Tonight, 32 players will walk across the stage at Radio City Music Hall, jam awful-looking hats on their heads and finally begin their NFL careers in earnest after months of waiting and preparing. More importantly, it means that the preposterous cycle of media coverage that leads up to the NFL draft will end, and Mel Kiper, Jr., Todd McShay and their cronies can all retreat to the respective bridges they live under.
More importantly, the first round of the draft will finally signal the end of the months-long “debate” of whether the Colts should pick Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III with the first overall pick. I can’t fully express how excited I am about the end of this debate, because, quite frankly, I am sick of seeing (and hearing about) Robert Griffin III. It’s not because I’m worried that the Colts will flip-flop and pick Griffin first or because I’m jealous that Griffin ended up with the Heisman this year, but it’s because I think Griffin’s rise to become the new poster child of the NFL represents everything that’s wrong with the NFL draft.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Griffin is nowhere near as good as Luck, and yet, many draft experts spin us the story that Griffin would be a better pick. Why? Because Griffin is a far more exciting player to watch play football.
Several times a game, he makes one of those “oh-shit-how-did-he-do-that” plays that ends up in the SportsCenter Top 10. Meanwhile, Luck’s highlight tape is full of short, on-target passes flecked with the occasional long run and a single one-handed catch against UCLA. Luck’s brilliance is understated, and only comes through after repeated viewing, while Griffin’s video-game good plays make you jump out of your seat. You don’t need to see a Powerpoint presentation to see why Griffin is a great college football player.
And because Griffin is so exciting to watch, draft experts have conveniently obscured the fact that he ran a (somewhat gimmicky) spread offense at Baylor, never had to take snaps from under center (a necessary skill in the NFL) and got all his plays from the sideline and never was required to make passes that required complex reads of a defense. While Griffin was an accurate passer, a fast runner and an all-around delight to watch play football, things that should be major question marks (or at least big developmental steps in Griffin’s NFL career) have basically been overlooked.
What’s more, Griffin has only really had one outstanding season, and went from a guy that was above average, but essentially unheard-of outside the Big 12 to a “surefire NFL star” in just one year. For a lot of prospects, a one-year breakout makes scouts wonder where all that performance was beforehand, but apparently nobody has questioned that about Griffin’s game.
Second, Griffin irks me because he’s inescapable. He’s a total media darling, or as Sports Illustrated writer Peter King says, he’s the beneficiary of “the circle-jerking of a jillion of us covering the draft for far, far too long.” Griffin’s catchy nickname, engaging personality and inability to say “no” to a photo shoot or video interview means he’s been showing up everywhere, all the time. In contrast to Luck, who eschews the spotlight at almost every opportunity, RG3 is on the cover of every magazine’s NFL draft issue this week, rocking his ridiculous socks and absurd arm sleeve. And because he’s so beloved by the media, it means he’s the spotlight of the worst part of NFL draft coverage: specious criticism. Every year, the media trumps up insane criticisms, like a scout’s recent observation that Griffin is “selfish.” Why does this bother me? Because after I hear Kiper and McShay talk about Griffin being “selfish” for 10 straight hours on SportsCenter, I feel like drinking a big bottle of cyanide. Perhaps I just need to stop watching ESPN’s draft coverage, but unfortunately, their influence in setting the agenda in sports is so great that it’s unavoidable as well.
But all of that’s coming to an end tonight, when Luck will stride across the stage first, shake Roger Goodell’s hand, and awkwardly pose for thousands of pictures. And, for the first time in months, Luck can bask in that sublime moment on his own, while Griffin, the guy on every magazine cover, has to wait his turn.
Jack Blanchat prefers drinking cyanide to drinking the RG3 Kool-Aid. Compare the relative tastes of these two dangerous liquids at blanchat “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter @jmblanchat.