If there’s one thing I hate more than a Steelers season-ending loss like the one against the Patriots in the AFC title game on January 22, it’s the draft talk that seems to begin before the vanquished players are even done with their post-game showers.
I spend January and February avoiding mock drafts and prospect evaluations like one avoids filing his or her local taxes (there’s never a refund, so there is no point in rushing).
But like a person who has been putting off cleaning out his garage for months, I finally start paying attention in late-March. And when I do finally start paying attention, I kick myself for not jumping into the pool sooner. Why? Because it’s just such a fun time of the year, the NFL draft season.
Who are the top prospects? Of those top prospects, who will fall to the Steelers when their time comes to pick in the first round? And of those prospects that fall to the Steelers, will they be able to address a need?
Those three rhetorical questions I just asked, I could get three-times as many articles out of them. And why? Because everyone has a different opinion.
Take a prospect like T.J. Watt, the Steelers actual first round pick out of Wisconsin in the just concluded 2017 NFL Draft. Leading up to April 27, if you would have asked 10 random football fans/experts/armchair experts their opinions on Watt, you may have gotten 10 different answers, ranging from favorable to critical.
One such opinion may have been that, not only was Watt a horrible prospect, the position he played—outside linebacker--wasn’t even Pittsburgh’s top need.
Speaking of which, for the first time since about 2003, there were people who felt quarterback was the Steelers top need.
Boom! Another two or three articles without even trying.
Ah, but the best part of the draft coverage is the mock season.
Make no mistake, I don’t like the mock season because I’m a mock junkie and can’t get enough of them; I like the mock season because of the comedy gold that I set out to mine each and every April.
In that respect, I’m never truly disappointed.
Whether it’s published by an expert like Mel Kiper (yes, I realize he doesn’t know anything!!!!!!!) or some random person in the BTSC fanpost section, someone is almost always going to react emotionally to a mock draft. These emotional outbursts have to wear a person down eventually, considering there are literally millions of mocks—written by both experts and random people.
If I had my druthers, I would write a fake, trolling mock draft every week; not only would it guarantee high traffic volume (click bait!), sooner or later, someone would throw a rock through my apartment window. Why? Because fans invest heavily in each and every mock draft—even if it’s written by some schmuck in Crafton, Pa.
And then, of course, there’s the tape. What is this tape, you ask? It’s what people watch in-order to evaluate draft prospects. When it comes to coaches and scouts, I assume they have access to all kinds of edited tape that shows them everything they need to see about a player. As for you, I have no idea what tape you’re talking about. Are you talking about an entire game or games you DVR’d and went back and re-watched? Is this the tape you find on Youtube that almost always comes complete with hiphop music?
I don’t know what it is, but I do know you can’t form an opinion about a particular player unless you’ve watched his tape.
“Did you watch his tape?” someone will ask me when I state my opinion about a left tackle based on a ranking I read on Walterfootball.com. And my answer is almost always “no.”
Here’s tape I found of Watt that I just watched before writing this sentence. It shows a series of spliced together plays from various points of the 2016 season. Based on the footage, I have to say....I have no idea what I just watched. Don’t get me wrong, I know I watched a really good football player, but I have no clue if he shows great leverage or has great hands. All I know is, after watching that, I’m hella fired up for the 2017 season—and there wasn’t even any music playing over the tape.
I gotta be honest, I wouldn’t trade a 2019 seventh round pick in-exchange for watching anyone’s tape. But I like that you would trade a first round pick in-order to do so. Why? Because in addition to making fun of you, I get to know your opinion on a player and why his technique might be flawed in some way (even if I couldn’t actually spot it myself at first or second glance).
All kidding aside, I actually do learn a lot during each draft season.
A few things I learned this year:
I learned Watt started his college career as a tight end, which speaks to the athleticism he could bring to the outside linebacker spot. I also learned that his 4.7 speed is a couple of ticks quicker than the 4.9 time Jarvis Jones posted at his pro day workouts leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft. A couple of ticks might not seem like much, but they could be the difference between getting to the quarterback and not getting to him. It’s good that I learned this because, four years ago, when Jones’ 40 time led to him sliding down to the Steelers in the middle of the first round, I was pretty adamant that his speed wouldn’t hinder his success at the pro level (Jones had six sacks in four years in Pittsburgh).
I also learned about the Air Raid offense and how quarterbacks who play in that system in college don’t have a great history in the pros. I was enlightened to this because it was the offense quarterback and Steelers first round candidate Patrick Mahomes played in at Texas Tech.
One final thing I learned (I actually re-learn this each spring):
No matter how much every single player has been pricked, prodded, dissected and ranked before the draft, a random fan will pop into some comments section and emphatically say, “(insert player here who nobody has ever heard of) is the one the Steelers should draft! Trust me, I watched him in college.”
Finally, even though I often show disdain for the NFL draft process and coverage, fact is, I’m always sad when it’s all over. Sure, the Steelers draft class of eight players (and even their many UDFAs) will keep me writing for a while, but that won’t last through the summer.
Soon, I’ll be writing stories that have to do with missed drug tests or that time I went to the game at old Three Rivers Stadium, and you will pipe in and say, “Gee, must be a slow news day.”
It most-likely will be a slow news day because it will be June.
Why can’t the draft be held in June? Imagine how many more mocks I could make fun of.
I’ll miss you, 2017 NFL Draft.