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Monaco: Don’t put too much stock into NFL Draft (April 30)

Mike Monaco | Monday, April 30, 2012

Don’t get me wrong. I love the NFL Draft just as much as all those nuts at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

It’s an exciting time for NFL fans, who may have been more focused on the NHL playoffs or MLB openers, to get thinking about their teams again. Fans start forecasting which players can fill holes on the depth chart, and with every team’s record at 0-0, a playoff appearance seems plausible to even the most disadvantaged followers (looking at you guys in Cleveland).

But between all the mock drafts, trade rumors, pro days and Wonderlic tests, the hype of the draft gets to be too much. There’s only so many times I can look at Mel Kiper’s Big Board or Todd McShay’s mock draft before I want Commissioner Goodell (read: Dictator Goodell) to announce the first pick and get the draft off and running.

The problem isn’t just that the buildup has become so overblown in this age of 24/7 media coverage. It’s that the draft, and scouting prospects and predicting their futures in general, is a fickle game.

There are supposed “locks” like No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. But even he could struggle to attain the All-Pro status talent evaluators and fans alike are expecting from him. He may very well be the next great quarterback, but then again he might not.

And he’s only the first pick.

As you move through the first round, the uncertainty only increases. The eighth player chosen, new Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is the perfect encapsulation of the unpredictable nature of the NFL Draft. He has enticing physical attributes: a strong arm, good size and solid mobility. But Tannehill was still playing wide receiver six games into his junior season at Texas A&M. So now all of a sudden Dolphins fans are expected to believe Tannehill will be the franchise quarterback: the stopgap at a position that has experienced tremendous turnover since the retirement of the legendary Dan Marino?

Yeah, those fans are expected to believe that, because that’s what happens with the NFL Draft. Hope springs eternal, and fans blindly believe all first-round picks become stars.

Tannehill may very well be a bust like other quarterbacks taken recently in the first round (think Joey Harrington, Vince Young, Matt Leinart and JaMarcus Russell). But the thing about the NFL Draft is he could be a star. He could be the next Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers. These guys all were first-round picks and have proved to be as good as advertised.

There’s more to the draft than first-round picks, though. Get as excited as you want about the blue-chip draft choices, but don’t forget that Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. Don’t forget Victor Cruz and Arian Foster were undrafted. It’s an enormously difficult task to consider what a player did in college – whether it be at Alabama or North Alabama – and predict what he will do in the pros.

So no matter how much we analyze the draft, the bottom line is that we simply don’t know. The Kipers and McShays of the world can tell us the Seahawks didn’t get enough value by taking West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin with the 15th pick. They can inform us Andrew Luck is the best quarterback prospect to come along since John Elway. They can tell us that certain teams filled their “needs” by taking this guy or that guy. But no matter how much expertise they have and how many sources they’ve spoken with, the fact of the matter is, they don’t know for sure.

We can’t say Luck and Robert Griffin are the next great quarterbacks, just as we can’t say that Tannehill is a bust. Because for every Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith, there’s an Aaron Rodgers. For every no-name late-round pick that gets cut in the preseason, there’s a Tom Brady and his three Super Bowl rings. 

So be as excited as you want about your team’s future prospects, but just remember Kiper, his hair gel and NFL scouts are rolling the dice. And they’re not weighted.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.