Jan 10, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
So it’s settled. A few months from now, the Indianapolis Colts will select Andrew Luck first overall in the NFL Draft. Then he will take over, at some undetermined point, for Peyton Manning, start for 10 or more years, and attain unimagined heights of glory.
Or he won’t.
In many different ways, Luck is the absolute personification of how large and pervasive the draft has become in NFL circles – perhaps too large. Why should a three-day affair late in April, involving no passes, runs, hits, blocks or kicks, trump the actual games?
Because Luck was looming, the Colts, sans an injured Manning, were all but encouraged to keep losing, 13 in a row, and their pair of wins late in the season were treated as tragedies because, apparently, proud professionals didn’t realize that Luck was the savior-in-waiting.
We’re in an NFL era where defense and running the ball is all but discouraged. The top quarterbacks are praised (and rules-protected) beyond belief, and everyone else is disposable or, worse yet, not given enough credit when a team succeeds.
Within that context, the expectations for Luck are already unreasonable. Add the hype about the draft, especially when the Super Bowl is done, and things will only get worse.
There’s no denying that, throughout NFL history, the draft has served as a positive means for teams to build champions, especially the Steelers of the 1970s and the Cowboys of the early ‘90s. Even the era of free agency hasn’t changed that notion, as witnessed by the Packers’ recent successes, mostly forged from well-conceived drafts.
Somewhere along the line, though, it got way out of hand. Part of it was the hot air of Mel Kiper and his ilk – okay, a lot of it. In their trusty hands, talented football players stopped being human and turned into glorified pieces of meat, bodies dissected, characters challenged.
Then the NFL got into the act with the Scouting Combine (held, ironically, in Indianapolis), where the meat-market analogy only got more pronounced. Vertical leaps, 40 times, Wunderlich tests, and other nonsense helped determine a man’s worth.
Yet a basic truth remains. None of us have any idea of how drafted players will fare in the NFL. All we know for sure is that some will succeed, and some won’t.
But that doesn’t stop us from putting forth two genuine pieces of nonsense that all sensible fans should avoid. One is mock drafts, which have as much value as mock NCAA basketball tournament brackets before Selection Sunday.
Sure, they entertain and amuse, but they’re completely worthless. Teams will trade up, or down, right up until draft day, and even if they didn’t, there’s no extra points for getting a mock draft right. Anything that makes a sports topic more about the analysts, and less about the subjects, is a folly.
Then, once the draft is done, you get those instant grades about how teams fared. Like the mock drafts, they’re interesting reading material, but otherwise foolish.
You need two years, at least, to determine how a draft class in a certain season fared. Judging the relative worth of players before a single minicamp or training camp, never mind a game, is yet another chance for “experts” to get face time without spreading any actual knowledge.
This brings us back to Andrew Luck, and the challenge he confronts. Unlike just about every other player heading to the NFL in the fall of 2012, Luck’s greatness is assumed. He won’t be allowed to grow and learn. Either he’s legendary at the get-go, or he’ll get crushed, because no one likes to be wrong and will point the finger at Luck if exalted expectations are not met.
Contrast that with how two rookie QB’s entered the league this season. Carolina took some heat for going with Cam Newton first overall, as if winning a national title at Auburn mattered less than the “character flaws” which amounted to little more than having a shady father. No one gave much credit to Cincinnati, either, for selecting Andy Dalton.
They both turned out well, Newton shattering every rookie offensive record to make the Panthers relevant again and Dalton willing the normally downtrodden Bengals to the playoffs. But neither of them had to worry about the obsessive attention Luck will get when he arrives.
Consider Andrew Luck the ultimate litmus test of our NFL Draft obsession. It’s not that he can’t miss, but he better not miss, or maybe we have to rethink this whole enterprise, which might prove a healthy lesson after all.