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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Shut the Window, Please, I Feel a Draft

I just can't get really interested in the NFL draft.
There, I said it.
I'm tempted to add that every player chosen is Mr. Irrelevant to me, but that would be merely glib and semi-witty (i.e., worthy of a half-wit) rather than true, so I'll resist the temptation.
Oh, I know, it's an off-season fix for the pro football junkie, it's a profession for people like Mel Kiper Jr., who would otherwise be collecting unemployment, and it's created a cottage industry, mock drafting, a springtime ritual for thousands and thousands of NFL front-office wannabes.
If you thank that's an exaggeration, try a Google search for "NFL mock draft." I just did, and it turned up 306,000 results.
If only all that energy could be put to use doing something worthwhile. . . of course, I could also think such wistful thoughts about all the energy being wasted on blogging, so maybe I better not go there.
The truly remarkable aspect of the draft, though, is that so many professionals spend so much time working on it. I mean all the scouts, coaches, and player personnel people. Granted, like the fans, they don't have much else to do at this time of the year. Still, the amount of work they put into the draft is out of all proportion to the results.
Certain sports pundits are fond of smirking about the practically prehistoric days when an NFL team's scouting department was no more than a Street and Smith football magazine.
The smirk, needless to say, springs from a sense of superiority because the system is so much better now. Prospects are poked, prodded and probed. Their intelligences are tested, their psyches analyzed. their bodies exercised and evaluated, their reflexes rated and ranked.
Yet the results don't seem all that different. I've been following pro football for more than 50 years, which goes back to the Street and Smith days, and I don't remember a bigger draft bust than Ryan Leaf.
And Leaf, it should be noted, was not just a mistake by the San Diego Chargers. Virtually every other NFL team, drafting in San Diego's spot, would have selected him, and all of the pundits applauded the choice at the time.
It hardly qualfies as a scientific sample, but I took a quick look at the players chosen first in each draft from two decades 50 years apart, the 1940s and the 1990s.
Those 10 choices during the 1940s accounted for three Hall of Famers: Bill Dudley (1942), Charley Trippi (1945), and Chuck Bednarik (1949). Three other players had moderately successful pro careers: Harry "Rags" Gilmer (1948), George Cafego (1940), and Frank Sinkwich (1943). The other four played in the NFL for three seasons or less. (One of those was Tom Harmon, the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner, whose career was shortened by serious injuries suffered during World War II.)
The books haven't been closed on the top draft choices of the 1990s, but two of them appear to be future Hall of Famers: Orlando Pace (1997) and Payton Manning (1998). Five have had respectable NFL careers: Jeff George (1990), Russell Maryland (1991), Drew Bledsoe (1993), Dan Wilkinson (1994), and Keyshawn Johnson (1996). The other three are essentially flops: Steve Emtman (1992), Ki-Jana Carter (1995), and Tim Couch (1999). (In Emtman's case, of course, injuries were to blame.)
Not that big a difference, is there? Not enough to justify all the extra work that goes into the process now, anyway.