Sports

There’s 8 more weeks of NFL Draft stories — lord help us all

The NFL Draft cannot get here soon enough. In its effort to monetize every second of every month, we have to wait and sit through months of speculation and evaluation with narratives conjured out of dead air. What are the Bears going to do with Justin Fields? Why are all the elite athletes opting out of the Combine? This player is rising. This player is plummeting. And on and on and on until April 25, or I shoot myself, whichever comes first.

Do we really need almost three months of draft prep after the Super Bowl? The college football season is over for most prospects by Jan. 1, and their entire college careers are available in digital form pretty much immediately, so why prolong this? This is the age of immediacy, and NFL free agents have made their decisions long before those choices can be made official March 13.

I thought patience was just another word for “inconvenience.” Cutting and splicing together highlights can be done on the john, and if you can’t evaluate a player based on their game footage, then you should probably be in a different line of work.

Take Nate Wiggins for example. The cornerback out of Clemson ran a 4.29 40 at the Combine on Friday and then needed to be helped off the field with what he called a hip flexor.

Wiggins said he’ll be ready to run by the Tiger’s pro day, which is basically another Combine with a PR spin from the program. However, per Robert Griffin III’s tweet above, Wiggins plays at that speed on tape, and isn’t that what’s most important?

Caleb Williams started 34 games in college. That’s two full NFL seasons, and he’s on the low end of experience. Things are a little wonky with COVID-era eligibility still weaning its way out of college football, but guys like Bo Nix and Michael Penix have five and six seasons, respectively, for scouts to pour over.

Any off-field problems are well documented and searchable on the internet. NFL franchises can DM, email, text and call head, assistant and position coaches if they want to figure out more. While I don’t scout players for a living, part of my job is having an opinion on things like the draft, and although I don’t do a seven-round mock, I have an idea formed by a player’s last collegiate appearance if not before.

One example that stands out to me is Fabian Washington. If you remember, which you likely don’t because he had a mostly forgettable NFL career, Washington ran a 4.29 40 during the 2005 Combine. The Raiders were so enamored by the workout that they took him in the first round despite an equally meh college career at Nebraska, and Aaron Rodgers still on the board.

Being the Husker fan that I am, I had seen enough to know that taking Washington at 23rd overall was a reach. Playing cornerback and/or receiver is about so much more than speed — instincts, technique, route running, route reading, etc. — and barely any of those traits show up in drills.

You know where you can see them though? Game footage. Measurables do matter, but not to the extent that scouts need to poke and prod athletes multiple times. If teams want to do an interview or have their docs look at a repaired joint? Fine, just don’t overthink this stuff. I know that’s hard to do because the evaluation process is nearly five months, yet maybe take a vacation, or sleep on it, or pick up Baldur’s Gate 3.

Nothing makes me happier than players skipping the Combine. It almost brings me as much joy as Roger Goodell getting booed to start the draft. Both parties can see through the facade, and the league’s desire to wring every last dime out of fans and players alike. You know what we all want more than conjecture? Results, draft picks, trades, action, anything but another f*cking NFL Draft take.



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