You can feel it in the soaking air around here. I'm ready, and she's ready. She's never seen a football game but I know my daughter Garnet is both prepared and pumped for next Thursday's First Round of the 79th Official Player Selection Meeting of the National Football League.
Just as the teams are doing, Garnet is finishing up her preparation. She did not have any players in for visits as that would break her budget. Neither did she attend any pro days as a 2-year-old hopping a plane to College Station, Tex., is an idea wrought with problems. Also she struggles a little bit to say the word "football".
I am her only staff member, and I work for free. I think this challenge of trying to make draft picks -- especially with such limited experience and access -- is fun if not daunting.
After all, is there any way for those of us without attending workouts and holding interviews and watching game film to know who the best players are?
We know we're disadvantaged here but we just can't compete with the NFL's finances, especially if we're unwillling for forsake cookies and jellybeans. And in this house, my friends, that's a dealbreaker.
Here's our plan:
We're going to rank the top prospects by averaging their projected draft position according to more than a dozen "experts" whose "insight" is available free online. No, we're not paying the ESPN insider fee for Kiper and McShay. Why should we pay for those guys when dozens of other mock drafts are available free?
(That's kind of the whole idea here.)
I'm not doubting for a second that all the Bills' scouts catch minute details in the workouts of these players, stuff I'd never notice let alone my daughter. Point is, I'd guess all the other teams' scouts can do the same thing. Two months of scouting and conversation produces mock drafts all over the place that look pretty much the same. And as these mock drafts tend to reflect the real drafts pretty well from year to year, I figure this is a pretty safe way of predicting Ye Olde Player Selection Meeting.
If there were, say, five NFL teams, and I ran one of them, I'd think it valuable to have my scouts on the road. I wouldn't assume the right information would be unearthed with so few teams. But, with 32 teams, not to mention the dozens of media organizations that find doing this work themselves valuable? I'll keep the money, thanks.
NFL teams used to pool their resources all the time. Ever hear of BLESTO, an old scouting organization? BLESTO stands for Bears Lions Eagles Steelers Talent Organization. In the 1960s teams didn't always have the funds to fly all over creation watching linemen do squat thrusts. So, naturally, they divided up the work.
The story goes that Al Davis, Raiders owner and a former coach, didn't want to share his expertise with other teams. So now with money falling from Walsh Trees all over the league, teams hold their data closely.
Of course most scouts see and value the same traits so it pretty much comes out the same anyway.
Note too that teams build a consensus of their own. It's not like one person, say GM Doug Whaley, scouts everybody and chooses a player on his own. The Bills take the room's temperature and make a choice. I assume Whaley has to like the choice, but I think it's naive to imagine he'd pick someone the majority of his scouts didn't like.
I draft my fantasy teams this way and it works pretty well. I don't spend the hours and hours it would take to firmly and independently rank all the league's skill-position players. It's much easier and at least as effective and much, much more efficient to jump on a few websites and see who the masses like.
Likewise, this morning I tabulated player guesses from 16 online mock drafts, using CBS Sports; NFL.com; WGR; Walterfootball.com; Scouts, Inc.; Draftek; SI.com; JS Online and Ourlads. Some of these mock drafts try to pair players with teams based on information they have or deductive reasoning. Some others simply rank the players irrespective of supposed team needs. I didn't go past Pick #9, as the Bills pick ninth and the Bills are the team I care about.
Wait, did I say I? We. I meant we.
Taking the average predicted draft position of each player, here our are rankings:
1. Jadeveon Clowney.
2. Sammy Watkins.
3. Khalil Mack.
4. Greg Robinson.
5. Johnny Manziel.
6. Jake Matthews.
7. Mike Evans.
8. Taylor Lewan.
9. Blake Bortles.
When it comes our turn at 9, we will be picking one of these players. No one else will be considered. Not enough people like anyone else enough for us to worry about them.
We do not care what position our pick plays. We intend for whoever we pick to be a starting player. If it happens that a valuable player already plays that position for the Bills, so be it. Injuries, trades, whatever, we'll work that out later.
Are we telling you too much? Yes, most teams hide their draft boards. But we don't believe in that. The draft is supposed to be fun and we want you to know what we're thinking.
(We really want you to merely think for a minute about how many tens of millions of dollars are spent by NFL teams scouting football players and doing work that's available for free.)
One hangup: It will be difficult, perhaps even impossible, for us to make trades. If the Bills trade up we'll adjust and pick the best player available at their new position. If they trade down we'll have to scramble.
But we'll be ready. These drafts only come around once a year. You can't get caught with your pants down. If you do, for this young drafter you'll be down to a Pull-Up.