Have a laptop? You’re an NFL ‘expert’
Windy around the Draft
by Tony Basilio
The recently completed NFL Draft had me reflecting on what has become the culture of speculation in American sport. This burgeoning, multi-million dollar industry makes the cash register ring with the hopes of things unseen.
Experts are popping up everywhere in both collegiate and professional football, all with an eye on the future. It’s called recruiting and the NFL Draft. Never mind that most of what is now said and done is pure hot air and pomp, it seems the football fan just can’t get enough.
It used to be enough to find out who your team drafted and assess things as they stood. The great organizations would have great drafts and the mediocre ones would, well, miss. These days, the weeks preceding the draft are documented in painful minutia. Who’s rising, who’s falling. The Internet geeks all have the “inside” word. Before this year’s draft, we learned from the experts that Jason Allen of UT’s stock had fallen due to a hip condition similar to the one that ended Bo Jackson’s football career back in the early ’90s. A onetime surefire first round choice, Allen was supposedly seen as damaged goods or at least too much of a risk on which to waste a first-round pick. We were told he was “sliding” during draft week. Wrong! Allen was snatched as the 16th overall pick of the prestigious first round to the Dolphins.
“I didn’t pay attention to the so-called experts and all the mock drafts and supposed information they had,” Allen said. “Those are not the people making the selections. The general managers and the coaches are the ones making the picks.”
Of course, the hundreds of analysts on the draft landscape were in complete agreement as to the No. 1 pick. Reggie Bush of USC was compared to everyone from Gayle Sayers to Walter Payton to someone in between. Those in the “know” said he was the most dynamic player to enter the NFL in a generation. Too bad the Houston Texans didn’t get the memo! Wrong again.
The Titans were drafting third and were taking Matt Leinart of USC. Wrong again! OK, maybe they really meant QB Vince Young of Texas, whom the Titans took. In fact, Leinart didn’t go until the 10th pick to Arizona. The poor guy sat there twisting in the wind for about an hour and 45 minutes past when his name was supposed to be called! Bottom line. Looking at most mock drafts leading up to the ’06 haul, the culture of speculation was out of bounds. Veracity and accuracy are not an issue in that business. It’s entertainment. Why else would ESPN have gone to the extreme of blinging up this year’s draft with on-air promos, which seemed to be a cross between MTV raps and the NBA draft? It’s not about getting it right, it’s about getting it done. That means making the cash registers ring.
The blingization of the NFL product has spilled down into the college ranks where Jimmy Clausen (Casey and Rick’s younger brother) decided it wasn’t enough to just announce that he was committing to play at Notre Dame. Clausen made his announcement in person in front of 200 people after being driven to the rotunda of the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend in a stretch Limo in the presence of a posse. Clausen told a jubilant throng that he was ready to lead Notre Dame to multiple national titles. This is the culture of speculation on steroids! Kind of like Mel Kiper’s relation to hairdos!
Like a certain credit card, the NFL draft was everywhere in this market you wanted to be. The draft aired live in its entirety on two different national cable networks, ESPN and The NFL Network. Folks driving in their cars in Knoxville last weekend had two different radio stations in 1180 AM, the ESPN affiliate live at the draft, as well as 990 AM, which was covering the action through the Sporting News Radio Network. Yes, it is officially out of control. Scan the Internet and you will find hundreds of draft experts. Have a keyboard and a few sources? You too could gain a following in the culture of speculation!
Still the best act going is the aforementioned ESPN talking head of draft heads, Mel Kiper Jr. The guy who started in the draft biz as a fledgling Baltimore twenty-something, working in an office overtop his parents’ garage, has grown to high society status with the help of the worldwide leader of sports. Kiper is best known for his hipshot, energetic opinions, and an uncanny knack to get it right. Except when you look at this year’s scoreboard and realize that Kiper was wrong on most of projected first round selections in the draft. Not exactly a day to remember for King Follicle. ESPN.com missed on a stunning 24 of 32 projected selections in the first round!
It’s a shame that football fans can’t use Jason Allen’s techniques and zone out the culture of speculation. As for me, I’m going to give it a try in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve got to go. The first list ranking the ’07 NFL draft prospects of eligible seniors has just come out!
Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.