The vast majority of the sports media has not a clue about the NFL Draft. Oh, mock drafts are entertaining, and it’s easy to imagine your team finding the next big star, that essential piece your team lacked this past season if not longer.
Someday, Vikings fans, you will find the right quarterback for you in the first round. Probably not this year. But someday. Maybe.
The draft, particularly the first round, traffics in hope, and it’s irresistible. Watch a prospect’s highlight reel, listen to the hype and jargon, and if you’re even the mildly optimistic sort you’ll be mentally fitting him for a mustard-colored jacket even before he’s endured his first NFL two-a-day.
Still, the reality lingers: it’s nothing more than a guessing game — a fun guessing game, sure, but one in which the majority of alleged insiders are on the outside right up until that moment Chris Berman transparently teases the name of the upcoming pick, as if he hasn’t been told in advance.
Very few know which teams covet which players, and fewer still have an idea about how that player will fit with the culture and scheme of his new team. Hell, I’m not sure anyone even knows what the Texans are leaning toward doing with the No. 1 overall pick. I’m not sure Bill O’Brien knows.
I’m not about to put on my Mel Kiper Jr. wig and pretend to be a draftnik now. I’ve learned enough lessons through the years — Whut? They’re passing on Jerry Hughes to take this McCourty kid? It’s says here he’s just a special-teamer, Belichick! — to avoid getting my hopes up about a player the Patriots may or may not want, then getting frustrated when they go a different route.
To put it another way: I’ve never been more enthused about a Patriots draft than I was in 2006. Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson? Finally, some weapons for Brady!
Hell, even Kiper doesn’t fake it anymore when it comes to the Pats. I’ll never forget the dumbfounded look on his face when the Patriots took Logan Mankins in the first round in 2005. He wanted to rip the pick. He mumbled something about having him as value later. But he knew better than to go into full-on Blast Belichick mode, because he knew the teams making picks know better than even those who are most dedicated to projecting the picks.
Not that the lack of real insight does or should impact our enjoyment of the draft, which I believe now takes place over seven days sometime in July, if I have it right. Not even Roger Goodell and his instinct to give fans so much of a good thing until it’s no longer a good thing can mess this up.
The draft and the optimism that comes with it …
… well, unless you’re a Jets fan*, is an enticing blast.
(* — Yes, I have used that hilarious Jets draft montage before, and I will continue to use it even if the Draft and/or the Jets cease to exist. It will never get old. I mean, Kyle Brady and Johnny Mitchell?)
Because of the Kipers and Mayocks and McShays, every football fan has their favorite prospects — even if they never saw them once on a Saturday. The top prospects get saturation coverage. Sometimes it nitpicks them until you wonder how they even manage to put on a helmet. But mostly, it makes them seem infallible, sure-things. This is the one time of the year the lousy teams are worthy of envy.
Imagine Jadeveon Clowney — speaking of being nitpicked — under Bill Belichick’s tutelage. Or what Sammy Watkins, Eric Ebron, or Mike Evans might do to aid Tom Brady in the passing game. There’s always a rangy, hard-hitting safety to covet. A few years ago it was Alabama’s Mark Barron. This year, it’s Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, whose every big play should definitely be greeted in his home stadium with this sound effect going forward:
I know better by now that to covet specific players for the Patriots, especially at the back end of the first round. Instead, I aim for context, based on their needs, the current status of the franchise, and whether the present or the future is the bigger priority. Keeping those elements in mind, one priority becomes clear regarding how they should approach this year’s first round:
This is not the time to be drafting a quarterback. Not sure when that time is, but it’s not right now.
The 2014 Patriots are and should be built to win this year, to get their 37-year-old quarterback that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy before his skills begin an obvious erosion. Darrelle Revis has arrived. Jerod Mayo is healthy. Vince Wilfork is back. Rob Gronkowski — the key to so much — will be back. There is promise in last year’s rookie class, particularly Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan. The overall roster is both deep and of high quality. They have a legitimate chance.
They should not be worrying about spending a high pick on finding Brady’s successor; they should be trying to find him immediate help at a position where there is a need. Maybe that is at defensive tackle, where Wilfork, that other remaining Patriot who knows first-hand what it’s like to win a championship here, could use an understudy to do for him this year what he did for Keith Traylor in 2004.
Perhaps Teddy Bridgewater will be available when they pick. Given that he was once, not so long ago, presumed as a potential No. 1 overall pick, they may consider him good value there. And it’s certainly interesting that he, along with Johnny Manziel (who will never get past his NFL spirit animal, Jerry Jones), visited New England.
But even if Belichick believes he’s worthy of going in that spot and that his NFL future is bright despite his inability to throw strikes on his pro day, the Patriots must do what Bridgewater will soon be paid well to do: they must pass.
The 2014 NFL Draft is a mystery, but this much is known for sure: The Patriots’ priority should not be to find their next quarterback. It should be to acquire everything their once-in-a-lifetime quarterback requires to win another championship.