This happens to at least one prospect every year. Teddy Bridgewater was a lock to be selected somewhere in the top 10 and is now sliding down big boards. At least that’s what we’re being told. What scant information is given to reporters during this stage of the draft process is more likely than not to be teams talking bad about a player they actually like. There’s a low-wattage cat-and-mouse game that goes on in March and April between NFL writers and the front offices and coaching staffs they’re covering. The guys with the clipboards tell the folks with the tape recorders things that aren’t true, and the folks with the tape recorders report on it, making sure to be clear that whatever “news” they’re relaying could very well be filled with lies.
You’re forgiven for thinking that sounds like nonsense, because it basically is. What keeps us trained on these sorts of stories is that some prospects do fall in the draft. There’s a good chance Mel Kiper will be proclaiming on May 8 that he just can’t believe such-and-such player hasn’t been selected this far into the first round, as the No. 1 spot on the “Best Available” ticker on the side of the screen remains unchanged. Speculating on who that guy will be is something to do, I guess, though it makes for exceedingly dull theater. It’s more tolerable than the hot takes from contrarians-by-job-title who are dead certain the player you like is terrible and the player you’re not paying attention to is going to be the greatest of all-time, but barely.
I suppose the NFL media operates this way during draft season because it works. I’m using “works” in a loose sense here, because most everything about it is intellectually bankrupt. I mean it generates clicks and ratings because it appeals to the football fan’s id. All of this fevered nothing exists because fans would like to know who their team is going to pick. This is an understandable desire, but what’s concerning is that it’s apparently strong enough that fans won’t take an acceptable answer, which is that they can’t know who their team is going to pick until it has already happened. There’s a considerable gap between what we want to know and what we can know, and for whatever reason, fans fail to see it, plummeting to their psychic death like stampeding buffalo over a canyon’s lip.
That the sports media machine always needs more content to fuel it is a problem in and of itself. Most of the programming on 24-hour sports networks could be called Killing Airtime with Loud People, and a lot of news is dubiously newsworthy. That is all distressing enough, but one of the unintended effects of the idea that there is enough happening in the sports world to support round-the-clock reporting and analysis is that people think — subconsciously, I mean; when you say it out loud, it sounds stupid — we can know everything. If there are so many people working so hard to chase down all this draft scuttlebutt, surely it must have some utility.
Of course, the reality is teams don’t want us know who they’re picking, so they don’t tell us. There are good reporters working the NFL beat, but they’re not mind-readers. The truth doesn’t just reveal itself to you if you throw enough journalistic energy at it. The best they can do is relay quotes that don’t illuminate much.
Teddy Bridgewater could be sliding down draft boards. Maybe the idea of that interests you, if your team is picking in the middle of the first round, and you think they need a new quarterback. But information is useful only if you’re reasonably sure as to whether it’s true or not. If I tell you that you may have won the lottery, but my sources are completely unreliable, and you should probably wait until the actual lottery results are announced, I’ve done nothing but tease you.
As consumers of this meaning-devoid stuff, we abet it in no small way. We need to be rational beings and understand what we can’t know. In addition to that, we need to be at peace with not knowing. We should dare to be surprised. Isn’t that a big part of why we watch sports in the first place?