Updated: Jun 16
Mock, Mock, Who's There?
Written by: Dave Hartman
March is here, and with all the confetti from SB LVI swept away and the 2021-22 NFL season solidly in the rearview mirror, you’d think that it’s time to move on to other sports. We’ve got a very busy time in the calendar coming up, and it’s my favorite time of the year for sports. Here’s what’s on tap: the NBA and NHL stretch runs (followed by the playoffs), NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments followed by what many consider the greatest sporting event of all, March Madness, Spring Training and the start of the MLB season (in theory, fingers crossed), the Masters Tournament, and more.
So as I said, you’d think the time has come to put the NFL on the back burner for a few months, but you’d be wrong. True, there won’t be a meaningful NFL game played for six months. Also true, those other sporting events I just mentioned will get their fair share of headlines and attention. But the NFL is the undisputed heavyweight champ and the centerpiece of America’s sports zeitgeist in the 21st century, and it never goes away. On the contrary, a “sports” event that has no action beyond a few chest bumps and hugs, and where almost nothing happens - not one point or goal scored, and not one ball or puck thrown, pitched, kicked, caught, hit, or shot - will be all-consuming, as will the lead-up to that event. And the massive hype and coverage for this event has already started.
I’m talking about the NFL Draft, of course, which is officially named the “Player Selection Meeting.” The Draft has grown over the last several decades from a backroom, weekend gathering that only true football geeks and wonks followed closely (much less tuned in for, as it happened live), to a massive 3-day spectacle that draws more than 10 million viewers annually for its first-round made-for-TV special, shown in primetime on 2 different networks. And don’t get me wrong - I’ll have plenty to say about the Draft in this and future pieces that will point out just how ridiculous it is that so much attention is being paid to an event that’s basically just 3 days of endless talking, analysis, and highlight reels, that’s really difficult to evaluate in any meaningful way for several years, and that’ll undoubtedly feature a bunch of first-round picks who will fail to pan out into NFL starters, much less stars. But despite all of that being true, count me among the millions of NFL fans who wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m all in! The draft is only 8 weeks away - Let’s Goooo!
The 2022 NFL Draft season actually started in earnest before the Super Bowl was played. The Senior Bowl - a showcase for some of the nation’s top upperclassmen - was played on February 5, during the “off week” between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. The game was a culmination of a week of practices that gave invited players an early opportunity to showcase their skills, abilities, and work ethic to NFL scouts and brass. Next up on the Draft calendar is the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis this weekend, followed by a series of regional Pro Days that run for an entire month, from March 7 to April 6. The NFL Free Agency signing period officially starts on March 16, and while that has nothing to do with an evaluation of Draft-eligible players, it does impact team needs and therefore the Draft. Plus there could be pre-Draft trades that will impact the Draft. And then there are additional workouts, interviews, and more. By the time we get to the Draft on April 28-30, much ink will spill and the podcasting, TV, and radio airwaves will get saturated with Draft talk and analysis as the player evaluation process unfolds. So with all of that as background, here are 5 random thoughts as 2022 Draft Season kicks into high gear:
Mock Drafts are fun exercises, but doing them now is fairly pointless. Mel Kiper, Jr.’s Mock Draft 2.0 was released the other day. Wake me up in 6 weeks. You saw what I wrote above about the protracted process that’s coming - the Combine, Pro Days, NFL Free Agency, potential pre-Draft trades, and more. It’s too early to make meaningful predictions, folks.
The first round gets most of the attention and especially from casual fans, but there are 7 rounds in the Draft and often what makes a great Draft for a franchise is the ability to find significant contributors in the middle and later rounds. That said, for a few teams packed tightly together on the I-95 corridor, the first round this year really is going to be critical. The Jets and Giants each have 2 picks in the top 10, and the Eagles have 3 picks in a 5 pick span starting at Pick 15. But there’s no pressure on any of the 3 - they all have very patient, positive, and forgiving fan bases…
Here are a bunch of words and phrases you’re going to get sick of hearing over the next 8 weeks (just trust me on that): riser, faller, sleeper, reach, bust, bend, wiggle, mauler, toughness, plug-and-play, non-stop motor, burst, tweener, downhill runner, turning the corner, chiseled, day-1 starter, road grader, high football IQ, 40 time, athleticism, traits, fluid hips, character, draft board, ball skills, burner, coachable, competitor, off-the-field issues, freak athlete, raw, elite, north-south runner, east-west runner, high-point, extra gear, just a guy, at the next level, this kid can flat-out play.
Despite all of the testing, poking, prodding, hours and hours of film, and more, and despite the fact that those who are presumably the best in the world at evaluating football talent for the pro game have been hired by NFL teams to do just that, it turns out that predicting which players will succeed at the NFL level is not so easy. Look at any Draft results from the past and the first round routinely is littered with players who didn’t live up to expectations, or worse, never became NFL starters. Some first-rounders are going to be busts - it’s just a fact. Looking at those results will also reveal lots of instances of teams passing on someone to take a lesser player (landing spot and situation matter, so these comparisons aren’t always the fairest). I think this is part of what makes the draft so much fun. It’s fun to look back and see that several years ago, the Browns and Jets took Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, respectively, a few picks ahead of Josh Allen, and more than 25 picks ahead of Lamar Jackson. Or that 2 years ago, the Dolphins chose Tua over Justin Herbert (who went with the very next pick), and about 15 picks later, the Eagles chose Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson (who, again, went with the very next pick). Well, I guess it’s not so fun if you’re a Browns, Jets, Dolphins, or Eagles fan, but you get the point. You’ll hear lots of people talking with great certainty and conviction about players in the 2022 Draft over the next 8 weeks, and as the players come off the board in the first round, but with few exceptions, you really just never know and especially with injuries being such a big part of the game. The Draft can be a bit of a crapshoot.
Neither Mel Kiper, Jr. nor Todd McShay has ever worked in an NFL front office. Just saying. Kiper was offered a job by the Baltimore Colts in 1983, but when Ernie Accorsi, Jr. resigned as GM after the 1983 season, the job evaporated (and so did the Baltimore Colts, as fate would have it). The vast majority of mock drafts you’ll find on the internet now and over the next 8 weeks are written by people who’ve never worked as an NFL Scout or in any capacity for an NFL team. That doesn’t mean that the writers aren’t knowledgeable, and Kiper and McShay are clearly very experienced as analysts, and well-informed. So take what you will from that - the point is that prognosticators are making educated guesses, and most of them haven’t been part of constructing a Draft board for an NFL franchise - nobody knows what each team’s Draft board looks like, and in the end, that’s what drives the actual selections on Draft weekend. I’ll have more to say about Mock Drafts in a later piece.
Since I don’t have a non-stop motor, and I’m just a guy, I’ll stop right here.
To see more NFL and Fantasy Football content from Dave Hartman, visit his blog, the Pigskin Papers, at this link:www.thepigskinpapers.com.