Like any great mall, chain restaurant or state fair, the NFL has a mysterious, almost cosmic ability to lure us through the same steeplechase of faux excitement and hysteria week after week, year after year.
The proof in football land arrives around this time each April, when the draft is ripe enough to warrant a press conference ideally headed by each team’s general manager and, if we’re lucky, head of college scouting. By this point, we’re so stuffed full of sugary draft tidbits, so paralyzed by the sensory overload, that this seems like a culmination of our months-long fact-finding mission. Today, we will get some answers.
I’ve watched with great sadness as these staged Q+A’s unfold in eerily similar fashion. Tired executives looking out at a sea of reporters trying to find a way to not answer any question with a hint of actual detail. Reporters summoning the courage of grey-haired rock stars singing the hits they stopped believing in decades ago.
So, uhm, would you guys be willing to move around in the first?
Yes. The answer is always yes and will forever be yes. My God, it will also be yes if you ask them if they’ve considered drafting a running back with their first-round pick. Or linebacker. Or defensive end. Or quarterback. The really adventurous ones will say the same about punter. They’ll say everything is on the table. That the draft is a fluid process. That the team has to be prepared for anything.
This is an archeological dig to nowhere, and yet we always show up on time, paint brush and hand pick in tow.
The pre-draft press conference has not aged well. There are few old timers, like Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who still covet the process enough to talk shop. I nearly fell out of my chair on Thursday when I saw him using his hands to illustrate how the team stacks its draft board. There seemed to be something approaching mutually beneficial taking place in the room.
A sampling of what we found elsewhere:
Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons: “I would say that this draft, different than probably most drafts that I’ve been involved with and for Q [head coach Dan Quinn] and I, this is an important draft and an interesting draft, because I think there are a number of positions that we are looking at,” Dimitroff said. “More than other years. In other years we’ve been really honed in on potentially one or two, and we have a number of positions that we think can benefit us at No. 26. That’s actually really exciting.”
Translation: “We could pick anybody.”
Browns general manager John Dorsey: “You know what?” he said. “I’m a guy of processes. I’m a guy of structure. I’m a guy of systems and I’m a creature of habit. I’ve done it for 20-some years. But where we are in the process right now, I think the draft is seven days away. But I’m very confident in where we are in the process moving forward.”
Translation: “Why would I tell you who we're going to pick, or even if we've made up our mind?”
Bills general manager Brandon Beane: “We haven’t finalized every position, but we’re pretty close,” Beane said. “I would say we have it down to some clumps. Maybe you have several DBs in the third round, I’m making this up, but if you got in the third round and you have these three corners and they’re all close. We’re going back and watching film on them and then we ask ourselves if all three were there on the board, which one would first, second and third?”
To be clear, in that last one, Beane is making up the thrilling hypothetical scenario where a few mid-round defensive backs are clumped together on his board.
This is how pre-draft season ends, with a resounding thud. From here, we head to the actual selections and then rookie camp, where we realize once again that half of the players we’ve been obsessing over in the first round will probably not be great in the NFL, either because they were overdrafted or drafted to the wrong team.
The shame in it all? There is a distinct beauty to how these scouting directors operate that we rarely get a window into, or rarely applaud appropriately when it’s provided. They are the league’s consiglieres, who operate best in the shadows. They not only scout, but spy and misinform. They take advantage of and squeeze out opponents. The cavalier spirit upon which the NFL was built, the part we all love, is still alive somewhere behind a locked door in every facility. It’s just not at that podium.