It has become a cliché to say this, I know, but I still cannot believe how big the NFL draft has become. It's like Christmas -- the draft has expanded and diversified and invaded small countries and now it's a three-month celebration. In February, you already have people on
I don't say this with disgust in my voice: I love the draft. Heck, I was one of the original draftniks. My parents' generation skipped school to watch World Series day games. My junior and senior years of high school -- 1983 and 1984 -- I skipped school to watch the draft. Somehow that doesn't sound as quaint. But it's true; the draft used to begin on a Tuesday. The draft was a low-budget operation on ESPN back then -- it was not unlike watching a local PBS telethon.*
In many ways, those two drafts of my childhood should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the unsteady nature of the draft. The '83 draft is one of the most remarkable in NFL history. Six Hall of Famers were taken in the first round (
Put it this way: I used to watch the draft with my friend
And while the New Yorkers on TV shouted the loudest "NOOOOO?" in the history of planet Earth, Robert collapsed to the ground, apparently dead. But this draft was SO good, that even when teams made monumental blunders like taking Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino, they did not completely flop. O'Brien actually turned out to be pretty decent at times; he led the NFL in passer rating in 1985 and took the Jets to the playoffs that year.
So that was the 1983 draft. The '84 draft, meanwhile, was a disaster. There were zero Hall of Famers taken in the first round. There were zero quarterbacks taken in the first round. There were busts and sad stories galore --
Here's the thing I remember, though: The hype leading into the '84 draft was about equal to the hype leading into the '83 draft. Yes, in '83, the hype was all about the quarterbacks while the '84 hype was about wide receivers and linebackers, but the excitement level was more or less the same. Everyone thought they were getting a great player, a franchise-changing player, and that's the beauty of the NFL draft. That's also the crapshoot part of it. Sometimes you get
And even though the draft is now a million times bigger than it was then, even though the ESPN draft show is now a multi-million dollar Disney production with crews on three continents and
Here's the thing, though. I've watched Baylor play quite a lot because I live in a place where they show Big 12 games all the time. And as far as I can tell, Baylor was pretty bad last year. And, as far as I can remember, I never once noticed the Bears had this preposterously good offensive lineman. That's not to say that Jason Smith is anything less than brilliant; I don't watch offensive linemen. Who does?*
My point is this: If you were watching a college basketball game featuring the player likely to be the No. 1-overall pick in the draft, you would probably notice him. If you were watching a college baseball game with the No. 1-overall pick in the draft, you would probably notice him, too. But I probably watched 10 Baylor games in the past three years, and I never once thought, "Man, that offensive lineman is amazing."
Maybe that's just a failing on my part. But it seems to me that in football, so many pieces have to fit together. The situation has to be exactly right. The player has to stay healthy. The system has to fit. What would have happened to
I remember the Cincinnati Bengals trading up to the No. 1 spot to get running back
So, yes, the NFL draft is big now, huge, but overall it hasn't really changed all that much. You might get a great player. You might get a bust. And, look, it's a real conversation piece.