I got a little carried away with pre-NFL Draft excitement yesterday and wrote the following on Twitter:
I’d like to take that back after observing the first round of the NFL Draft last night.
The NFL’s version of the hiring process is the most demeaning, dehumanizing and demoralizing spectacle you’ll ever witness. And you probably witnessed it, too, which is amazing, considering there were NBA and NHL playoffs airing simultaneously. There were actual movies playing, but you chose to watch a casting call.
I was employed by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 in a non-football related position. (They already had an offensive line coach, so, I took what I could.) That was the year the Vikings drafted running back Adrian Peterson, a player for whom there were concerns based on a few injuries he suffered in college. Peterson, who would become the consensus No. 1 running back in the NFL by his second season, was the seventh player picked in the 2007 NFL Draft. By any measure, the Vikings got a steal.
I remember spending August in Gage Complex during training camp, seeing this well-to-do guy from the South walking around training camp ,wide-eyed, shaking the hand of anyone willing to bear his grip. (I can confirm it is outrageously firm.) It took a good 40 men, 1,000 hours of research and millions of dollars to get him into a Vikings jersey. Still, he looked to me like any new guy on the job. Truly, a rookie.
That’s what gets lost in the NFL Draft. You can compare 40-yard dash times, Wonderlic test scores, criminal records, and religious affiliations all day, but when it comes down to it, you’re still hiring a kid. The process is a brutal one, too. It’s transparent, with pundits and analysts flooding the industry left and right to inundate us with their opinion on who is overrated or underrated, who has character concerns and who has tremendous upside.
Take Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was the starting quarterback for Notre Dame for three seasons before foregoing his senior season to declare for the draft. In high school, Clausen was given the label “the LeBron James of Football” by his private quarterback coach. Sports Illustrated, always hungry to predict the next prodigy, took that sentiment and ran with it. There were even whispers by some that if Clausen could — which NFL rules clearly stated he couldn’t — declare for the NFL Draft out of high school, he may have been serviceable. Not game ready, but someone who could learn for a few years and then play.
Instead, Clausen waited and watched as he was passed by 28 teams in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. It wasn’t for lack of ability. Everyone agrees Clausen is the second-most mechanically sound quarterback in this year’s draft, behind the No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. However, there remain questions about his intangibles — his attitude, his leadership skills, his ability to earn the respect of players a decade his senior. Imagine graduating at the top of your Harvard Law class and you get rejected by the first 28 firms to view your resume.
That’s got to sting a little bit.
The NFL Draft is a brutally honest hiring process. Granted, there isn’t a single athlete who’s draft-eligible that doesn’t recognize their own shortcomings and weaknesses. You don’t become an elite athlete — which many of these kids are — and not have total awareness of your pros and cons. Still, that makes it no easier when greasy 50-somethings who never played the game — you know who I’m talking about — make their check by picking apart your entire existence just so their mock draft results have justification.
So a guy runs a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Do you know how fast that is? 4.4 might be an ideal speed for a running back prospect, but if you or I ran 40 yards that fast, we’d probably blow out our faces. We’d leave the scene in a wheelchair. We would look more fondly upon a sedentary lifestyle.
We football fans know everything when it comes to rating 21-year-old men, right? We’ve watched enough college football to know who is going to be great and who’s going to be a bust. Now, think back to yourself at age 21. Put yourself under a magnifying glass. Check your own history. Would you hire you? Would you want your past made subject to a scouting report, so that every future employer could be aware of your potential or lack thereof?
I would like to flip-flop really, really hard on the statement I made 24 hours ago. Have mercy on these young men trying to fulfill their dream and be grateful you don’t have to be drafted. Point and laugh at the Jimmy Clausens who wait, anxiously, and remain unemployed, but know that things might not be so different for yourself if you were put through the same ringer.