Connon: Hypocrisy Reigns in the NFL Draft QB Conversation
Photo Credit: Kevin Kuo/USA Today Sports
People tend to overanalyze when they have a lot of time on their hands and it’s no different for the buildup to the NFL Draft.
Believe me, I love the NFL Draft. Outside of the Super Bowl and March Madness, it’s my favorite sports “event” of the year. Countless mock drafts, endless analysis, and dream scenarios are everywhere.
Unlike the NBA and NHL Drafts, which take place right before free agency, and the MLB Draft, which takes place in the middle of the season, the NFL Draft happens a month after the free agent frenzy has slowed down. The rosters are cemented, teams know what they want and what they need, and it’s one of my favorite activities to just run through prospects, their best fits and how their futures project with certain teams.
However, everything I just mentioned as a thing I love the NFL Draft is also a reason I resent it.
In the NBA and NHL, there’s only a week or two between the end of the Finals and the draft, giving the media and fans a limited time to focus 100 percent on the draft. Also, free agency is right around the corner, and if your team isn’t picking in the top five, there’s usually more glamour out on the free agent market to follow.
For the NFL, the second half of March and all of April is all draft, all the time. The sport with more coverage than any other is focused completely on its next wave of talent, and people just don’t shut up about it. In theory, that sounds great, but it just gets tired real fast.
First of all, with the NFL being the most popular sport in the country, you inevitably get the most people who know nothing about it talking about it.
If you go up to a bunch of random people on the street, only a couple would be able to tell you who DeAndre Ayton is—the projected top pick in the NBA Draft this June. On the other hand, a ton more people would be able to tell you about the quarterbacks atop the NFL mock drafts. They know the Browns are picking No. 1, and that the Jets, Giants, and Broncos will all be at the top of the draft as well.
This year, the draft is going to be televised not only on ESPN, but also Fox Sports, and the NFL Network and Bleacher Report will have plenty of live coverage as well. It gets so much exposure, and the result is that everyone and their mother tries to act like they have an opinion on the matter.
It’s not just the bandwagoners and fairweather fans who have hot takes though. Even the NFL Draft “experts,” like Mike Mayock of NFL Network or Mel Kiper of ESPN fall into the trap of overthinking things. With months and months of buildup, everyone has an opinion, and everyone spends so much time obsessing over the draft that they think their opinion is right, myself included.
There’s so much film out there for them to watch, and every last highlight and lowlight sways those experts’ opinions back and forth. They see one thing, like a practice video of someone throwing from their knees, or how someone measured in at 6-foot-5 with big hands, and they gush over it. They see the bad things too, but they’re so enamored by these little things that they just lose all objectivity and shove it down our throats how amazing some of these guys are.
Now, the prime example of this is Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. For those who don’t know, Allen threw for just 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season with a completion percentage below 60. He played against poor competition in the Mountain West Conference, and appeared in two bowl games, falling to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2016 and winning the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Central Michigan in 2017.
However, Mel Kiper would tell you otherwise. Not only did he project Allen to be the first overall pick, he was also intentionally ignorant of the quarterback’s downside.
“Stats are for losers, in my opinion,” Kiper said. “The guy won.”
First of all, he barely won. He was 1-1 in two trash bowls against two average teams and he played in a bad conference with poor competition. Wyoming is not a Power Five school. There are dozens of programs out there who play tougher schedules every single year.
“Oh, but he had a great game in the Potato Bowl!” some of you are inevitably saying.
Yes, he won MVP, but the only quarterback MVPs of that bowl who remained relevant in the NFL were Colin Kaepernick, who was out of the league at 28, and Matt Ryan, who won it 12 years ago. Not the most promising fun fact for Allen fans.
Second of all, stats are not for losers. They are for objective, logical people who know how to build consistent and valid arguments. So Kiper, while you can trot around on your high horse just because you’re paid by ESPN to cover this for a living, just know that you are inherently wrong about this.
It’s not just Kiper though. JP Finlay of NBC Sports is adamant that Josh Allen has the “it” factor, and he isn’t alone in that camp. Mike Mayock, while attempting to compliment Allen, said that he has the “biggest arm” since JaMarcus Russell.
In Kiper, and others’, defense, stats don’t tell the whole story. They tell a large chunk of it, and they can certainly give you an outline for a player’s success and skill. But then, you have the Baker Mayfield side of the equation, when stats are taken too far.
The Oklahoma quarterback has been a Heisman finalist for the past three season, finally taking home the trophy this year. He threw for over 4,600 yards with 43 touchdowns, just six interceptions, and a 70.5 percent completion percentage. With those numbers, you would think he’d be the best quarterback in the draft, but many forget that he played in the offense-first Big 12 and is well shorter than the average NFL quarterback. His form isn’t great, he doesn’t have the size, he relies too much on scrambling, and he has endless off the field issues.
There are two quarterbacks in this year’s draft class who will emerge as stars, without question—UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold.
Now, as a UCLA fan, I may be slightly biased towards Rosen over Darnold, but as an unbiased member of the media, I will say that both of them are great talents. They both have beautiful mechanics, have succeeded statistically in a challenging conference, and have each showcased their talents on the highest level.
Darnold can scramble more and he’s tougher, but can take some huge home run shots, like Andrew Luck. He isn’t perfect, as he turned the ball over 21 times last season, but he has all the tools and the performance to back it up, that could make him into a special player.
Rosen, on the other hand, played with minimal talent and disappointing coaching around him. He may not have won games, but he had amazing decision making, put up great numbers, and proved himself more valuable than anyone else in clutch moments. He led his team from down 34 points to defeat powerful SEC program Texas A&M, tallying 292 yards and four touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone, and completed the comeback on a perfect fake spike that totally fooled his opponent. He put up great stats and showed his pro-level pocket awareness by being the best pro-style passer in the nation.
However, a lot of analysts are somehow overlooking the two studs from Southern California. Why? Who knows.
Maybe the steam on their hype trains ran out too early. Maybe casual fans aren’t familiar enough with them because they didn’t play in the College Football Playoffs. Maybe NFL fans on the East coast didn’t get to watch enough of their games due to the time difference. It’s a mystery.
There are mock drafts that have Allen going No. 1 and Mayfield going No. 5, with Darnold and Rosen potentially falling out of the top 10. If any team passes on those two for Allen or Mayfield, that team should be dissolved.
In all honesty, I pray that the scouts for the teams at the top of the draft don’t overlook them too. They are generational talents, and much more suited for the NFL game than Mayfield or Allen—and don’t even get me started on Lamar Jackson.
There needs to be balance in our analysis of NFL prospects, especially for quarterbacks. You can’t sit me down and tell me a streaky, underdeveloped guy from a poor conference will be great because he has some imaginary “it” factor. You also can’t tell me that some tiny diva who throws up bombs on bad defenses is going to be great either. There’s a double standard in this discussion, and with all of this time on our hands, our analysis gets worse and worse.
The NFL Draft circuit is when we as football fans can fantasize about the future of our favorite teams and our favorite college football players. We discover new talent, we get new jerseys and get to see our teams solidify their rosters for the season ahead. But in today’s world of clickbait news and hot takes, people are constantly coming up with “new” analysis, over analyzing other people’s analysis and simply pulling stuff out of their butts to try to seem like they know what they’re talking about.
I won’t act like I’m an expert either—I’m not a professional scout. Josh Allen could very well end up going in the top ten, and there are dozens of people working for some NFL team who have taken several months to make that decision. But just because they’re professionals doesn’t mean they’re right.
Talk to me in a year, or maybe in five years, or ten. When Rosen and Darnold are taking over the league while Allen and Mayfield have faded into obscurity, I’ll be here, giving everyone a nice dose of “told you so” for good measure.