Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2008 NFL Draft Grades are useless

It absolutely cracks me up how the average fan or average talking head for that matter, can sit back and grade a draft less than 24 hours after it is completed. Most who follow the game even semi-casually would agree that a draft truly can’t be measured until two to three years down the road. These immediate grades are about as useful as mock drafts and the existence of both is further proof of our nation’s insatiable appetite for the NFL.

And that’s a good thing if you ask me…

But placing value on these draft grades and mocks makes about as much sense as placing a down payment on an engagement ring before a blind date.

Recently’s Todd McShay served up this beauty and I kid you not – a first round mock draft for 2009 NFL Draft which by its very nature inherently possesses speculation, predictions and shot in the dark forecasts on where each team will finish in 2008 in order to formulate a draft order. And that's before McShay populates that order with players. What a waste of time! Only a couple of months ago Kentucky's Andre Woodson was projected as a top 15 selection. Anyone see where he went in the draft?

Yet people are buying this stuff. I guess it gives us more NFL to talk about over a pint at your friendly neighborhood tavern.

But back to the draft grades…

How can any of us criticize Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta today for what they did a little over 72 hours ago? Did any of you study film on the 200 prospects that comprised their draft board? Did any of you spend 200 nights per year on the road, travel from campus to campus and watch college players practice and/or play? Anyone speak to collegiate head coaches and positional coaches about those players? Anyone interview the parents to gauge a candidate’s character and upbringing? Anyone sit down with the Ravens new coaching staff – a staff that has spent countless hours evaluating the team’s talent to determine the proper missing pieces? Anyone know what style of offense Cam Cameron has in mind for the Ravens or the apparent increased emphasis on the importance of special teams with John Harbaugh?

My guess is you’ve answered no to all of these somewhat rhetorical questions.

That doesn’t mean Newsome and DeCosta are above criticism. If you want to criticize, go back to 2004-2006 and look to see how those players have performed so far as professionals. Grading that makes more sense because you have a body of work to actually grade at the NFL level. But to grade them today? That's like the average layman critiquing the performance of a world reknown neurosurgeon.

Let’s face it, young athletes mature at different paces and some peak earlier than others. Some have work ethics that allow them to improve at a faster rate than others. Freed from the college classroom, they can devote their studies to the NFL classroom and improve their understanding of plays, schemes and tendencies. This might improve the reaction times of athletes so they don’t have to think as much because their recognition skills are sharper due to dedication off the field. And perhaps all of this enables a player to perform better as a pro player than they did as a collegiate player – think Tom Brady.

Conversely, some that were once dominant as college players fall back to the pack. Perhaps they were part of a system that ensured their success and outside of that system their effectiveness diminishes. Maybe the talent catches up to them, their effectiveness tumbles as does their confidence and promising futures are shattered – think Tim Couch.

On draft day, it’s up to Newsome and DeCosta to consider the team’s roster, goals and objectives, coaching staff wishes, desires and teaching abilities, team direction, strengths and weaknesses, prospects’ mental and physical upsides and then project how hundreds of athletes might fit in and complement the current personnel on their football team.

Isn’t it ridiculous to critique their decisions now?

It’s the equivalent of measuring the aesthetic beauty of your new front lawn when you just planted the seed yesterday.

Put away your red pens for now and let’s talk in a couple of years about the Ravens draft class of 2008. Until then, it's best to just have a little faith in a Ravens front office that as outperformed 90% of the other clubs on draft day.

Chances are they've done it again.


Anonymous said...

Amen....that's about the smartest thing i've read on this site in a while.

Anonymous said...

Another great blog, Tony. Finally the voice of reason.

One point that people fail to realize is to a large extent, you have no control over the draft board. Can Ozzie and Eric determine what the other 31 other teams are going to do? One does not realize how hard it is to target one player. What if we couldn't find a trading partner and we had to sit at 26. Chances are, Joe Flacco would have been taken by another team. I think our staff does a credible job overall year in and year out. You won't bat 1.000 every year in the draft. However, if you get 4 or more players that make your team every year, you are doing pretty darn good.

If Joe Flacco turns into a franchise QB, Ozzie will look like a genius.

Gryffindor said...

Would love to see systematic evaluations of the drafts 3 years later -- that would be very useful for the discerning fan, yet I've seen no good website that has that information.

Tony -- this is waiting for you and the gang!