We’ve just finished the first two days of the 2022 NFL draft, which was held this year in Las Vegas. It’s hard to overstate how big an event this has become. Taking place over three days, the amount of media coverage and fan interest rivals that for the Super Bowl.
Why? Because unlike the Super Bowl every team’s fan base is involved, each hoping for a transformative pick or picks. Because you can lay an infinite number of bets on the various outcomes. Because with trades allowed the whole show becomes a giant poker game. And I think mainly because anyone can pose as an expert.
Teams invest an incredible amount of resources in preparing for the draft, preparing their big boards with armies of talent scouts and crunching numbers with various sorts of analytics. All of which counts for something, but given the randomness of the results, where even in the first round of the draft your hit rate on picks runs around 50%, just how much it counts for is open to debate.
This year was a more open and unpredictable draft than ever, in large part because there were few blue chip prospects and no top quarterbacks in the mix. As it turned out, only one QB was taken in the first round (Kenny Pickett, who went 20th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers).
The low evaluation of the QBs in this draft underlines another change that’s become more pronounced around the league. Of course it’s long been recognized that the QB is the most important player on the team. No other position is even close. What’s changed is the mindset that says that you have to have an elite or franchise QB (read: top 10 or so) to even be relevant. One or two of the best QBs in this draft might turn into decent starters, but teams want a lot more from their QB prospects now. You have to have the potential to be one of the very best. In draft terms, this means the position has become totally front-loaded.
That’s a philosophy that was underwritten this off-season as well. Not only did Deshaun Watson, despite having to deal with a bunch of sexual assault allegations, receive a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns (which also cost the Browns three first-round picks), but otherwise serviceable-to-good QBs like Jimmy Garappolo and Baker Mayfield became toxic assets. It’s not the high price of talent that kills you, as one owner put it, but the high price of mediocrity. You can pay an elite player anything, but you can’t afford to have players who are JAGs (Just-A-Guy) on your roster.
It’s hard not to see this as yet another example of our winner-take-all economy in action, which in turn makes the draft seem like even more of a lottery. Is that another reason that it’s become so popular? It’s a sporting event for our time.