By Justin Higdon
The NFL Scouting Combine is over, college pro days are in progress and free agency is about to begin, which means misinformation and speculation is in season right now within the football loving community. Anyone interested in the goings on will be spoon-fed opinions as if they were facts, and those ideas can quickly become the prevailing “truths” of the year. Let’s take a look at five of the myths being pushed on fans and observers of the NFL that are becoming more and more prevalent as the offseason progresses…
1. “This is a ‘weak’ draft class.”
This is probably the easiest myth to dispel. To suggest that any draft class is weak is presumptuous and implies that any person making such a statement possesses a crystal ball that allows him to see the future. Every draft is filled with uncertainty, and draft analysts are always – even in the case of a “sure thing” like Andrew Luck – making projections to some degree. With a high-end prospect, there is little room for making errors; but there are unseen factors that can lead to even the most universally lauded prospects to fall short of expectations. There are poor fits in terms of schemes or systems, lousy supporting casts, downright horrible coaching jobs, injuries and/or any number of other developments (regime changes for one) that could prevent a prospect from reaching his potential. Over the years there have been scores of prospects, and even entire classes of players, who have failed to live up to their lofty billings. To say with certainty that the 2013 draft class, or any other for that matter, is “weak” is to hedge one’s bets. That could turn out to be true, but more than likely a number of players will emerge to become strong everyday contributors who put together long and productive careers. This draft may not have the perceived star power of previous installments, but hundreds of talented players are available for the choosing. Teams just need to know what they are looking for, and employ those players properly. They won’t all be hits – they never are – but many will end up shining.
2. “There is no ‘franchise quarterback’ in this class.”
The 2013 draftees have been faced with the unfortunate timing of following Luck and Robert Griffin III into the NFL. Memories of fans and media are fresh, and they have been spoiled by the immediate success of two rare talents. But even a look at the 2012 draft class reveals the shortsightedness of this myth. Russell Wilson lasted into the third round, and proved capable of leading a team into the playoffs as a rookie. Like Luck and Griffin, Wilson appears to be a special talent, and has probably changed the way some analysts and teams view quarterback prospects. This makes it even more surprising that the establishment seems willing to dismiss this year’s crop before any of them have thrown a meaningful pass. There may be no ready-made hall of famer this year, but simply winding the clock back to 2011 will reveal a similar situation. Not many pundits were sold that Cam Newton would establish himself as a potential star so quickly, but more than a few were willing to anoint Blaine Gabbert as the top signal-caller in the draft. And just days ago, Joe Flacco agreed to a deal that made him the highest paid player in NFL history. His selection in 2008 was met with derision in many circles at the time, yet he has piled up playoff wins and has one Lombardi trophy under his belt. Are no quarterbacks in this class capable of climbing the ladder that Flacco did?
Not to mention the flaw in the “franchise quarterback” designation. What does that even mean? It’s a concept that is often debated in mind-numbing fashion. But the bottom line is team success, and a number of lesser-known draftees have quarterbacked their teams to successful stretches. Likewise, a number of highly touted QBs have flopped spectacularly. Is it any more likely that none of the 2013 quarterbacks will find glory than it is that one will? Are all of these young men destined to remain stagnant in their development? That’s where that crystal ball comes in again. The facts are that a number of quarterbacks available this year possess tools – arm strength, leadership, athleticism, intelligence, and work ethic – that could, and in some cases should, lead to success in the right circumstances.
3. “So-and-so is a ‘safe/safer’ pick.”
Simply put, there is no such animal. The “myth of the safe pick” probably dates back to the beginning of the draft, but one must look no further than the case of Aaron Curry. The linebacker out of Wake Forest was thought by many to be the surest thing of the 2009 draft, and was chosen fourth overall by Seattle. After two-and-a-half non-descript seasons, Curry was traded for pennies on the dollar, and has become an afterthought. In the meantime, Percy Harvin was chosen with the 22nd overall pick, and Clay Matthews with the 26th. The Seahawks could have used either player, and countless other examples like these exist over the years.
This year’s “safe” picks are mostly offensive linemen. Left tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Alabama guard Chance Warmack are two names that get bandied about daily. Both are excellent college football players. But to convince oneself that either, or both, is somehow a safer pick than West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith or BYU defensive specimen Ezekiel Ansah is an attempt at fortune telling. Joeckel and Warmack may prove to be the best players in this draft class. But given the sheer probability statistics – there are always more misses than hits in every draft – it is even more likely that players chosen later in the first round or beyond will prove to be better options. To decide that any pick in any class is “safe” before he has played a game is more likely to be an exercise in futility than anything else.
4. “Take the best player available.”
This is purely subjective. Best player available varies from team to team. Now that Kansas City has applied the franchise tag to left tackle Brandon Albert one year after signing right tackle Eric Winston as a free agent, is Joeckel the “best player available” for the Chiefs? An analyst may have Joeckel rated as the top player on his board, but which team is that board designed for? Certainly each of the 32 NFL franchises has its own draft board, and each has its own idea of “best available.” The Cleveland Browns have the sixth overall pick in 2013, but with Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz entrenched at tackle, Joeckel is probably not even on their radar. There is zero chance they would draft a tackle with the sixth pick, regardless of his placement on any pundit’s big board. Unless an analyst has a separate board for every single team, it is nearly impossible to determine if a certain franchise is choosing the best player available. Rest assured on draft weekend, very few – if any – teams are passing on a passing on a player they deem to be a “sure thing” to take a risk on one they consider a lesser prospect. Sure it turns out that way, but it is not so clear-cut. By the time the draft rolls around and free agency is over, teams have needs and holes to fill, and the opinion of the draft community means little once they are on the clock.
5. “It’s all about the tape.”
Maybe it should be. In theory, it definitely should be. But it’s not. The reason is quite simple: people see different things when analyzing a player’s performance on tape. When reviewing Ansah, for example, one evaluator might perceive a lack of explosiveness, while one might consider this Ansah’s most promising attribute (in fact, I observed this very argument between two people I greatly respect this past Sunday). Is either of these analysts wrong in his opinion? It remains to be seen, and it will probably take two to three years before the football viewing public knows for sure.
If the tape was the end all be all, then why have the college all-star games, the combine, and the pro days? These events serve a purpose for NFL franchises. Players should never be judged based solely on their post-college performances, but their showings in those games and workouts help shape opinions. It is best to take the information gathered in these situations, and take them back to the game film; but this in no way cements an opinion as right or wrong. Some players will be evaluated prior to the all-star games, combine or pro days, and their performances help to solidify those evaluations. Others may have workout results that seem to fly in the face of their on-field results. And still others may have been largely unknown prior to dazzling forty-yard dashes or three-cone drills, causing scouts to go back to game footage to form an opinion. In those cases it would be virtually impossible for a human being to not be influenced, even if it is only subconsciously. Human nature cannot be entirely discounted.
The NFL Draft should be an exciting time for football fans, and many of these myths can create doubt, cause anxiety, and generally suck the fun right out of an occurrence that should be enjoyable for teams, analysts and fans alike. Perhaps the biggest myth is that people can be entirely objective in their opinions, without any influence from preconceived notions. Once that curtain, and the others mentioned above, can be lifted, hopefully every lover of professional football can return to the conclusion that this is all just a game, meant to entertain and create an escape from life’s harsher realities.