I am here to mock the mock draft. Is that OK? There is a lot of nonsense in our little corner of life — turn on any sports talk show with your wife in the car and she gladly will point out the incessant drumbeat of the obvious and the inane — but the cottage industry that has developed around the annual National Football League draft has established new frontiers of overkill.
I am not sure exactly when this happened. I want to say sometime in the past 10 years, but I’m not even sure of that. I only know that one day we all turned around and this great breathing ball of blather was in the corner of the family room, growing larger with each hour.
“Will the Houston Texans keep the No. 1 pick or trade the No. 1 pick?” the breathing ball demanded approximately 37 times just last week. “Will they take Jadeveon Clowney? Or are they worried about his maturity level?”
Well . . .
“What about Johnny Manziel?” the ball asked before we could muster a reply. (“Where exactly did Jadeveon play in college?” was going to be part of that reply.) “Who will be willing to hand over its offense to Johnny Football? Would St. Louis take him at No. 2? The Cleveland Browns at No. 4? Wouldn’t Dallas love to have him, Texas kid at home? There’d have to be a trade . . . ”
The chatter about this 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held with great pomp and important circumstance starting Thursday night at 8 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, began approximately five minutes after the close of the 2013 draft, same place, same pomp, same circumstance, a year ago. The speculative nature of the draft process, variables colliding from all directions, makes for easy conversation, easy opinions.
Between 24-hour sports television and sports radio and the proliferation of sports websites, blogs, whatever, the need for easy conversation not only is constant, but grows daily. That is why there are so many features ranking plays of the day, plays of the week, teams that are on the rise, on the decline, predictions, predictions, predictions, “in-depth analysis” of absolutely every possibility for every up-coming game. The blah-blah-blah factor, mostly without any reporting, is huge.
The NFL Draft, of course, is the perfect blah-blah-blah subject. The ultimate.
(I just now took a break in typing. This is Friday afternoon. I turned on the television to see how long it would take to hear a comment about the draft. I was early, alas, for ESPN and ESPN2, which had football shows scheduled for 4 p.m., but quickly clicked to the NFL Network. A guy stared at me and said, “The Atlanta Falcons will trade up and select Jadeveon Clowney No. 1.” The studio host nodded sagely. I did, too. I don’t know who any of these people were, but the time elapsed was under a minute.)
Since 1936, when Philadelphia Eagles owner Bert Bell convinced the other eight NFL teams to institute the draft, mainly to create some interest in his sagging franchise, the prospective arrival of new and better talent has been a great marketing tool. No matter that Bell not only couldn’t sign his first draft choice, running back Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago, but couldn’t sign any of his other selections, either, the illusion of progress, moving forward, always has sold tickets.
Sometimes, as we know from local experience with our draft outpost in Foxborough, the illusion has been fulfilled. Sometimes, not so much. For every Logan Mankins or Vince Wilfork or Drew Bledsoe picked in the first round, there is a Laurence Maroney or Daniel Graham or Andy Katzenmoyer. Tebucky Jones was a first-round draft choice. Chris Canty was another. Tom Brady, the most important figure in team history — and everybody can say this at the same time — was a sixth-round draft choice.
So who knows?
The draft is a mystery. Every player is a projection, his abilities in question until he shows that he can make the jump from college football to professional football. Every team has to weigh immediate needs with talent evaluations that have been made by scouts, combines, the squinty eye of the head coach. Need? Talent? What? There are no certainties in this draft business. None. Nowhere.
Except everybody talks now as if there are. Everywhere.
Type out “mock draft” in your little search engine and opinions will fly off the screen. The guy on CBS sports says Johnny Football will last until No. 7 and go to the Tampa Bay Bucs. (The Patriots will get defensive tackle Louis Nix from Notre Dame.) The guy at Bleacher Report says Manziel will last until No. 26, the second of the Cleveland Browns’ two picks in the first round. (The Patriots will pick Blake Bortles, quarterback, Central Florida.) The guy from Yahoo! doesn’t even have Manziel drafted in the first round. (The Patriots pick Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive tackle, Minnesota.) The guy from NFL.com picks Manziel to be picked No. 3 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Ra’Shede goes to the Patriots.)
The stars of all mockdom, of course, are ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. They have been mocking it up on television and in print for the entire year. Mel and his big hair have been draft day fixtures since 1984. He is the quirky character from the basement, odd and passionate with his charts and numbers, important in the new overblown draft world. McShay, part of ESPN since 2006, has developed into Kiper’s foil, the cost-accountant kid with good teeth and a less frenzied approach.
Each of these guys has done five mock drafts in the run-up to the big night and probably will do at least one more. Kiper says Manziel will go to the Browns with the No. 4 pick. McShay agrees. Fourth pick. Browns. The two men also agree that Ra’Shede will be the Patriots’ selection.
“Hageman is a good value pick at this point in the first round, and he possesses an elite skill set and combination of height, weight and athleticism,” McShay writes. “He does, however, need a lot of refining in terms of his technique and will need good structure around him to succeed.”
Maybe this is how everything will happen, right on schedule. Or maybe there will be trades, surprises. Maybe none of this will happen. Not a bit.
Words have flown through the air. Business has been done.Leigh Montville’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.