We made it, fellow sports fans. NFL Draft Day. The nonstop, nonsensical First Take segments about QB hand size, forty-yard dash times, and roshambo contests are finally, mercifully, coming to an end.
Sports media can be farcical at the best of times, but Draft Day really is ESPN’s pièce de résistance. It’s good business for them — they never broadcast the Superbowl, but they have exclusive rights to broadcast the draft. More draft content on their platform will likely lead to more eyeballs on the draft itself, which helps sell ads during the spectacle.
All of this obscures a very simple fact: when it comes to the draft, we’re all clueless.
Those “expert” mock drafts you’ve poured over? They’ll be lucky to get 5 picks right out of the top 32. The mock draft I did with Michael Tompkins on his podcast Fine Margin Sports may well be more accurate than Mel Kiper’s, when all is said and done, and that’s more a testament to my luck than my football expertise.
Oh, sure, we all know Trevor Lawrence is going to the Jaguars at number one. And we all agree that Trevor Lawrence is an incredible quarterback! He should be incredible in the NFL! Right? Right….?
He…should? But who knows? If his offensive line can’t protect him, he won’t stand a chance. If his coaches don’t help him adjust to the professional level, he’ll fall far short of expectations — and forgive me for doubting the coaching acumen of Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer, not to mention NFL rookie head coach Urban Meyer.
The draft may not be a total crapshoot, but it’s at least got a seat in the casino. Add to that the fact that it’s an unfair labor system where employees are all but powerless to choose their employer, one where rich white owners wheel and deal to select the fittest, strongest Black bodies, and you can understand some of my distaste for Draft Day.
Yet even I’ll admit that there is something undeniably appealing in the draft, something that no amount of media corporatism can dilute. Because maybe the star college quarterback that your team selects in the first round will become a superstar professional quarterback. Maybe, in a few years, you’ll be in the grips of fanatic joy as you watch him hoisting the Lombardi Trophy while wearing your favorite team’s jersey.
The Draft doesn’t sell certainties; it sells something more powerful. It sells hope.
Hope is, of course, beautifully irrational. We hope even when we have no reason to. Never mind the fact that the Jets will ruin whoever they take with the number two pick. Never mind that the Atlanta Falcons will inevitably draft the wrong offensive lineman–again. Never mind the fact that the Detroit Lions haven’t been a successful franchise since Nikita Khrushchev was the Soviet Premier. This time, this draft, this pick — this one will be different!
Sports give us reason to be optimists. We want our team to succeed — more than that, we go out of our way to convince ourselves that they might genuinely be good, even when we know better. I knew my beloved Detroit Tigers weren’t going to win the World Series this season, but I thought maybe, just maybe, we could stay around .500. Thus far, I’ve been embarrassingly wrong — but if they string a few wins together, I’ll be hopping right back onto that bandwagon, proclaiming to everyone who will listen that my hope wasn’t misplaced.
So embrace the hope, football fans. Get that Trevor Lawrence jersey. Proclaim Zach Wilson the next Broadway Joe. Tell your friends all about that D-II offensive lineman that’s going to be a Pro Bowler for your team in 2021. Embrace the fact that the draft is a vehicle for our loftiest, most irrational hopes, and dream away. Today is the start of your next Superbowl triumph!
Unless it’s not.