Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shams And Mockeries

Among my least favorite overused tropes in all of sports is the phrase "if the playoffs started today ..."  Writers, bloggers, and talking heads use this as a convenient opener all the time to emphasize whatever point they're trying to make.  As in: "The Rangers are great.  If the playoffs started today, they would have the best record in baseball."  Ostensibly, yes, this is correct, and in an extreme case could be taken as "proof" by some idiots that the Rangers are a good baseball team ... but we knew they were already.  Also, the playoffs don't start today.  They're months away and the infinite permutations of a 162-game season pretty much guarantee that the Rangers will not have the best record in baseball for the entirety of that time, and probably won't hold it when the playoffs actually do start.  In other words, making statements predicated upon incomplete data when you know things are going to shift and change before the final outcome is pure hooey.  This is different from preseason predictions or even game previews because nobody (including those who actually get paid to make them) really takes the former seriously and the latter occur in a compact enough time span that significant unforeseen factors like injuries while the event is taking place are the exception rather than the rule.  "If the playoffs started today ..." is a meaningless snapshot of a terrain everyone knows is going to get hit by a cataclysmic earthquake tomorrow and probably by a catgeroy-5 tornado next week.  It's extrapolating off the edge of a cliff.    It's infuriating and ultimately worthless.

Which brings me to a very simple question I would like to pose that, for some reason, only occurred to me today: why in the hell do we even have NFL mock drafts?

I'm not talking about the "Big Board" concept, mind you.  I love that thing.  It's concise and wonderfully informative.  I consider myself pretty savvy where college football is concerned, but I don't have time to watch and re-watch the innumerable hours of film necessary to create a comprehensive draft ranking for some random Fresno State left tackle, much less a hierarchy encompassing every single eligible player.  Therefore, I am grateful to those who synthesize all the game film, Scouting Combine results and Wonderlic scores (futile though they may be), theoretical comps to other NFL players, and various intangibles (whatever the hell that word means) into actualized rankings of the probable value of these guys at the NFL level.  Probable, of course, being the key word there.  The transition from college to the pros is treacherous and unpredictable, and even the most dedicated and knowledgeable of analysts can and will occasionally look like fools in hindsight.  On the whole, though, their evaluations are relatively sound jumping points.  It's a relatively quick way to inform oneself of where good value might, MIGHT be found outside of the ten or so big names every year.

No, the Big Board is fine.  It's the actual mock drafts that drive me nuts.  Why would you even create such a thing?  Why do we pay people to do this?  Any mock draft's ostensible mission is to thoroughly and accurately plot out what each team will do with their picks all the way down the line.  Outside of the usually-obvious top 6-8 picks, the degree of difficulty here is exponentially greater than that of, say, correctly predicting every game of a March Madness bracket.  Even if everything about the draft stayed perfectly static starting right after the season ended, it'd still be patently impossible to really say who Jacksonville is taking with their 5th-round pick.  And, of course, virtually nothing stays static.  Free Agency and trades can completely alter a team's most pressing needs.  Maybe said team brought in a new head coach or coordinator who has a very different conception of the type of personnel they want to best execute their vision.  Maybe players get in off-season trouble of one variety or another that prevents them from returning to the team.  Maybe they retire.  And this is just the current-roster/coaching staff side of things.  You know, normal football stuff.  The real mock-killer eschatologies usually come from those who do not occupy the huddle or the sidelines on Sundays. 

There is no period in the sports year filled with more obfuscation, misdirection, and outright lying than the two weeks leading up to the NFL draft.  Agents, front office mouthpieces, media; everyone has an agenda to raise, lower, or disregard entirely the stock of various members of the incoming draft class.  A million trades and swaps involving picks are rumored, dismissed, revived, consummated, un-consummated, and finally either completed or not.  Just yesterday the Falcons tossed the Eagles a seventh-round draft pick for Asante Samuel.  Just that one transaction (MAYBE) altered four things for mock drafters: the Falcons (POSSIBLY) are no longer looking to draft a corner, the Falcons now have one less pick in the draft, Philly now has one more pick in the draft, and they will (PERHAPS) look to use a pick on a lesser corner to cover slot receivers and augment or add depth to the Rodgers-Cromartie/Asomugha tandem.  You see where I'm going here, right?  That one transaction just shuffled everyone's expectations of how the Falcons and Eagles will approach their drafts.  By extension, this will also have tertiary impacts on lord knows how many other teams' selections.  It's a recursive formula, only the recursion equation keeps tweaking itself mid-calculation.  Totally inane.

Mel Kiper's "final" Mock Draft 5.0 is up on as of 11:01 AM ET.  Guess what he says right there in the introductory paragraph?
I'm breaking my own rules for this one. Here's the deal: After talking with a lot of teams, my sense is the board is going to be shaken up a good deal by trades. I'm not talking about four or five major deals in the first round, but for these purposes, even one that falls inside the top 10 picks will alter the board. That's how it happened last year, even when it was no surprise that Atlanta moved up to get Julio Jones. So while I've always waited for the deals to be completed before putting them in a mock, I'm going to go ahead and put one in. I'll throw the first salvo this year before trades inevitably make a mess of any projection.
So, then.  Ol' Mel, god bless his obnoxious, overly-coiffed mane of semi-mullet, makes no bones of the fact that his "finalized" mock is essentially going to turn into a train wreck sometime between now and when they lock the doors and shut off the lights at Radio City Music Hall tonight.  In war rooms around the league right now, a good many very stressed-out people are plotting ways to scam their fellow curators-of-the-team's-future out of something and better their own stake in the talent pool.  Those decisions and how others react to them will take all of Kiper's (and McShay's and everyone else's) dedicated and careful hours of study and thought and turn them into, well, a mockery.

Which brings me back to my original query: what exactly is the point of having mock drafts?  Look, we're going to need all of the mock creators in a few hours.  They have, after all, dedicated the past 360-some-odd days to knowing everything they possibly can about tonight.  Once the names start coming of the board and that intricate chain of dominoes starts falling in earnest, the draft gurus will be more well-equipped than anyone else to say how X can/will (MIGHT) affect Y.  Irritating as they can be, this is the milieu in which they are the most informative and useful.  That's a pretty miniscule  portion of time given how many hours they actually put into this.

Stick to the Big Boards, people.  Why you go to the trouble of creating and re-creating a hypothetical scenario that, even in its most "final" format has virtually zero chance of becoming reality, is beyond me.  It must be incredibly frustrating.  It certainly is to read it.  No more mocks.  Please.  

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