Though ESPN talking heads who remain silent for most of the year outside of early spring such as Mel Kiper and Todd McShay would like you to believe differently, predicting the annual NFL Draft in April is largely a crapshoot.
In an acknowledgment of that reality, the hosts of the No. 1 sports radio show in the country, Felger & Massarotti on The Sports Hub in Boston, blindly throw markers at draft guides that have been taped to a whiteboard in order to predict who the Patriots will select. Nearly every year, they get at least one hit.
While unquestionably a little silly, the Felger & Massarotti bit does a good job of underscoring the absurdity of analysts producing months of pre-draft coverage and giving seemingly endless predictions that often end up amounting to a hill of beans once the dust has settled and the seven rounds of the draft are complete.
As Trey Wingo, who used to cover the draft for ESPN but will be working it this year while fulfilling his role as a chief trends officer and brand ambassador for Caesars Sportsbook, points out, there is actually a method to the meaninglessness.
“The NFL is really good at two things: making money and holding our attention. That, if we’re being honest about it, is the strength of the pre-draft process. They have found a way to hold our attention,” Wingo tells InsideHook. “March Madness used to be about college basketball. Last time I checked, a lot more people were talking about the craziness in NFL free agency in March than they were about the basketball tournament. I think all through April and late March is sort of the pre-draft industrial complex.” (Admittedly, some of it is entertaining.)
So what else does 58-year-old Wingo think about the pre-draft process and what will go down this year outside of Caesars Forum in Las Vegas on Thursday night? We caught up with him last week to find out.
InsideHook: Before the draft, what do you think about the Combine and players doing Pro Days?
Trey Wingo: If you’re a player who did well at the Combine and is grading out in the first round, why would you want to go through a Pro Day? At this point, Pro Days have become more about the colleges. It’s a recruiting tool to get kids to sign up at that college, as much as anything else. There are people who need Pro Days, but if you’re grading out as a first-round pick, tell me what the benefit is for you in potentially risking injury and losing millions of dollars. To me, there are two conflicting agendas in the run-up to the draft. Every player is trying to maximize their value and every team is trying to devalue the pick because they want to try and get it at a lesser level. Everything that comes out between the end of the season and the draft comes out for a reason. I always say it would be hilarious if we did two drafts. Do one right after the college football season ended and then another after all these months of workouts and Instagram posts and TikTok videos. They would be remarkably different and you know what would have changed? Nothing. Nothing would have changed because the tape is the tape is the tape is the tape.
What do you make of the zany pre-draft phrases that are used to describe players by prognosticators?
Like, “He’s a great mauler inside a phone booth” or “He has tremendous bend.” They’re buzzwords, but some of those things are true and applicable. But at the end of the day, you can have all those skills, but if they don’t show on the tape, why does it matter? It’s not about highlight-type plays. I’m talking about definable traits you see when they’re playing that you think translate to the next level of football. A 40-yard time for an offensive lineman is the dumbest thing of all time. I don’t care. The only time my offensive lineman is going to run 40 yards is when it’s a long touchdown play or they’re trying to recover a fumble. Now a 10-yard split for an offensive lineman? Absolutely. You have to put everything in its proper context. A draft is based on potential.
How much potential talent is there in this year’s draft?
It’s going to be only the seventh time in the last eight years where a quarterback is not going to go No. 1. Going back to 2001, it’ll only be the sixth time a quarterback isn’t going No. 1. This is a really interesting draft in terms of the depth of the field. It’s not top-heavy and we don’t have a bunch of guys that are going to be Pro Bowlers and All-Pros right off the top. But because of the two COVID football seasons, a lot of players hung back to get that extra year. You’re going to have a deeper draft at almost every position besides quarterback. You’re going to find a lot of really, really good players in this draft. Not superstars and not names, but really good players. It’s a really good draft to have a lot of picks.
So who do you have going No. 1 overall in your mock draft?
I never went the mock draft route. I let the Kipers and the McShays of the world do that. All I can tell you is it will be carnage this year. This might be the worst year for mock drafts ever. There’s no consensus, even on the No. 1 overall pick. Is it [Michigan defensive end Aidan] Hutchinson? Is it [defensive end Travon] Walker out of Georgia? Is it going to be an offensive lineman? It’s just not going to be a quarterback-driven draft. It’s going to be about edge rushers and wide receivers. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but there’s a possibility this could be the first-ever draft where the top 10 picks do not include someone who touches the ball [a quarterback, wide receiver, tight end or running back]. That’s never happened. It’s possible it could happen this year.
Predictions rarely pan out and mock drafts are usually wrong, yet we love the draft. Why?
Because we’re addicted to football. People say baseball used to be America’s pastime. The NFL is not America’s pastime; the NFL is America’s addiction. We need a hit, for lack of a better term. Free agency, Pro Days and all this stuff keeps us going. It gives us that little hit of football we all need in our lives. The NFL has done a remarkable job of turning things into events. The Combine used to be just for scouts and talent evaluators and now it’s in primetime. The draft was the originator of that. At the 2018 draft in Dallas, I ran into two people from Scotland who recognized me. “We were trying to decide what event we should travel between the Super Bowl and the draft,” they said. “We decided on the draft because it would be three days of excitement with the NFL, whereas the Super Bowl would just be an afternoon.” That’s what this has become. It’s a spectacle. It’s a must-see TV event and the beauty of the draft is nobody’s wrong. It gives every team hope. You can have your opinion about this pick over that pick, but it doesn’t matter until they play. Nobody’s wrong on draft day.