This April, roughly 255 amateur players will be drafted into the NFL. Many hundreds more will be signed to post-draft contracts. The amount of time required to sort, study, analyze, and choose among these options is staggering. The process is urgent, challenging, sophisticated, and above all else: guarded. Like the sports world equivalent of the Manhattan Project.
And yet, for a process with enough information to fill a section at a library, draftniks and draftertainers find a way to boil it down to the most binary of terms, every year, without fail. That distillation? The draft is either “elite” or it isn’t. And by elite, I mean elite in the top ten picks, which comprise just 4% of all the selections that will be made on draft weekend. While GMs know perfectly well the value of a good 2nd round pick, draftertainers tend to display a laser focus on those high picks, as if to seriously suggest that those choices define the draft.
Pouring over this draft has been like pouring over a bag of dimes trying to figure out which ones are the shiniest. But here’s the thing- it’s a really big bag of dimes. While it’s true that relatively little separates the 3rd pick from the 33rd pick, there’s also little that separates the 50th pick from the 100th pick. I haven’t been doing this forever, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a draft that was stronger top to bottom than this one.
It reminds me a little of 2009- some unremarkable yet over-hyped players dominated the top ten, and a lot of the talk before that draft was how it wasn’t a great draft. Indeed, the first dozen picks of that draft were about as bust-laden as they come. But for as bad as those early picks were, that draft recovered in a hurry. After an atrocious top twelve, the next 50 picks took off, among them Clay Matthews, LeSean McCoy, Jairus Byrd, Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing, Josh Freeman, Malcolm Jenkins, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew, Percy Harvin, Alex Mack, Max Unger, Michael Oher, Vontae Davis, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, James Laurinaitis, Andy Levitre, Phil Loadholt, William Moore, Paul Kruger, and Sean Smith. For good measure that draft also produced Mike Wallace in round three and Henry Melton in round four, and someone named Arian Foster went undrafted, thanks in part to Jim Mora. And if you don’t know that story, take it from me, ignorance is bliss.
If there was ever a draft that made the obsession with top 10 picks look silly, it was that one.
I see history repeating itself in 2013. Star Lotulelei will be like this year’s Aaron Curry, a guy who’s raw physical ability will entice enough to trump common sense and assure himself a selection in the top five picks. Sharrif Floyd will be this year’s Tyson Jackson, who went from a 2nd round pick at the start of the year to a top 3 pick in late April. It’s even possible they could be selected by the same team. Matt Barkley is obviously this year’s Matt Stafford. Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib will battle for the honor of being this year’s Mark Sanchez. EJ Manuel could very well be this year’s Pat White, and Geno Smith could end up having a similar up and down career to Josh Freeman. I never said this draft would be without it’s ugly parts.
But some early headscratchery aside, this draft will get awesome in a hurry. You are going to see 1st round names going in the 2nd round, 2nd round names going in the 3rd round, and some 3rd round names going in the 5th round. This draft is as unpredictable as anyone has seen in recent memory. And the reason it’s unpredictable is because there might be 60 players who get talked about as top 32 round picks, and maybe 150 players who get talked about as top 60 picks.
The receiver and tight end class are incredibly deep. As many as six tight ends could carry top 60 grades, and the list of top 100 receivers grows by the day. Stedman Bailey and Markus Wheaton are great prospects. They could go 25th overall, or they could go 125th overall. There is just a sea of viable receivers this year.
Some of the best pass rushers are among the least heralded: Jordan Hill, John Simon, Quanterus Smith, Armonty Bryant, Brandon Jenkins, Tank Carradine, David Bass, Corey Lemonier, Alex Okafor. The first round will be dominated by defensive lineman, but the options remain deep long after despite that.
In a draft like this, a late first could look like Kawaan Short, a late second could look like Khaseem Greene, a late 3rd could look like Markus Wheaton, a late 4th could look like Jordan Reed. Even in the 5th and 6th rounds, you’ll probably continue to hear familiar names get called.
And that is pretty damn exciting. The homerun potential in this draft from start to finish is like Barry Bonds’ home run potential hitting off a tee in a little league game.
Who needs to tank a season for Julius Peppers at #2 when you can get Clay Matthews at #26? Sure, it’s not that simple. But elite talent rarely is.
Most people consider the first two rounds to be their “starter” rounds. Let them think that. Meanwhile, the Seahawks will do their thing from rounds 3-7, and celebrate a job well done.
Oh and hey, I’m back. I hope you all are as jazzed as I am for this draft.