My offseason on the blog has been quieter than I was expecting as it turns out that self-publishing a book is a time consuming business, but I have still been following along as the offseason progressed. It was however, kick-started into gear when the Gridiron Gentlemen were looking for people to take part in their mock draft, and in the spirit of curiosity I offered to lend a hand for the Bengals.
This was always going to be an interesting experience for me as I am not a college football fan, but I have been listening to college/draft analysis podcasts all season and as a Bengals fan I feel like I have a handle on what the team have been doing to have turned around their drafting fortunes. Gone are the days of spectacular busts, and thanks to multiple years of solid pick they have one of the deepest rosters in the league.
So I tried to model my drafting method on the Bengals own, so I planned to draft the best player available, but taking account of the positions involved. I don’t know much of my biases are based on opinion abut the draft and how much is following the Bengals as a fan, but for me in the first round you focus on key positions that are defined by particular physical traits. The only exception to this is if you need a quarterback as that is always the key position, but as the Bengals have two quarterbacks who won games last season, they were not in that market this year. The positions I would focus on in the first round are corners, offensive line tackles, pass rushers, wide receivers, and defensive tackles. Each of these positions are either particularly based around athleticism, or are hard to find as there simply are not that many athletic three hundred pound plus people on the planet. I did not have time to create my own draft board, so I chose one and focussed in on several players ranked around twenty-four, which is where the Bengals were picking.
Obviously I don’t have my own staff of scouts, but a couple of players had got my attention in the range that I was picking. My first target was Josh Doctson, one of the most complete receiving talents in the draft, and one that Robert Mays, ex of Grantland and now of Bill Simmon’s new venture The Ringer, was effusive in his match to the Bengals need at receiver and what he could do opposite AJ Green. Another was Mackenzie Alexander, who is a bit short the Bengals usual preference for corners, but who was something of a favourite of Fran Duffy both for his play, and for a press conference where he not only broke down one receiver that he had been asked about, but then continued through other receivers in the draft.
This is the graphic of the entire first round pick:
With two picks to go before me I liked three players, and Houston Texans took a receiver I didn’t want for my team I knew I would have a decision to make, but a good one and then the Minnesota Vikings took Josh Doctson. I plumped for Mackensie Alexander, knowing his size was less than ideal for the Bengals, but liking how he had played and I was not worried about the lack of interceptions. The Pittsburgh Steelers then took Eli Apple, who was probably a better fit, but it was my pick and I followed my heart at the position the Bengals eventually picked.
The interesting things is looking at the actual draft where the Bengals took corner William Jackson III so I did get the position right, and Mackensie Alexander didn’t get drafted until the second round by the Vikings, but Eli Apple was picked at ten by the New York Giants.
This is where things get a bit strange. I have no problems with people talking about picks they liked and didn’t. However, much like the free agent period, we are already rushing to pick winners and losers in the draft and to grade teams. The truth is however, that we simply do not know who has had a good draft yet. The jury should be out for a couple of years, and even then what is often termed a bust is not always the team’s fault. Injury plays a huge part in the game of football, and no one can predict who will succumb to a major injury and who won’t. You would hope to get at least a solid starter out of your first round pick, you simply can’t have too many of those not work out if you want to be a successful team, but the problem can be as much with expectation as it is with actual play. I always remember the criticism of Justin Smith before he left the team, that he not produced enough sacks for a top five pick. He was however, a three down player who was playing out of position and still had an incredible career, finally gaining the praise he deserved playing as a 3-4 end for the San Francisco 49ers’ defence.
However, the real reason for the drafts prominence is that it gives us fans a shot of hope in the long dark offseason. We can now start to familiarise ourselves with the new players our teams have picked, watch them sign undrafted free agents, and begin the countdown to their first workouts and the things that really matter: the start of training camp, pre-season games, and how the teams are beginning to shape up as the new season approaches. For now however, it is fun to bask in the glow of hope as it is not so long until players start working and the reality of another seasons starts to make itself known.