The Penalty Box: The Draft Is About Hoping

May 1, 2024 at 8:00 a.m.


The NFL Draft has become a spectacle unlike any other non-game-related event in the world.
Over 750-thousand people gathered in Detroit for seven rounds of choosing 257 players over three days.
It’s an incredible scene where fans anxiously wait to see who their team will select for the sole purpose of making that team better and lead them to the NFL championship.
That’s what is supposed to be, anyway.
But like there is nothing guaranteed in life but death and taxes, there is nothing guaranteed in the NFL Draft except that teams chose players, and no one forced them to choose anyone.
And in the NFL, there are no players who are guaranteed to be good, let alone great. Even those who are drafted higher and appear to be the most talented and, therefore, most likely to succeed are also much more likely to be a bigger disappointment.
The two words that are in play here are “if” and “should”.
Let’s say a player is chosen by a team we will refer to as Team A.
Team A needs a significant upgrade at a given position on the field, and they decide to use one of their draft selections to fill that need.
Their team name comes up on the board, they see a player available who fits their need, it makes sense to take that player in that place, and they send in the card with that player’s name on it to the podium to be announced.
That’s how the draft works.
When all the selections are made and all of the players still available after the draft is over have been signed as undrafted free agents, Team A and all of the other teams hold a few days of practices to allow their coaches and players to get to know each other better and let their coaches see their new players interact with and compare their skills with their returning players.
That’s when those two words pop up.
“If” they chose the right player for the way they go about winning games.
“If” Team A surrounds them with the right people to give them enough success early on to build their confidence.
“If” they chose a player who is willing to do what the team asks them to do, especially when it might not be exactly what the player had done to earn them their draft status.
“If” they avoid the added rigor of being a football player in the National Football League and stay healthy.
“If” their agent and their friends and family stay out of their way and let them play football.
“If” all of that comes together for that player and that team, that player “should” reach their full potential in the league and make that choice to draft them be a wise one.
But, “if” any of that doesn’t follow the script of the common draft, then all bets are off.
Think about that. All of these things—every single one of them—has to come through or the cracks in the dam start to leak water. The cracks get bigger, and bigger, and it all falls apart.
Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it?
I can be if you buy into the process as it is currently constructed.
I don’t.
You will not catch me looking at draft recaps that include any sort of “grading” scale or “ranking” of teams by division, alphabetically or by their team colors.
Why?
Because no one who grades or ranks how a team did in their draft choices has the first clue how it’s going to work out for them. No one does! It’s impossible.
Let’s use the Bears as our example.
They traded up to get quarterback Justin Fields four years ago. It made total sense at the time, and everyone praised the Bears for making a bold move up to get a clear talent at the most important position in football. And they made the move just a few years after doing the same thing for Mitchell Trubisky and having it not work out.
Fields may be a bust in the final analysis, but we don’t know now, and we won’t know for sure until it’s all over.
Is Caleb Williams destined to be a star? We don’t know.
And that’s my point: no one knows. We have to wait and see.
I have been a Bears fan for all 56 years of my life, so I hope that what the Bears did last weekend will be exactly what they need to put them in the discussion for winning a lot of games and advancing deep into the playoffs.
But all that teams and their fans have now is hope--hope that they picked enough players that walk the tight rope to success, and it comes together to make a winner.

The NFL Draft has become a spectacle unlike any other non-game-related event in the world.
Over 750-thousand people gathered in Detroit for seven rounds of choosing 257 players over three days.
It’s an incredible scene where fans anxiously wait to see who their team will select for the sole purpose of making that team better and lead them to the NFL championship.
That’s what is supposed to be, anyway.
But like there is nothing guaranteed in life but death and taxes, there is nothing guaranteed in the NFL Draft except that teams chose players, and no one forced them to choose anyone.
And in the NFL, there are no players who are guaranteed to be good, let alone great. Even those who are drafted higher and appear to be the most talented and, therefore, most likely to succeed are also much more likely to be a bigger disappointment.
The two words that are in play here are “if” and “should”.
Let’s say a player is chosen by a team we will refer to as Team A.
Team A needs a significant upgrade at a given position on the field, and they decide to use one of their draft selections to fill that need.
Their team name comes up on the board, they see a player available who fits their need, it makes sense to take that player in that place, and they send in the card with that player’s name on it to the podium to be announced.
That’s how the draft works.
When all the selections are made and all of the players still available after the draft is over have been signed as undrafted free agents, Team A and all of the other teams hold a few days of practices to allow their coaches and players to get to know each other better and let their coaches see their new players interact with and compare their skills with their returning players.
That’s when those two words pop up.
“If” they chose the right player for the way they go about winning games.
“If” Team A surrounds them with the right people to give them enough success early on to build their confidence.
“If” they chose a player who is willing to do what the team asks them to do, especially when it might not be exactly what the player had done to earn them their draft status.
“If” they avoid the added rigor of being a football player in the National Football League and stay healthy.
“If” their agent and their friends and family stay out of their way and let them play football.
“If” all of that comes together for that player and that team, that player “should” reach their full potential in the league and make that choice to draft them be a wise one.
But, “if” any of that doesn’t follow the script of the common draft, then all bets are off.
Think about that. All of these things—every single one of them—has to come through or the cracks in the dam start to leak water. The cracks get bigger, and bigger, and it all falls apart.
Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it?
I can be if you buy into the process as it is currently constructed.
I don’t.
You will not catch me looking at draft recaps that include any sort of “grading” scale or “ranking” of teams by division, alphabetically or by their team colors.
Why?
Because no one who grades or ranks how a team did in their draft choices has the first clue how it’s going to work out for them. No one does! It’s impossible.
Let’s use the Bears as our example.
They traded up to get quarterback Justin Fields four years ago. It made total sense at the time, and everyone praised the Bears for making a bold move up to get a clear talent at the most important position in football. And they made the move just a few years after doing the same thing for Mitchell Trubisky and having it not work out.
Fields may be a bust in the final analysis, but we don’t know now, and we won’t know for sure until it’s all over.
Is Caleb Williams destined to be a star? We don’t know.
And that’s my point: no one knows. We have to wait and see.
I have been a Bears fan for all 56 years of my life, so I hope that what the Bears did last weekend will be exactly what they need to put them in the discussion for winning a lot of games and advancing deep into the playoffs.
But all that teams and their fans have now is hope--hope that they picked enough players that walk the tight rope to success, and it comes together to make a winner.

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