By MIKE HERNDON
When the NFL draft ended a couple weeks ago, most of us went through a similar routine. We reveled in the picks we liked. We debated those we didn’t. We looked up profiles on our favorite team’s obscure late-round picks. If we were foolish enough to attempt a pre-draft mock, we kept a low profile and hoped people forgot about it.
And we consulted at least one set of “draft grades” — and probably more.
What a waste of time.
Grades are post-draft boilerplate, with writers giving NFL teams marks like schoolchildren in order to keep the page-views rolling in after the commissioner has left the podium and Mr. Irrelevant has had his moment. Although the writers who craft them have done homework on many of these players before the draft, their post-draft hot takes aren’t much more than split hairs and guesses — because they are no more clairvoyant than any of the rest of us.
Let’s look, for example, at the Chicago Bears. They were the talk of the first round for their highly questionable trade up from the No. 3 overall pick to No. 2 in order to secure North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
The Bears’ draft, which also included Alabama safety Eddie Jackson and a second-round tight end from someplace called Ashland, was roundly panned. Sports Illustrated gave them a C-minus and, in breaking down the picks, gave the Trubisky selection a D. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave them a C-plus. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco gave them a D.
Most of the reason for this was the trade up to No. 2. Did they give up too much? On the face of it, yes. Aside from swapping first round picks, the Bears gave the 49ers third and fourth round picks this year and a third-rounder in 2018 — all to move up one spot. San Francisco GM John Lynch probably couldn’t say yes fast enough.
Stupid, right? D-minus.
Except reports after the draft noted that Chicago wasn’t likely the only team talking to the 49ers about trading up to 2. So the Bears knew — or at least had reason to believe — they had competition, and it was logical to assume that competition also had its sights set on a player considered by most to be the best quarterback prospect in the draft.
This Bears draft is ultimately going to be judged on Trubisky’s performance alone. If he bombs, this draft is a dud. If he becomes the next Aaron Rodgers — or even the next Matt Ryan — it won’t matter how many picks they gave up or whether they missed on a mid-round safety.
The Bears clearly, through their pre-draft evaluations, became sold that Trubisky was their guy. And that’s the most important thing when taking a quarterback high in the draft — you’ve got to be convinced he’s the one. You’re only going to play one — and he’s going to be the leader of your offense and probably the face of your franchise. If you bomb on this one decision, it can cut your franchise off at the knees for the next four or five years.
Is Trubisky that much better than Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson, either of whom the Bears likely could have gotten at 3? Time will tell. Trubisky certainly appeared to be the cleanest prospect of the three, with better footwork than Mahomes and a better arm than Watson.
Clearly the Bears liked Trubisky better by a wide margin. They’d better be right. But we won’t know for a year or two, at least.
Now consider this: The Bengals and Vikings were roundly praised for drafting Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, respectively, in the second round. There’s a reason for that — both seem to be first-round talents. But there’s also a reason they lasted until the second — Mixon punched a girl in the face (we’ve all seen the video) and Cook had a string a legal episodes, though he was convicted of no major charges.
If either of these guys, talented though they are, wind up falling into legal troubles in the NFL, those will have been wasted picks and no one can say the Bengals and Vikings didn’t see it coming.
It’ll be at least a couple years before any of us can say with any certainly whether any of these teams’ drafts were good or bad. But sports writers don’t have the luxury of waiting a couple years to offer their opinions. I can sympathize, having had to share opinions in my former life about college football recruiting classes with the ink still wet on the scholarship papers. I wasn’t always right.
It’s part of the job, and readers can usually find something in them with which to argue or support their own opinions.
Or they can do their own homework. They can watch some film — plenty of which can be found at draftbreakdown.com. They can draw their own conclusions.
Then they can wait and see like the rest of us.
(Photo by Senor Codo/Flickr)