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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rating Drafts Doesn't Make the Grade

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Call the Observers what you will—traitors to the American way, apostates to the great creed of sports fandom—but the NFL's annual pageant for restocking its rosters does not put their lives on hold for three days. As for assessing whether the Packers had a good draft, you might as well assess a lottery ticket fresh out of the printer.


Frank: It won't surprise you that I didn't watch a single second of the draft, especially Thursday night's ridiculously overblown first-round extravaganza. But I wonder whether you, as a devoted Packers fan, were riveted to the screen, as Roger Goodell and ESPN wanted.


Artie: I certainly was not. Yeah, on the first night I kept track of how close the Pack's time was, but by the time the whole shebang ended, I was asleep. And I didn't see any of the other two days.


Frank: I can't imagine how anyone, no matter how crazed over football, could stay with very much of that saturation coverage. And what about all the hours of gasbagging beforehand about what might happen?


Artie: I guess there really are folks who see Draft Day as an extra Christmas, but that's got to be a pretty limited group.


Frank: Let's hope so, for the sake of people's sanity and the future of the republic.


Artie: Still, when the draft is over, I'm always physically affected. It happens when I read all the comments on the Packers' picks by NFL scouts that Bob McGinn compiles in the Journal Sentinel.


Frank: What do they do to you?


Artie: It's like all those TV commercials for drugs, and when they read off the symptoms to look for, I wind up saying, “Hey, I've got every one.” When I read the scouts' comments, inevitably I realize, “Hey, I've got hip tightness, bad shoulders, bad lateral movement, my pursuit angles are lousy...”


Frank: Some of those comments are priceless. These guys are athletes, right? Sometimes it sounds like they're talking about 98-pound weaklings who somehow sneaked into a uniform. Remember two years ago what was said about Bryan Bulaga?


Artie: His arms were too short and his hands weren't big enough, like he was trying to be a concert pianist instead of an offensive tackle.


Frank: Seems like he's worked out pretty well for the Packers. This year another Iowa guy they picked, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, was described as “just small” and “little.” The guy is 292 pounds!


Artie: These comments come to McGinn before the draft, and I think the scouts have some mind games going. Scouts may be trying to tear down someone they really like but don't want another team latching onto. Or maybe they're building up a guy hoping that someone else will take him, leaving the real object of their particular team available.


Frank: So the Packers' first-round pick is Nick Perry, a defensive end at USC who they hope will become the right outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews. And they picked five more defensive guys—two linemen, a cornerback, safety and inside linebacker—before finishing up with an offensive tackle and quarterback in the seventh round. Are you thrilled about the stress on defense?


Artie: Well, it's the logical thing, based on the Pack's futility on the D-side last season, especially the pass rush. But how can anyone say what's good or bad before any of these guys has set foot on an NFL practice field? You can't really judge a draft right away...


Frank: Not that that'll stop anyone from doing it...


Artie: You really can't judge until, like, three years later. All this instant blathering is a fool's errand—especially the “grades” that people give the teams. They're meaningless!


Frank: Not to ESPN and Goodell. Anything that keeps eyeballs on the TV and computer screens, which makes the advertisers happy, is full of deep, lucrative meaning.


Artie: But in terms of performance on the field, who knows anything? In 2008 when the Packers took Jordy Nelson in the second round, I'll bet a lot of people were saying, “Who? They've got plenty of good receivers; why waste that high pick on another?” Well, that decision looks pretty damn good now.


Frank: And I'm sure you can name a Packers pick that looked good but turned out lousy.


Artie: How about the No. 16 overall pick in '07, the immortal Justin Harrell of Tennessee? He was supposed to be a pass-rushing beast, but he hardly ever got on the field because of injuries. The Pack got 14 games out of him in four seasons and cut him last summer.


Frank: The same thing may be happening with Mike Neal, another defensive lineman who was supposed to be an impact guy.


Artie: Neal was a second-rounder, No. 56 overall, in 2010. But he keeps getting hurt, and in March he got a four-game suspension for using a banned substance. Big deal—like he was gonna be able to play four consecutive games anyway?


Frank: To sum up: If you want meaningful analysis of the 2012 draft, ask us in 2015 or so.


Artie: Even the coaches won't really get a sense of whether someone really can contribute until sometime in training camp. And that's months away.


Frank: So all the pundits can do is guess.


Artie: If they're being honest, that's all anyone has to offer. As for me, what I need to do right now is start my rehabbing from all my draft shortcomings by stretching out on the couch.


Frank: Which just happens to jibe with your usual activities.


Artie: I'd say I'll be in the supine position, but doesn't that mean giving up 10 runs in 1 2/3 innings? Oh, wait, that's Suppan, not supine.


Run Those Reverse Plays


Frank: Score two more for the Observers!


Artie: Absolutely! Um, what do you mean?


Frank: The football Powers That Be have heeded our words in two big ways. First, the BCS bigwigs got together last week and all but committed themselves to a four-team playoff instead of the one-shot championship game that always angers people. And second, NFL sources said the league is thinking of “suspending” the Pro Bowl, which has become nothing but a joke.


Artie: It sure wasn't must-see TV this last time. For years many of the Pro Bowl selections have skipped the game, and those who show up don't even pretend to care. And why should they? The money is chicken feed and all that matters is not getting hurt.


Frank: As for the BCS, we apparently won't see a playoff until the 2014 season. And there are up to seven options for how to conduct the playoff, in terms of using or not using the existing bowl system.


Artie: My head is hurting already.


Frank: But at least the BCS biggies have figured out that a title matchup should be determined on the field, not in a computer. The way it is now, for six weeks there's no drama about who'll play for the title.


Artie: Which means that by the time they do play the game, only fans of two teams have any real interest.


Frank: Like this past January. Did anyone not living in Alabama or Louisiana really care?


Artie: The good thing was that the six-week lag gave those SEC players a chance to really crack the books and catch up on their readin' and writin', ain'a?


Frank: “Extending the season” and missing classes was one laughable reason some BCS types had been resisting a playoff.


Artie: The other NCAA divisions get their regular seasons and several rounds of playoffs done by mid-December.


Frank: The top division didn't always schedule 12 games. Drop one of the September “cupcake” games if you care so much about academics.


Artie: Jeez, the fans would hate to miss that big tilt against Cal Poly.