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The NFL Draft Looms

I cannot wait for the NFL Draft. Not because I'm a huge draftnik, but because I can't wait for NFL's silly season to end. College recruiting is dirty, unseemly, and let's face it, pretty creepy. But at least it's not the NFL Draft which is pretty much an exercise in trying to convince ourselves that watching guys running drills is more important than four years of watching them play football.

The NFL Draft is a media created event to keep us all interested in the offseason. Hey, there's nothing wrong with a league hyping itself up to stay on the front pages, baseball's Hot Stove League is often more interesting than the pennant race in some divisions. Offseason maneuvering and front office moves are pretty entertaining.

But that's not what the NFL Draft is. The NFL Draft is when we all pretend we are expert scouts. Mel Kiper's made draft expertise a cottage industry and good for him, when he started, no one was doing what he did. But now we're overwhelmed with imitators and charlatons who do nothing but feed the hype machine.

In the first modern NFL draft, there wasn't a combine, there weren't millions of scouts and batteries of tests to run players through, and there wasn't a prime time media special dedicated to old men selecting college kids to play football. Somehow, armed only with a Street and Smith's magazine and some film, the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to select Terry Bradshaw with the first pick. In the third round, the Steelers were able to take another Hall of Famer, Mel Blount. Gee, how were they able to indetify talent without accurate 40 times?

Sure, the combine and all of the fancy scouting and statistical analysis is important, but at the end of the day, teams need to draft good football players. And not just that, good players have a better chance to become great players when drafted by good organizations. The difference between a good organization and a bad organization is simple: a good organization focuses on what a player can do and puts him in a position to succeed at it, while a bad organization focuses on what a player can't do and repeatedly tries to put a square peg in the round hole.

There's a reason the New England Patriots keep having great drafts and the Dallas Cowboys keep having bad ones, and it really doesn't have anything to do with how they draft. To be a draft bust, you need a bit of a perfect storm: yes, you need a player who underperforms, but you also need a failure of coaching which puts a player in a position to fail. It only partly matters who you draft, but really, bad organizations don't suddenly become good just because they draft Robert Griffin III.

To me, the only question is the same as the one you ask in recruiting: can this guy play football? I hate to pick on the guy because I think he's a good player, but I wonder how a guy like Ryan Tannehill is suddenly a probable top ten pick. He had a decent career and I thought the way he moved from wide receiver to quarterback was pretty impressive. If Tannehill played for LSU, we likely win the national title last year. So it's not like he stinks or anything.

However, let's put his performance in perspective. Tannehill ranked near the middle of Division 1 in yards/game, passer rating, and yards/attempt. He put up these numbers in a conference not exactly known for its stellar pass defenses. Tannehill was a good college quarterback, particularly for a converted receiver, but he wasn't even a top ten quarterback last season, and now he's a top ten player, regardless of position? How did that happen?

Yeah, I know teams are desperate for quarterbacks, so will reach for a guy. But why Tannehill? I'm no scout and couldn't break down their throwing motions or anything, but I do watch a lot of football. I can also read a stat sheet. And Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill. As an LSU fan, if I could have had any player in the country to add to my team, on the condition I couldn't have a Heisman finalist, I would have taken Cousins. LSU needed a talented quarterback and an offensive leader, and Cousins has both talent and leadership in spades.

He threw for more yards, had a higher passer rating, higher yards/attempt, and a better completion percentage than Tannehill. He also lead Michigan State, hardly a traditional Big Ten power, to the Big Ten title game and played Wisconsin to a virtual draw twice. OK, he played poorly in his bowl game, but if you don't draft a guy based on how poorly he played in an exhibition game, which his team won, then I don't know what to tell you.

The NFL Draft process is a four month gauntlet to come up with the conclusion that a guy who won less, put up worse stats, and has less experience is a far more higher rated prospect. Ryan Tannehill might end up having a better career than Kirk Cousins, but you cannot convince me that Tannehill is a better player than Cousins right now. It runs counter to everything we have seen over their college careers.

I don't have a crystal ball, so I don't know how their pro careers will play out. But for all of the advanced scouting we have these days, teams might be better off if they just carried in a beat up copy of Street and Smith's. They would at least draft good football players. Just find a coach who can make them great.