Last month, when the Bills were in town for voluntary workouts, Doug Marrone wasted little time drawing a parallel for the hype leading into the NFL Draft. Marrone was born and raised in the Bronx, so he spent an inordinate amount of time hearing about the Yankees.
Years later, when he was coaching at Syracuse, he was reminded just how much the Yanks dominate the airwaves. He would be stuck in New York traffic during recruiting trips and flip on the radio. Sure enough, Mike Francesca would be driveling on and on with callers about the Yankees.
It was endless.
“They’re talking about the Yankees from the time he got on that show until I got in the car after going to six or seven schools,” Marrone said. “They were talking about the same subject. I think that’s what happens with the draft. People keep going back. They keep looking at the insider. They keep looking at ESPN and keep reading the articles to see what is going on. It’s crazy.”
It really is mind-boggling when you think about how much time and energy is spent breaking down players and trying to figure out the order in which they’ll get selected. It’s great for the NFL, of course, which has effectively turned the sport into a 24/7/365 multibillion-dollar machine.
You certainly can’t blame the league or the networks. The draft has become an industry within the NFL. The more they supply, the greater we demand. Everybody is making money from the process, including this newspaper and, by extension, me. ESPN is laughing all the way to the bank.
Take the NFL Combine, for example, which once included only a handful of teams that shared resources to save money on supplemental evaluations of about 150 players. These days, it’s a weeklong football festival that includes each team covering every physical and psychological inch of more than 300 players.
Did you know that Stephen Paea holds the record for bench pressing 225 pounds 49 times and Donald Washington has the highest vertical leap at 45 inches and Jamie Collins had the best long jump at 11 feet, 7 inches and Jeffrey Maehl is the all-time king of the three-cone drill?
NFL teams know everything there is to know, and certain things they shouldn’t know, about players. They’ve watched them perform. They know how fast they run, how hard they hit, how smart they are, their families, their girlfriends, the members of their posse and the tattoos on their rear ends.
What many don’t often know is whether a guy can actually play at high level in the National Football League. There’s no shortage of experts who are paid to know, but there are examples every year that suggest they’re no more certain about players than some teenager addicted to his iPhone.
It’s also astonishing to me how player values can rise and fall without them playing a single snap, but it happens every year. Johnny Manziel’s stock has soared since his Pro Day. (Note: Pro Day was invented as a supplement to the Combine, which was a supplement to scouting. Apparently, the Combine, the very system used to rate players is, in an interesting twist, also overrated.)
The big news coming from Camp Manziel, where the former Heisman Trophy winner confirmed videotape showing that he can, in fact, throw a football and run at the same time, was that he was the first to wear a helmet and shoulder pads for his individual workout. Now, there’s a true football guy.
Honey, grab the kids and come see what’s on TV. Look, there’s a football player who is playing football and ... and ... wearing football equipment. Incredible!
Teddy Bridgewater was viewed as a first-round pick by many experts until he struggled during his Pro Day. Now there’s talk he could fall into the third round because Bridgewater, known as a gamer, wasn’t exactly a gamer during his workout. Maybe that’s because he wasn’t playing a game.
It would not be totally surprising if Jimmy Garoppolo had a better career than both of them. Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo is a real person.
“I always go back to the film,” Marrone said. “... If I wanted a player, what do I care where I pick him? Is he worthy of being No. 9, is he worthy of being No. 1, is he worthy 15 or you’d rather take this player at 18 rather than nine? Kiko Alonso played every single snap for us and we took him in the second round.
“What would have happened if we took him in the first round with our first pick? Everyone here would have said that’s pretty good, but back then everyone would have said, ‘What the heck are they doing? This guy is a second rounder.’ So I can’t answer that question. I look at it sometimes and I just smile.”
I can only assume that Marrone smiles because ... it’s funny.
This is not to suggest the draftniks are clueless. They’re breaking down players and evaluating needs and playing the percentages. Todd McShay is an intelligent guy who does his homework. Mel Kiper turned a hobby into a nice paycheck. But with all the expertise out there, there’s a shortage of experts in an inexact science.
And that includes general managers and scouts, who, after examining players from every conceivable angle, have the batting average of a gerbil.
Peyton Manning has been so successful for so long that NFL fans who are 20 years old or younger don’t remember the intense debate over whether the Colts should take Manning or Ryan Leaf with the first pick overall in the 1998 draft. They wouldn’t admit it now, but many leaned toward Leaf.
It seems ludicrous with Leaf throwing for 3,666 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career while Manning averaged 4,330 yards passing and 32 touchdowns per season. Manning threw for more yards (3,739) and more touchdowns (28) in his rookie year alone.
Tom Brady was taken with the 199th pick overall, which means 198 teams passed on him in 2000 before New England grabbed him in the sixth round. The Patriots have been hailed as geniuses for that pick when really they were almost as dumb as every other team. After all, they passed on Brady for five rounds.
Tony Romo and Kurt Warner were undrafted free agents. So were Wes Welker, Priest Holmes, Antonio Gates, Arian Foster and a long list of others. You could talk for an hour about players who were taken late or not at all and ended up winning Super Bowls, making Pro Bowls and becoming zillionaires.
“An hour is really cheating it,” Marrone said. “We could really sit here all day.”
And we could spend another day talking about busts. Hello, Mike Williams? The Bills took him fourth overall in 2002 and blew numerous first-round picks after him with the likes of J.P. Losman, John McCargo and Aaron Maybin.
The Patriots’ seven picks in the first four rounds of the 2009 draft were still in the NFL last season. All but three players taken in any round since that draft were still in the league. One exception was Aaron Hernandez, who would still be in the league if he weren’t in jail.
Obviously, some teams are better than the others, but every team’s draft history is dotted with hits and misses. The teams with more hits generally are more successful than the teams with more misses. This year, with the draft pushed into May, there’s more time to evaluate players.
And continue the hype.