By: Eric Thomas
We’ve talked—endlessly—about what we think SHOULD happen the NFL Draft later today, but we haven’t talked about what WILL happen. This is usually far harder to predict for obvious reasons. We make predictions in a vacuum, but when the rubber hits the road even the best laid plans fall apart.
Teams are cagey in the Draft. They blatantly lie to the cameras so they can obfuscate their intentions. They release smoke screens and rumors so they can send teams in different directions, but no one believes each other. When an NFL Insider says “I’m hearing…” in the days leading up to Draft day, he or she might as well say “the lies I’ve been given are as follows…”
We only knew what the Lions were planning when they were picking first or second overall. Everyone knew Matt Stafford was going to be number one overall. Ndamukong Suh was a foregone conclusion, Calvin Johnson was obvious. Everything else was a crap shoot.
No one guessed the Lions would take Nick Fairley; Ernie Sims was a relative mystery when his name was called; Reilly Reiff was fishing. Jeff Backus was plan B. No one was thinking Jahvid Best or Brandon Pettigrew. I still can’t believe Matt Millen picked Mike Williams.
Scenarios are abound along with the speculation, but the Draft usually falls into a few different scenarios. Here they are:
“I can’t believe this guy is still available!” — The months of mocks were wrong. As it turns out, the teams picking near the top don’t really like player A or B that much, and that player is tumbling down the draft board like a drunken family member. You never really know what sours teams on a particular player, but for whatever reason this superstar has suddenly turned toxic. Maybe there are questions about commitment, whispers about an upcoming surgery, or rumors that he was found at a party attended by both humans and goats. Whatever the reason, a player otherwise thought to be a sure bet winds up sitting in the green room with a shocked look on his face while his girlfriend and family tries to mop up the shame. Every time a player sitting around him stands up and pumps his fist, this camera zooms to the player not picked, and he’s forced the swallow the bile of rejection while America falls on the floor laughing. The Lions got Nick Fairley and Mike Williams because they ‘Couldn’t believe he was still there.’ It’s not always a disaster; it’s how the Packers wound up with Aaron Rodgers, but often the questions about character turn into arrests and suspensions in the first few years. Questions about Clowney’s work ethic could send him tumbling down the board in the first round, though Sammy Watkins’ size is starting to give teams late second thoughts.
“WHO?!” — The media is scrambling to find out what college this player went to while Mel Kiper says words like “reach” and Jon Gruden shakes his head with a sour look on his face. The team comes out and says “Hey, he was at the top of our Draft board,” and other jargon that roughly translates to “We panicked.” Tom Coughlin was famous for this move when he was in Jacksonville. For Lions examples, please see Ernie Sims, Aaron Gibson, and Stockar McDougal. Cynical Lions fans will scramble to their Twitters and type out S-O-L should this scenario comes to pass.
“Offensive Line” — The draft version of punting. This move is reserved for teams that don’t want anyone to criticize them. Go to any city, anywhere, and turn on sports talk radio. Within three minutes a caller will criticize the offensive line, regardless of the actual quality of the offensive line. It’s the most oft-blamed entity among any fan base. If a team wants their Draft to be above reproach, go O-Line. Beer swilling fans might not cheer, but they won’t hate it either because taking an offensive lineman is universally thought to be the “sensible” pick. Fans will go on Twitter and claim their team did the smart thing, protect the quarterback, open up lanes for the running game, give the receivers time to run routes, and a bunch of other pabulum. Never mind that first round offensive line busts just as much as any other position. When those players disappear, few fans notice. For a Lions example, see Cheryl’s, Gosder.
“That makes sense.” — The rarest of all the possibilities. We’ve mentioned names for months—MONTHS—and whenever that happens, the Lions rarely pick the players we suggested. Mock Drafts are among the most useless pieces of paper in all of sports, yet we annually inhale them like they are the Dead Sea Scrolls. Teams pick in the first round seemingly out of spite, and the teams who are outside the top five make moves that no one was expecting.
Follow me on Twitter: @etflint. During the Draft my Twitter handle is a respite from the calm, collected, sober analysis from most people in the media. You’ll see vast overreactions, profound depression, ill-advised proclamations and frightening overreactions—all perpetrated by someone who really ought to know better. I’ll have calmed down by the time I get on the air with Jeff Riger, and we’ll take your calls starting at 11PM. I’ll have a blog about all of this tomorrow. See you then.