The whole idea behind the NFL draft - and the entry draft in every other professional sport of any stature in the US - is that the teams at or near
the bottom rung of the ladder should have the first pick in the entry draft. That position in the draft will help them to get better; and thereby,
produce parity within the league. When that doesn't happen more often than not, many folks merely point out that some organizations do a bad job of
talent evaluation and/or player evaluation and therefore don't draft well. It's easy for people to make a case for that kind of thinking.
A team took Ryan Leaf with the #2 overall pick in the draft and that did precisely nothing to make that team any better than it had been. A team
traded up to draft KiJana Carter with the overall #1 pick in the draft. Granted he was injured for most of his career, but Carter's career made no
difference to any team on which he played. Every team in the league passed on Tom Brady for multiple rounds of the draft and Brady's on-field results
have been nothing short of spectacular ever since he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in New England.
Now that I've tossed out those glaringly bad draft day decisions by teams, you might be tempted to tell me that if teams drafted well, that would
bring parity into the NFL to an even greater extent than has the salary cap. And if you were to succumb to that temptation, I might have to tell you
that I think you'd be wrong.
Let's assume a 'perfect world' for a moment here where all of the NFL teams have good and competent scouting systems and that they all use the same
methodology to rate and rank players. If you find that offensive for some reason - equating the Arizona Cardinals scouting with the Pittsburgh
Steelers' scouting for example - then imagine that there is a super-computer out there which can infallibly rank all of the players eligible for the
draft in any given year. Oh yeah, and all the teams have passwords to get access to the results of this super-computer's calculations.
So, now all the teams know the ranking order of the players from first through last among the draft eligible players; and assuming for a moment that
all of the teams are rational actors (a favorite assumption among economists worldwide), what would happen on the day of the draft?
Yes, I know. There would be no drama for the TV coverage of the draft and that would encourage Chris Berman to come up with even more outrageous
antics so that people would not turn off in disgust or nod off in total boredom. Forget that, I mean what would happen to the teams in the league.
The worst team last year would take the best player; let's call him Player #1. The best team in the league will take Player #32 - on the assumption
that there have been no trades to send draft picks to other teams. Then the worst team will get Player #33 and the best team Player #64 and so on.
So for seven rounds of the draft, the worst team would get Players #1, 33, 65, 97, 129, 161and 193. The best team in the league would get Players
#32, 64, 96, 128, 160, 192 and 224.
If you are willing to accept that the super-computer would not find a world of difference between Player #32 and Player #33, then you should also be
willing to accept that pairings of players at #64 and 65, #96 and 97, #128 and 129, #160 and 161, #192 and 193 will be similarly small. In fact, for
all of those pairings, the best team in the league is getting a new player who the super-computer calculates to be every so slightly better than the
one that the worst team will get.
The only real advantage for the worst team in the league on draft day is this:
Worst team gets Player #1
Best team gets Player # 224
That's it; that's the significant difference. All the other picks are very close in their ability to play football and the 'edge' in all those
marginal cases goes to the best team in the league. And this is the system which - if conducted accurately and rationally - is supposed to produce
parity in the league?
Maybe it's actually beneficial for the NFL and for fans that the NFL Draft is not a science. Maybe it is a good thing that they assemble the draft
eligible players and time them in 40-yard dashes and count the number of times they can bench press 225 lbs and even give them Wonderlic tests. Maybe
all that data clouds the minds of the people trying to make the decisions and prevents the NFL Draft from seeming to be anything close to an accurate
and rational decision process. And maybe that's good for the league and good for the fans.
So even though some teams 'succeed' and others 'fail' on NFL Draft Day, their fans should neither gloat nor sink in to depression. The draft is not
all it's cracked up to be. Take heart in the words of Joseph Heller:
'Success and failure are both difficult to endure. Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, medication, depression,
neurosis and suicide. With failure comes failure.'
But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...