NFL Draft: the NFL Wanted No Leaks, Got Little Drama

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The NFL issued an edict to its broadcast partners to not have reporters leak picks, to protect its entertainment product, as our site broke on Tuesday. While the picks were still available from other sources–we knew, for example, that the New England Patriots had already selected Malcom Brown to close out the first round, even though the Packers’ 30th pick had yet to be announced on television–the reporters with the league broadcast partners complied.

Coming up with various explanations, none revolted, or adopted the tact of Adrian Wojnarowski on NBA coverage. “I don’t care about anybody’s television show,” Wojnarowski told the New York Times. “My job is to report and break news when I have the news, and who a team is drafting is news. The draft and the announcement is a ceremony. I don’t care about anybody’s ceremony.”

So make no mistake, where players go, how they will fit in, that’s news. We won’t know how things will turn out for quite some time. But The NFL Draft, primetime product, is most certainly entertainment.

On that front, the 2015 First Round Extravaganza was most certainly a bust of Jamarcus Russell proportions. It started off with so much theatrical promise. All day long, talk of how Chip Kelly desperately wanted to move up to draft Marcus Mariota dominated. He did, but ultimately could not make it happen (and now will try to convince the veteran players involved that he totally didn’t do that).

Quarterbacks in the draft provide drama. Sometimes not good value for the team, but as an entertainment vehicle, it makes for good TV. The waiting room, and then the Browns trading up for Brady Quinn, the Vikings coming back into the first round to snag Teddy Bridgewater to close out last year’s draft. Geno Smith waiting until the second night, with some drama in between.

This year’s draft had Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota at the top, and then a large gap. Sure, some of the league’s dutiful reporting partners tried to drum up interest in a ridiculous Bryce Petty to New Orleans storyline, which did lead to some legitimate laughs. But once the Titans stayed put and Roger Goodell finished butchering Mariota’s name, there was nothing else to be had on that entertainment front.

Trades provide drama. This draft had two of them, and none until San Diego moved up to get Melvin Gordon at pick #15. That’s the latest draft day trade in the last decade, and ties for the fewest in a first round since 2005. That draft, of course, had Aaron Rodgers’ slide to the Packers at pick #24 as the primary storyline. The average in the last decade has seen 5.6 trades once the draft began, in the first round.

The best players generally went where expected. Those who fell out of the first round, in large part, had known issues (Randy Gregory and Dorial Green-Beckham). The biggest fall was who? Maybe Leonard Williams, but he stayed in the same tier of top players and just happened to be the one available at #6. The Jets made a sensible pick. The Browns didn’t provide us any high comedy with advice from the homeless to an inept owner.

But at least none of that lack of drama was leaked ahead of time by the league’s business partners.

ACC and Pac-12 S-P-E-E-D: The ACC and Pac-12 both led the way with nine selections in the first round. The SEC, which was hailed as the clear best conference but had top teams falter in the bowls, continued that trend in the draft. Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, and Mississippi State — the four SEC West teams who bounced around the Top 10 for most of the season — ended up with just one first round pick between them (Amari Cooper). LSU had no first round picks for the first time since 2010, thanks to La’El Collins’ being removed from draft boards and Jalen Collins not going when some thought he might. In total, the SEC still finished with seven selections, but that’s a drop from the average of more than 10 per year over the previous four drafts.

Washington–not Oregon or USC–led the way with 3 selections. The Huskies went 8-6 last year. The ACC, meanwhile, spread it out. If you had 2015 as the year that Wake Forest and Duke would both have first round picks in the NFL Draft, collect your prize.

Offensive Line and Running Back Moves Shifted the Draft: The top 7 or so were fairly established. The real drama would be where the runs were, and whether that would lead to any action. The two moves that I thought shifted other teams’ thinking were Brandon Scherff at #5 to Washington, and Todd Gurley at #10 to St. Louis.

Scherff’s selection, along with La’El Collins leaving Chicago, shifted things for those teams that were wanting an offensive lineman. The Giants–who pretty much everyone had tied to a lineman in Scherff–stayed at that position and took Flowers earlier than anyone had him going a week ago.

The Rams, meanwhile, weren’t an obvious running back target. It’s not the best situation that Gurley could have gone to. But once he was off the board, that left Melvin Gordon, and prompted the first trade-up of the evening. (Not sure San Diego needed to do that, but who knows?). After that, teams that were probably targeting Gordon late in the first round went to other options.

[photos via Michael Shamburger]