Sometimes when watching television coverage of the NFL Draft, I catch myself daydreaming that one of the myriad analysts, experts, and so-called insiders on the three channels that simultaneously air the annual selection of college players might have a Roy Kent-like epiphany.
Kent, to those familiar with Apple TV’s charming and wildly successful comedy “Ted Lasso,” is an ex-soccer superstar portrayed by Brett Goldstein. Kent is an expert in the deployment of expletives, but also honest and endearing. He is television’s best ex-jock-searching-for-something-more since Sam Malone.
During the fifth episode of the show’s second season, the recently retired Kent reluctantly accepted a gig that often serves as post-career purgatory for so many once-great athletes — as a television studio analyst, in this case for Sky Sports’ coverage of the Premier League.
It did not take, in part because of Kent’s vividly vulgar vocabulary, and because he had zero interest in and tolerance for trafficking in quick-hit opinions, which is the essence of those shows.
When asked how a teenage player will fare in his debut, one windy analyst vows he will be great, which, given how these shows operate, also sets the player up for criticism if he is not.
Kent is having none of it. How will the player fare? “We don’t know,” he says, following a couple of funny lines that are not printable in this location. “Of course, we don’t know … We’re just on the outside looking in. Judging them.”
While there’s nothing at all resembling a mean-spiritedness to the coverage of the NFL Draft across ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network — the tone is more one of equal parts celebration and commerce — there is an endless supply of judging. That judging is based almost entirely on the unscientific perception of where a player was projected to be drafted compared with where he ended up going.
The negative side of this, the unfair side, was evident during Thursday night’s first round. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, who was rumored to be under consideration to go as high as No. 2 overall, slid all the way out of the first round. He was in attendance at the draft (which covers only the first round), but had to wait until Friday to hear his name called, when the Tennessee Titans took him in the second round.
As viewers, we’ve experienced this plot twist before — the most famous example occurred in 2005, when Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a candidate to go No. 1 overall, fell to No. 24, where he was snapped up by the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers sat in the green room while one player after another (Erasmus James … Matt Jones … Fabian Washington) went before him. Rodgers looked like he wanted to go on a darkness retreat years before he ever knew what one was. It made for compelling television, just as it did with Levis Thursday night. But there’s something twisted about seeing a superb athlete on the verge of realizing his dream have to endure aching disappointment because he was drafted lower than some “draftniks” — many informed, some not — projected.
Funny, but Thursday night, the Patriots received plenty of praise in part because they actually landed a player who was expected to go higher. This is fairly unusual for them. Bill Belichick has been spot-on about far more first-round picks than he gets credit for, but it’s rare that he makes an expected selection.
Mac Jones, who filled a void at quarterback when he was selected 15th overall in 2021, would qualify as an expected or conventional pick. Last year’s first-rounder, Chattanooga guard Cole Strange, certainly would not. This is not to suggest unconventional picks are a mistake. Fresno State guard Logan Mankins (2005) and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty (2010) were both stunning first-round picks, and both will at least warrant Hall of Fame discussions.
Thursday night’s first-rounder, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, was the kind of pick who was sure to receive universal praise among the talking heads. He was projected to go several picks higher, he fills a position of need on the Patriots’ roster, and as a bonus, Belichick got him while maneuvering down the draft board and picking up an extra fourth-round pick in a trade.
“We know that New England is never afraid to start bouncing around the draft,” said ESPN’s Adam Schefter after the Patriots sent the No. 14 pick to the Steelers for No. 17 and the later pick.
The Gonzalez pick was greeted with redundant optimism across the assorted networks.
“This kid had a top-10 grade written all over him. And he falls to 17. This is a nice pick for the Patriots here,” said NFL Network’s Rich Eisen.
“This gives them a chess piece to allow them to go back to playing the old Patriot way, which is a ton of man-to-man [coverage],” said ESPN’s Louis Riddick.
“I did not anticipate that he would last this long,” said NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah.
Meanwhile, ABC, which leans on the human interest angle of the draft, ran a short feature on Gonzalez’s enjoyment of cooking. “I’m not a recipe guy,” he said. “I just like to try things out.”
It’s a wonder none of the analysts, serious about every detail to the point of saturation, suggested that he’d better keep the freelancing to the kitchen.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.