citing Wilson to prove everyone else is wrong about some stumpy prospect is a great way to record 100 misses for every hit and get on lots of nerves along the way.
DO: Learn more about the prospects as human beings off the field
Some of these cats are fascinating. They came from large families and/or other countries. They overcame adversity or created their own adversity. They rose from tiny programs, fought through injuries, changed positions or balanced football with another sport or, occasionally, real academic goals.
Scouting reports are often written in a vacuum, summing the player up as a collection of attributes, many of which start to sound like wine-tasting notes when the evaluator gets carried away. (He appears tight in the torso when trying to redirect at the top of the receiver's stem, with overtones of dark currant and clove and a hint of lemongrass.) With a little extra digging, you discover that the lineman who sometimes plays with improper pad level and takes false steps when pulling on sweeps was the youngest of 15 children, majored in organic chemistry, spent two weeks each spring volunteering in homeless shelters and once got suspended for two games for playing baseball in the student union hallway with a fire extinguisher for a bat.
These details are probably both more interesting and more informative than the exact blocking mistakes some unknown observer once noticed.
DON'T: Listen to the Character Ninjas
Character Ninjas weigh the contents of another person's soul based on a vague understanding of publicized incidents, third-hand innuendo, sweeping generalizations (kids from California suburbs aren't motivated enough to cut it in the NFL) and sideline reaction shots from months-old bowl games (he smiled when his team trailed by three; arrest him). Character Ninjas then stand by their half-baked assessments as if they were handed down by a team of psychologists, criminal investigators and psychics.
All of us approach players like Jameis Winston and Dorial Green-Beckham with concerns, opinions and preconceptions, of course. But the Character Ninja takes reasonable doubts based on documented issues to one extreme (he should be stranded on a desert island with a can of bean dip and no can opener) or the other (he is actually a reincarnated llama who has been victimized by the slanderous lame-stream media).
Character Ninjas know the truth about why Marcus Peters got kicked out of the Washington program, can determine a player's work ethic based on how highly touted the player is and, in legendary cases, can predict a quarterback's future based on the genuineness of his smile.
Don't be a Character Ninja. Don't listen to Character Ninjas. Whatever you may think of Winston, DGB and others, one thing is certain: Uninformed arguments rarely solve any societal problems, but they sure do make us irritable.
DO: Trust the opinions of your favorite draft analysts
There are dozens of great draft writers around the Internet who do tons of homework and legwork. If you follow a draft expert who has boots on the ground at events like the Shrine Game or Senior Bowl and who writes or tweets about college prospects in October or June, you should happily consume that person's articles, videos and opinions in the weeks to come.
Full-time draft evaluators only contribute as much fodder to the hype furnace as necessary; occasional Winston-Mariota headlines pay a lot of bills, but real draft junkies strive to make you better informed about the whole draft, not exhausted about the five most famous players.
DON'T: Listen to A. Nonymous Scout
A. Nonymous Scout is the Johnny Appleseed of lazy click-bait. He travels the country whispering inflammatory sound bites into the ears of beat writers or local television personalities, who then run the direct quote from a real-life NFL scout straight up the flagpole for all to see.
A. Nonymous Scout sometimes lies. He is sometimes a low-level scout whose opinion does not reflect the opinions of the decision-makers for his team. And even when he is honest and informed, his spicy quote was selected from a pool of dozens or hundreds of other quotes that were too ordinary to generate a headline. If 199 scouts consider Dante Fowler a top-five pick and one thinks he is "totally overrated," guess which quote will find its way into your news feed?
Also ignore A. Nonymous General Manager or Unnamed NFL Insider, both of whom will outright lie in the name of creating a smokescreen. While you are at it, ignore Player's College Coach, who will say nice things out of a sense of obligation, unless he is Steve Spurrier.
DO: Embrace debate on social networks
Many draft experts will answer your questions on Twitter, Facebook, email, bulletin boards or wherever. Better questions usually provoke better responses. You can find yourself in the middle of a polite, intelligent and informative debate about players or draft topics of interest with a whole bunch of passionate fans and invested evaluators. Or...
DON'T: Threaten to nuke anyone who disagrees with you on social networks
...You can become entangled in the World War I of troll battles over a topic that has nearly no bearing on what happens in the everyday lives of normal people.
As a rule of thumb: Don't try to win an argument over something that won't happen for six more weeks and won't really be resolved for years (you'll eat crow about this argument when Hroniss Grasu is inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2035!). Bad draft arguments on the Internet take many forms, from the inflammatory to the self-consciously technical (let's debate which "technique" a 300-pound defensive tackle fits best for hours and hours). If a draft debate has gotten rude, incomprehensible or just weird, it's a sign that you need to tap out.
DO: Read mock drafts
As a Bleacher Report employee, telling you not to read mock drafts would be like a Burger King owner-operator telling you to avoid Whoppers. Mock drafts are fun, you can scroll through them in minutes and they help you digest a great deal of NFL information at once. Mock drafts update you on team needs from around the league (oh yeah, the Colts don't need a first-round running back anymore) and provide a rough outline of which prospects should be on the board when your team selects (hmm, it seems that hoping Amari Cooper slips to the 29th slot is a little unrealistic).
DON'T: Assume mock drafts represent the religious or philosophical beliefs of their authors
Mock drafts are stacks of educated guesses. Each guess is only as good as the last guess. As writers, we take them seriously, but most of us would rather write an in-depth article about one player or team than 32 mini-articles about things that might happen.
That's a nice way of saying many of us just start slapping guys onto the list and justifying the choice as expeditiously as possible at some point during the mock draft. Maybe it happens with the 30th pick, maybe the fifth, but it is inevitable.
If you send your favorite writer a 4,000-word all-caps explanation of why there is no way in the world the Rams would draft La'el Collins, that's your business. Just know that you probably put more thought into that portion of the mock draft than your favorite writer did. If a mock draft truly makes you that angry, you may not really understand the nature of the exercise.
DON'T: Watch pro days
They are boring and uninformative. If a receiver runs a 4.1-second 40 or a quarterback hits himself in the face while trying to throw the football, the news will bubble up to you.
Also, steer clear of all Teddy Bridgewater had a bad pro day or Marcus Mariota had a bad pro day stories. Pro days were not designed to support news, but if reporters and television cameras are there, then there must be a story. Since the only stories that come from a pro day are "Good pro day" or "Bad pro day," then those are the only reports you ever hear. And since 99.9 percent of us don't watch pro days and would not be certain how to evaluate what we saw if we did watch them, Mike Mayock's or A. Nonymous Scout's opinion gets conflated into "greatest empty-gym passing demonstration in human history" or "looked like a toddler throwing a beach ball into the wind."
DON'T: Get caught up in horse races
Follow the chain reaction here: First, A. Nonymous Scout says a prospect is overrated or underrated. Then, the prospect does well or poorly at pro day, according to some other combination of semi-tangible sources. Then, there is a story about how the prospect is flying up the draft boards! A few of us react to the news by including the prospect at the end of our mock drafts, in the Boy, those Patriots are full of surprises! section. Hundreds of bloggers and fans roll with all of this speculation. Next thing you know, we are seriously debating whether Tom Savage is a first-round quarterback. See last year for the chain reaction in action.
Horse-race stories, like so many things on the "Don't" list, are just repackaged secondhand opinions. At best, we in the media are homing in on player evaluations we did not accurately gauge until we focused our complete attention on the draft. At worst, we are chasing our tails and keeping busy.
If there is one surefire way to cut through the hype and get real, meaty information, it's to drink close to the spigot. People who cover the draft 24-7-365 rarely pass along horse-race stories.
DON'T: Pay attention when rookies visit your favorite team's headquarters
I researched predraft visits during the 2013 draft and determined that only 6.7 percent of draft selections occurred after that player visited the team that selected him. Teams invite dozens of players they never draft to interviews and workouts, then they very often draft players who never visited.
There is almost no predictive or informational value in tracking visits. Sometimes, a Division III guy few people have heard of will get half a dozen visits or something; if discovering sixth-round picks is your bag, you can sift through the data. More often, visits are a daily dose of non-news in mid-April. If your favorite team needs a receiver, you are better off getting to know more receivers than trying to figure out what is so special about the visitor of the day.
DO: Take a deeper look at your favorite team's actual roster
Instead of obsessing over potential fifth-round picks, take an extra look at last year's fifth-round pick. Did he play late in the season? If he had eight tackles or nine carries in that meaningless Week 17 game, why not load up NFL Rewind and watch him? He is exponentially more likely to have an impact on your team this year than the prospects they might theoretically draft.
The draft is all about building and developing talent, but draft hype is all about throwing away everything that happened last year that did not generate Odell Beckham-level headlines. Take the long view and you have the chance to scoop your friends in October: I told you that guy we picked in 2014 was not a bust!
DO: Recognize the limitations of scouting and draft analysis
One of the great things about watching your own film and being more selective about draft research is that you develop an appreciation of just how tricky scouting can be. What do those three sacks against a freshman left tackle really mean? He caught three touchdown passes but dropped three balls in one game—what do you do with that? Should the two ankle injuries in 2013 be a concern? What about his academic ineligibility as a freshman?
Watch tape of a guard for 45 minutes, and you realize scouts aren't drinking beers and watching college football on Saturdays. They are working hard to analyze something that is complex, ever-changing and a little tedious. You discover a new respect for the whole draft process.
DON'T: Bang your fist on the table and shout "It's all a crapshoot, nobody knows anything"
Yeah, the weatherman is always wrong, too, and neither politicians nor financial analysts know anything about anything. Enjoy your life of purified skepticism. Now, please turn off Path to the Draft.
DO: Tune out (mostly) for a few weeks
It's spring. Buds are appearing on bare tree limbs. Life is happening. Other sports are starting or heating up. I value your business and encourage you to stop back now and then, but if you tune out draft coverage for sanity's sake and focus on the NCAA tournament, spring training or NBA (or, like, have a catch with your children, before they are too old), the NFL gang will still be here in a few weeks.
DON'T: Forget that the first round begins on Thursday, April 30
You must be fully versed in at least 100 prospects by then to fully enjoy the experience. And yes, there will be a quiz.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.