Those of you who've been reading for a while, or following me on Twitter, know I inhabit a strange mindspace when it comes to the NFL draft. As a boy, and a teen, I was a monster draftnik--I was absolutely obsessed with the draft, the runup to it, the anticpation of it, etc.
. . . however . . .
Nowadays, with the Internet, vast oceans of prospect information are out there for the dedicated football fan. The draft has gone from being an offseason sideshow for NFL geeks, to a prime time television extravaganza that pulls millions of casual eyeballs. This combination of huge audience, and huge information flow, has led to this weird situation where liking the NFL Draft compels people to pretend that they are scouts. It's already been going on for weeks now; fans are debating the relative merits of prospects, arguing about potential, everyone posting their mock drafts, etc. I still love the draft, and preparing for watching it, but I'm sitting on the sidelines right now.
I'm starting to get the annual inflow of questions about various prospects, and I'm having to start disappointing people with my answer: "I don't know." What I think about this kid from East Texarkana State? I don't know! Will the Lions be able to get a quality outside linebacker in the third round? I don't know! At this point, I don't even know what outside linebackers are projected to go in the first round, let alone second or third. Even if I did, I cannot begin to pretend to know what the Lions' draft board looks like, let alone that of 31 other NFL teams and how they all fit together.
The uncomfortable truth is that nobody but real scouts have real grades on these players at this point--anything you hear about players' relative values are just guesses (with varying degress of education behind them). Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and pro day results will swing these players up and down many slots; obsessing about whether or not the Lions will have a crack at John Q. Cornerback in the fourth is meaningless, because his forty time could swing him up or down a round (or two). Trying to figure out whether you think the Lions should go offense or defense in the sixth is hopeless, because the sixth-round pick may struggle to make the roster--let alone make an impact.
I don't want to be a downer about this, so I'm saying it once. My evaluation of prospects begins with the Senior Bowl practices, and slowly ramps up through the Combine. Unless you are trying to break into the field of scouting, forget about the Draft and let the scouts do the work for you. Enjoy the playoffs--and spend your "worrying time" worrying about if these draftees will be in New York, holding up their jersey, or at home, barred from communicating with the team that has locked them, and their coworkers, out.