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Steiner: Proposals for a better NFL draft (April 23)

By Peter Steiner | Tuesday, April 23, 2013


How the NFL Draft ever got this big is both difficult and easy to understand.

Last year, between ESPN and NFL Network, 8.1 million fans watched Roger Goodell announce the picks of the NFL Draft’s opening round. As a quick comparison, that’s more viewers than the 7.8 million that tuned into last year’s NBA Western Conference Finals between the Thunder and Spurs. 

If you try explaining the magnitude of the NFL Draft to someone not already aware of the significance of the NFL in America, you will fail. It’s like attempting to illustrate the immensity of Vince Wilfork to someone who’s never met anyone bigger than Wes Welker.

On the other hand, for football fans and even those who can’t pronounce the name Nnamdi Asomugha, it makes perfect sense. It’s been two and a half months since the Super Bowl and four months since most teams played a game. Fans are thirsty for anything related to football and will happily drink in the first round of the draft, even if it means dealing with Mel Kiper, Jr. for five hours. 

To increase the number of viewers (and money), the NFL and television networks have made some changes to the draft over the last decade. Teams are now allotted just 10 minutes per selection in the first round, instead of 15. And in 2010, the draft evolved into a three-day affair, which has been super effective in increasing the number of viewers and extending the enormous amount of attention the draft receives over an entire weekend.

This year, ESPN and the NFL Network have agreed not to show selected players on the phone in the green room or at home with their newest teams, meaning there will be a true drum roll leading up to the announcement made in Radio City Music Hall. This will certainly increase the theatrics, though I’m not sure giving commissioner Roger Goodell more attention is a good thing. 

But even with these changes, the draft still typically loses its luster near the end of the first round. So, I’ve got some suggestions to make the draft befitting of the most popular sport in America. 

Interview the teams’ fans after the picks. We don’t need to listen to Jon Gruden rave about every player selected in the first round. Get a knowledgeable, passionate fan, maybe even from each team, and let them voice their opinions on the selection. Hearing the Jets fans’ reactions are always entertaining, so why not extend that to every team?

Next, let kids announce the draft picks of one entire round. Who doesn’t love hearing kids at a baseball game announce the players up to bat? This will lighten things up in the middle of the draft and create a special connection between the lucky kid and the selected player.

Allow teams to jump in at the start of a round by forfeiting a certain number of later or future draft picks based on the round. Trades are an exciting aspect of the draft, and there are probably teams willing to move up but unable to find a trading partner. Allowing this would add intrigue and even more strategy to the draft. Teams could move up without a trading partner to grab a player they really want, but only for a considerable price. 

The final suggestion will never happen, but even thinking about it is enough to make fans salivate. Change the draft from its current format to an auction style. The idea is taken from the increasingly popular fantasy football-draft format where teams have a budget to select players. Give more successful teams from the previous year fewer points than those finishing at the bottom of the league to draft a certain number of players and let the madness ensue.

It’s impossible to imagine the excitement from an auction-style draft. Each team would have a chance to draft any player, but they would have to make significant sacrifices to grab a top prospect. Bidding wars between divisional rivals would surely arise and fans would cheer for every outcome positively affecting their team. The amount of strategy involved would skyrocket and the NFL Draft would become one of the biggest events of the year.

Now, this is purely hypothetical and I’m not advocating a system where players are “purchased.” But you have to admit that the idea is fun to entertain.

And actually, that’s exactly what the NFL Draft is all about. At its core, teams are entertaining all hypothetical scenarios the draft offers. They are looking for ways to improve their squad, no matter if they won the Super Bowl last year or finished dead last. 

The big show kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m. along with the hope for an even brighter future for your team and maybe for the NFL Draft, too.