We understand by now how ridiculous it all is, but that never stops us from embracing every last bit of it.
The NFL Draft is, at its essence, a largely un-American disbursement of human beings to various cities around the country that gives them little control of their professional lives in exchange for some money. It’s imbued with unsubtle overtones of shameful auctions that once prized physical attributes to enhance business. It is a crass affair of commissioner bro-hugs, unseemly speechifying and impossibly drawn conclusions, over-lit and overexposed for our seemingly boundless consumption.
Novelty and optimism reign, tantalizing us with even the slimmest chance that brighter days lie ahead for whichever team provides our weekly three-and-a-half hours of distraction. We watch executives go shopping for football groceries, following the lists of items prioritized by experts so we know what we’re getting.
It’s all insane, since it’s always wrong.
Almost every prediction ends up missing the mark, from mock drafts to first-blush grades. Half of the first-rounders will prove to be bad at football, and by the end of the regular season we know that almost a quarter of all active NFL players will have been undrafted entirely, called to action from their jobs as bouncers, salesmen and high-school coaches to fill in for those debilitated by injury. Once referred to as “street free agents,” they are now described more favorably as being part of a team’s “ready list,” snapping into action to replace somebody more familiar who had his foot torn off in December.
The draft is a storm that blows through, arriving with a surge of excitement and drama that floods everything, whipping up a weekend of climactic coverage before receding into rounds of hopeful chest-pounding from GMs and recriminations from fans. We figure out who some of these guys are, dig through their Twitter feeds for any silly thing they may have posted as teenagers and then forget them until training camp.
It is entirely about possibility, ignoring the concept of probability. No accounting of all of the team’s past failures can keep this year’s crop from looking like the one that could finally change everything, no matter the mountain of evidence that proves the greater likelihood of failure. This is not the time for that, apparently.
This is for the celebration of acquisition, opening gifts under the tree that will soon bore us after the rush dissipates. And now more than ever we understand the grim commitment being made, watching fresh-faced kids with their families and knowing that these brains already bounced around too much are in for more destruction for our amusement.
Any honest fantasy-sports enthusiast will tell you that the enterprise is really all about the draft, the coming together of participants for that one orgiastic night of selecting teams, making deals, embracing hope and coming away with renewed belief that everything went your way, unburdened by the reality of actual outcomes. And so we project such feeling on the NFL’s distributive circus, projecting more positives than negatives and conveniently ignoring the game-to-game slog of the season.
Those of us who save our annual draft guides by some combination of laziness and commitment are amused when given the chance to look back on the festivities of some previous year. The guys on the cover are out of the game, a few names buried in small paragraphs in late pages are transcendent stars, and the rest are now just as unknown as ever, after all of it.