Thursday, May 12

NFL Draft Strawman

I have no idea why ESPN chooses to employ Colin Cowherd to host a radio program for them, nor why people would choose to listen to his show, but I hear promos for him in the morning, and one in particular bothers me.

The topic of the minute long promo, sort of a teaser-like piece to show potential Herd members the riches awaiting their listenership, is the NFL Draft. Cowherd starts off with a defiant "to all of you who think the draft isn't important..." then explains how quarterbacks are important (wow, didn't know that) and so is having cost-controlled players (really?) He then cites some five-year study demonstrating that teams who "draft well" tend to win more games (careful out on that limb!) and ends with something along the lines of "you don't think the NFL draft is important? It's huge."

Let's address first this study he cites, where the unnamed authors list the teams who "drafted best" in the league. Self-evidently, near the top we find all good teams like Green Bay, Atlanta, and New Orleans. This study is utterly pointless. All of the metrics one could use to quantify how "good" a team drafts, such as starters, pro bowl appearances, and offensive and defensive statistics, all impact favorably how successful a team is at winning games. Any way you choose to define "drafting well" is going to correlate positively with winning football games, so we have learned from this study: nothing. Unless you didn't already know that teams with good players are better than teams with bad players.

Also, Cowherd spends the entire minute attacking all of those people who don't think the NFL Draft is particularly important for a team's success on the field, which is exactly: zero people. OK, maybe Daniel Snyder, but that's it. Granted, I think the Draft is unspeakbly boring to watch, but clearly the Browns' work on draft day impacts strongly their chances of winning football games. Seriously, who is he even addressing? Why bother to invent this straw man of the individual who regards the NFL Draft as unimportant to winning in the league? What purpose does this serve? This doesn't stop Cowherd, though, who keeps berating and belittling this non-existent individual and quoting self-fulfilling "studies" at him. So lame. This is like me arguing for the existence of gravity by criticizing people who think the Earth is flat or arguing for the importance of cash flow by lambasting all those investors who don't think a company should try to be profitable.

And the thing is, there might be information to be gleaned from this draft analysis he cites - just because Cowherd can't make a point doesn't mean there isn't one to be made. For instance, how does the number of a team's starters that they drafted correlate with winning percentage? Or how does a team's percentage of draft picks that remain on an NFL roster five years after their selection bear on their success? By comparison, how important is the MLB Draft, which is less heralded and involves a less direct and immediate path to the top levels? Eh, that all sounds like work - let's just go after a strawman and rehash the universally accepted fact that drafting good is good.

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