All that glitters is not gold. A phrase as applicable to the 2022 NFL Draft as it is to its host site Las Vegas.
A city bursting with light that it is famously visible from space. A draft brimming with bright shiny prospects fated to serve as a hero or regretful reminder of folly for fans. Fans who annually morph into armchair analysts scouring YouTube videos and Mock Drafts praying to discover that one missing piece who may vault their franchise into the hall of champions. An act so indicative of the arrestingly helpless nature of fandom that it underscores the increasing allure of this event.
An event that has grown from its origin as a closed-door nine-team conference room meeting in 1936 to the gargantuan production it is today. A production overstuffed with circus acts, a drone show, and performances from Weezer and Ice Cube which serve as mere footnotes to the real star of the show, the draft itself.
The Draft Theater this year includes over 1,000,000 LED lights within its 1,000,000 square feet of space. It took thousands of workers to construct and miraculously was erected in less than one month. The Theater takes on a number of effects of the city it inhabits from animated playing cards designed with each of the team’s logos in mind to the four circles on stage built as an ode to the Welcome to Vegas sign.
Though officials refused to provide an exact budget for the production it is evident that the NFL continues to prioritize and augment the extravagant nature of this production. The multi-layered effort requires more than a casual fan may recognize – from engaging with city officials to quartering off a well-tread path of the Vegas Strip to construct the draft theater to auditioning local Vegas acts to sandwich into the show as if they were a king summoning local jesters.
Uncertainty at the Top
Oh yeah and about that draft thing – it’s going to be a wild one. We were granted exclusive access to interview the 20 attending draft prospects as well as true draft experts Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, Joel Klatt, and coach David Shaw. From those discussions one thing is very clear – uncertainty rules the day.
There is such an unprecedented feeling of uncertainty that on the eve of draft night not even the presumed #1 pick Aidan Hutchinson had any clue where he would be drafted:
“Everyone’s looking at the Vegas odds, I’m looking at the Vegas odds too like damn I’m not going #1 anymore?” (He said with a hint of irony)
Hutchinson did claim that he only heard from the top four teams throughout the draft process. The implication being that teams not picking in the top 4 know that he will be drafted before them with a certainty that it’s not even worth scouting him further.
Quarterbacks in the Spotlight
The natural headliner of every draft discussion starts at the Quarterback position headlined by a fittingly uncertain mix of floors and ceilings with no clear standout. The day 1 ready floor prospects like Kenny Pickett, as noted for his prodigious 42 TD final season at Pitt as he is for his small hands, choose not to attend the draft. This is either a sign that he may fall or it may mean nothing, only time will tell. Contrast Pickett with the higher ceiling prospects like Malik Willis, whose tantalizing combo of speed and arm talent has teams dreaming of an all-pro ceiling, and teams are faced with difficult decisions at quarterback.
When discussing the quarterback class with the NFL Network crew Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, coach David Shaw, and Joel Klatt, they unanimously and independently claimed that none of these QBs were top 10 talents in this year’s draft. Charles Davis went even further:
“The top 5 quarterbacks last year and the grades I had on them vs the first QB I have this year, all 5 are ahead. I’d even take Davis Mills from Houston if he was in this year’s draft, he’d be the #1 QB so that’s 6.”
Despite that consensus, none of them wrote off the potential that a team may “reach” on a QB in the top 10. Though they may shine tomorrow these draft analysts don’t seem to trust that that glitter will turn to gold.
Pass-Catchers In Demand
Secondary in headlines yet likely primary in talent for this year is a WR class that has been skyrocketing up mock drafts. Estimates suggest that six to possibly seven WRs could go in the first round this year. One could argue this ascension is in reaction to the near-universally panned 4-year $84 million Christian Kirk contract that may have single-handedly catalyzed the trades of Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, as well as motivating holdouts for Deebo Samuel, A.J Brown, and Terry McLaurin. However, there are similarly meritorious arguments that the talent level of this class justifies their soon-to-be draft position.
This WR group has every skillset imaginable – from a speedster who has been given a rare Tyreek Hill comparison in Jameson Williams to a 6’5″ physical possession jump ball dynamo WR in Drake London teams can cherry-pick for their needs. This class even includes college teammates Chris Olave and Garret Wilson who may both go top 15. With the recent success of Ja’Marr Chase‘s ability to pop the top off of AFC defenses spring-boarding the Bengals from a 4-11-1 season to an AFC championship, there is room to dream on what a game-changing WR could do to any offense.
All That Glitters Is Not Gold
Despite all the promise these prospects have today, it would be foolhardy to assume they will all deliver on the assumed promise. Look no further than 2020 1st round pick Isaiah Wilson who has been cut by 3 teams in two seasons and is now out of the league entirely. Even more relevant today, Baker Mayfield was drafted #1 overall in 2018 and is now an offseason castoff struggling to find a team willing to commit to him as anything more than a backup.
Despite the originally themed grandeur of every hotel along the Vegas strip, not everyone can be The Bellagio. Though you may gawk at the illuminated lights of the entryway to Circus Circus thinking you struck gold, it won’t take long for the stench of floors stained in assorted bodily fluids and lost hope to help you realize this is merely a Motel 6 disguised as a resort. All that glitters is not gold.
Inevitably, we’ll look back on this draft with the gift of hindsight to find gems that were overlooked and busts whose draft day shine blinded us from their truth. The truth of that reality won’t reveal itself for years so enjoy the blissful ignorance of hope that tomorrow will bring, bask in the promise of titles these prospects may bestow, but as Las Vegas reminds us – All that glitters is not gold.
Photo by Unsplash | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)