In my formative years, my three favorite days on the sports calendar were the first round of the NCAA basketball tourney and the NFL draft. While the NCAA tourney continues to be an A+ event, the NFL Draft has gotten way too big for what it actually produces. What started out to be a little event that ESPN televised during the week has grown to a three-month event, which receives more coverage on sports radio than any sport besides the NFL regular season itself.
I get a little nostalgic thinking about the 1980s coverage, which basically consisted of Pro Football Weekly‘s Joel Buschbaum reciting his pre-draft guidebook and then pre-parody Chris Berman and Devo-headed Mel Kiper Jr. on selection day keeping us informed on what the teams were doing. The current atmosphere where everyone has become a draftnik on the call-in shows is misguided, considering that hardly any of the first round choices will be impact players. Where in the NBA one player can make a sizable difference since only five players on the court at one time, the NFL is a game of specialization which features 22 starters.
Just look at the past two years’ first rounders and tell me who made a real impact on their team. I would say that in 2005 you could point to Shawn Merriman and Cadillac Williams, while in 2004 it would be hard to point to anyone outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Johnathon Vilma. While some of these first rounders might really start to come into their own in 2006, most of them were lucky to just start as rookies. The odds are extremely stacked against your favorite team getting any impact player in the draft, as the best way to improve a team is to pick up second-tier free agents who have proven themselves in the NFL.
The best percentage play in choosing a player who can be an instant impact player is to get some high speed defensive lineman/outside linebacker, as that is a skill-set that doesn’t take as much of a learning curve. (See: Shawn Merriman, Dwight Freeney, and Julius Peppers.) Outside of this position, where pure speed can win out over strength and intelligence, rookies, no matter what round they are drafted in are projects which you hope will begin to make a major impact by year three. One could argue that drafting a pitcher who can close games is a better instant bang for the buck than any player chosen in the NFL Draft, but since the MLB Draft recieves less attention than Melanie Hutsell at an SNL cast reunion, very few are really aware of this. (Under category of Unaware, did you know Hutsell was a cast member for three years?)
The two new analysts I’ve noticed on ESPN’s baseball coverage are Orel Hershiser and Tino Martinez. Orel Leonard Hershiser is the best addition to ESPN’s coverage since Rick Sutcliffe, as he has a vast knowledge of the game, plus a rare ability of coming strong with his opinions early on in his broadcasting career. If I haven’t said it before let me say it again: I want more Orel.
Less Tino would be the other part of that chant, as Martinez is typical of so many other ex-jocks who go into broadcasting. Does anyone think that a player of his marginal talents would ever have been chosen if not for being a long-time Yankee? The thing I dislike most about him is the strange vocal inflection he has which reminds me of a character the great Phil Hendrie might have come up with. Martinez might possess the weirdest dialect to hit the airwaves since Joe Namath flopped in the Monday Night Football booth. Once again: More Orel, Less Tino.
After reading this story, I wonder when our boy Will is going to doing an Under the Knife column for the E! Network. I mean, considering his expertise on steroids, plus his addiction to the show Lost who better to cover this story?