By BRADEN LAYER
---- — Do I watch the NFL Draft? Religiously. Do I hang on the edge of my seat anxiously awaiting each pick, wondering how said selection will impact that specific team in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy? Of course. As a Bengals fan, do I love ridiculing Cleveland faithful as their organization strings together an unending streak of perplexingly awful drafts? You better believe it.
However, for as much as I enjoy the NFL draft, and admittedly the three-day extravanganza it has become, I vehemently despite one aspect of the process.
That, without a doubt, is the mock draft.
I know, I'm a member of the media, and I could, and probably should, have a mock draft column where I tell readers who I think each team is going to select during tonight's opening round. But I despise said columns, and they are running rampant on every sporting website and every newspaper across the country. Of the thousands of mock drafts that are in existence, many of which are composed by writers two months ago only to be painstakingly adjusted with each passing day, no two are the same.
You may argue that these columns are similar to filling out your March Madness bracket, in that every person suspects a team of doing something different, of valuing one player above another. Yet the two are hardly similar.
In the NFL Draft, we attempt to evaluate the impossible and guess on intangible evidence. We place a grade on up-and-coming prospects, and give them a projected round or section of the round where we think they will get picked. Then, it's entirely out of our control as we attempt to dig into the mind of those in the front office.
Do we have any knowledge if the Bears like linebacker A more than linebacker B? Not at all, and how could we. We have no idea if Chicago thinks that taking a linebacker in the first round is worth it. Furthermore, do we think they value LSU's Kevin Minter more than Kansas State's Arthur Brown in the second, and what about Oregon's Kiko Alonso? Will they even be available at that point?
The fact of the matter is that it truly is trying to locate a needle in haystack. Nay, hayfield.
Also, how do we know exactly how Chicago evaluates these targeted prospects. Do the Bears think that one prospect's marginably slow 40 time crosses him off the list of eligible selections? Or maybe, they shrug it off as a result of poor running conditions mixed with a nagging injury, meaning that prospect is still in the running.
It's simply too challenging to try to get into the mind of NFL coaches and GMs and how they evaluate prospects down to every minute detail like body fat and what his answer was to, "If you were an animal, what would you be and why?"
I'd choose Killer Whale, so teams know that I have that deadly instinct, yet I can also impress the public as a model citizen with my skills at SeaWorld. But hey, that's just me.
In March Madness, we have tangible evidence for why we make these selections. We have seen the teams play on the hardwood and we know what they are capable of. When filling out a bracket, we know how Michigan's style of play matches up with a team like VCU or Syracuse, and we make educated guesses based on our beliefs. In reality, it still is very much a crapshoot and many times we are incorrect, which is why FGCU advanced past opening weekend and Andy Enfield turned in his cushy coaching job on the beach for another equally enticing position in southern California.
At the very least, however, we can give logical explanations for the choices we make based on how teams have played through 30-plus games of available tape.
The NFL Draft is the exact opposite. We have plenty of tape we can study on the prospect, but no tape that will assist us in judging GMs and higher-ups in the front office. These "experts" have a vague idea where teams may be headed, and even then it's never entirely correct. As soon as one team makes a surprising pick that nobody saw coming, there are seismic ripples in the subsequent picks. Suddenly, all these "Draft Gurus" have a success rate that's only slightly better than North Carolina A&T taking down Louisville in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
For all the surrounding hoopla that follows Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. their success rates do not lend a helping hand as to why they should be trusted with a pick-by-pick draft. According to Inside the Huddle, McShay correctly guesses, and I use the term guesses on purpose, on 8.9 percent of picks 17-32 in the first round. Kiper Jr. comes in slightly higher at 10.1 percent in the same back half of the opening round.
Translation: Absolutely nobody knows.
My favorite pieces to read about the NFL Draft are when analysts or journalists identify areas of need for the team, and give a bevy of potential options. There's simply no reason to try and speculate which team will take each specific player, or attempt to guess what new Bears coach Marc Trestman is thinking.
I like to read up on my team's needs, and sit back and relax, pleasantly surprised as the twists and turns of the draft unfold. I know the Bengals need a safety or corner, but I'm not willing to go ahead and say Jonathan Cyprien is going to be the choice. I enourage everyone to stop digging deep into the depths of the internet, trying to find some reasoning why your team will definitely go with player X. Respect the process for what it is; an exciting time for your team to build for the future. Unless your the Cleveland Browns. Then it's just another day of misery.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org