Thursday, April 30, 2015

Feeling a draft

The NFL Draft is a sitcom in search of a laugh track.

It's what would happen if you took Howard Wolowitz and Sheldon Cooper from "The Big Bang Theory" and tossed them in a giant blender with a hair stylist, chef-with-anger-issues Gordon Ramsay and Coach Taylor from "Friday Night Lights." Hit puree. Chill for five minutes, because, as we all know, absurd over-analysis is a dish best served cold.

For days and weeks and even months ahead of the actual draft, which begins tonight and goes on until Bill Belichick growls "Knock it off, already,"  Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay and various assistants to the draft gurus slowly have been driving themselves insane trying to know the unknowable. Like, who's got more ultimate upside, Marcus Mariota or Jameis "Hey, Those Aren't My Crab Legs" Winston? Is USC defensive end Leonard Williams the best player in the draft? Who is Leonard Williams? Is he related to the late and dearly missed Leonard Nimoy?

(Sorry about that last one. The Trekkie in me just comes out sometimes. I'm getting help).

Mel and Todd and the assistants consistently guessify these things, conducting all manner of mock drafts (a splendid name if ever there was one). And all the while understanding that the front office people to whom they're surgically attached are probably lying through their bicuspids.

It's surely a hellish existence, relying on the word of people whose job it is to deceive. Must be a bit like covering the Indiana statehouse.

In any case, there are no lengths to which Mel and Todd and the assistants will not go to get it right. Absolutely true story: ESPN actually has something called a Production Analytics crew, and it has actually come up with something called the Total Quarterback Rating, a formula to "help teams reduce the risk of drafting the wrong quarterback." Why ESPN thinks it's its job to do this is a question for another Blob, although it's the oldest of news by now that the Worldwide Leader functions less as a news organization than a carny shouter for its various broadcast properties.

But back to the Total Quarterback Rating. According to ESPN's own website, it takes a player’s college stats (adjusted for defenses faced), physical measurements, scout grades and play-type frequencies in college and throw them into our aforementioned blender. Then it judges a QB's success over his first four years on passing plays, running plays, sacks taken and penalties incurred.

Based on all that, the quarterback in this year's draft most likely to succeed is Gandhi.

OK, so that's a lie. It's actually Mel Kiper Jr.'s bulletproof hair (marketed by ESPN Properties as The Hair Helmet, now on sale at a fine sporting goods establishment near you).

OK, so that's a lie, too. It's Mariota. He'll be better than Winston even though no quarterback who's ever come out of Oregon's spread system has ever succeeded in the NFL. But he didn't steal any crab legs and doesn't have a civil suit hanging over his head for sexually assaulting a young woman, so Mariota's the guy.

What this means is the actual quarterback who'll wind up being the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning is neither Mariota nor Winston. It will be some guy from Bilgewater Tech who, like Brady, won't get taken until the sixth round.

I know this because I've created my own Total Quarterback Rating, which I've cleverly named the Blob Total Quarterback Rating. It's totally different than the ESPN Total Quarterback Rating. Instead of measuring passing stats, scout grades and play-type frequencies, it measures what I like to call the "intangibles."

 Among them:

1. Who's got the coolest name?

(This works except when it doesn't, like with a college quarterback who was named, for real, Prince McJunkins. He never played a down in the NFL).

2. How much does he know about Ryan Leaf?

(If he can quote Leaf's rap sheet verbatim, pass on him).

3. Can he boil water?

(A nod to Peyton Manning's fabled ineptitude at even the simplest household chores. There's a story, probably apocryphal, that his mom had to come up from New Orleans to program his TV for him. So if you're undecided who to pick, go for the guy who's locked himself out of his car).

4. Does he have tight skin?

(True story: During the run-up to the draft one year, Mel or some assistant to the guru actually said former Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson would be a great pick because he had "tight skin." It was almost as silly as hearing another assistant to the guru mark down an offensive lineman because he was a "waist-bender").

5. How does he spend his weekends? Reading the playbook? Watching wholesome Disney favorites like "That Darn Cat" and anything with Hayley Mills in it? Drinking nothing stronger than herbal tea and spending the hours until evening vespers in silent contemplation with the rest of his Trappist brethren?

(If you answered "yes" to any of these, run like hell from this guy. Pick Gandhi instead).

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