How appropriate that as the NFL Draft returns to its glory as a full-fledged fan destination it has chosen the Las Vegas strip for its triumphant return to glory. Tonight, at Caesar’s Palace, the dreams of hundreds of college football players and their families will be realized with payouts far greater than any mere blackjack table or slot machine has ever produced in that complex.
The NFL Draft is perhaps the ultimate reality program. In real time, 32 young men will vault from being known by hardcore college football and Mel Kiper, Junior into national prominence. Since the New York Giants and Jets have four of the top 10 picks tonight their stars–and bank accounts–will be further boosted by the opportunity and need of these franchises. Frankly, both teams suck in the fall, and have for several years. The beauty of the draft is that the worst are first, the stench of the previous season is now officially purged, and the chase for respectability begins. No one loses tonight, and every team will still be undefeated tomorrow.
All signs point to Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson being number one and headed to Jacksonville.Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux will also likely be one of the first selected. Among offensive players, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is likely to be the top pick on that side of the ball, looming to be Sam Darnold’s replacement in Carolina. As Darnold himself was once supposed to be the savior for the Jets, I’d tacitly advise Panthers fans to grade on a curve.
Tonight will be a spectacle, but over the next two days the real meat and potatoes is served up. Fans and professionals reinforce that teams’ fortunes are ultimately determined from their success rate in the second through fourth rounds. Impact wide receivers are typically drafted in that range, and the volatility of that position strongly suggests that anyone looking to make strides in fantasy football pay attention to those drafted then.
Other sports have tried to duplicate the drama and the passion of the NFL Draft, but none have yet been able to match the combination of spectacle, storyline and detail that this mid-spring ritual has usually provided. Over the last two years, the spectacle has been muted. The 2020 draft was especially quiet, essentially a zoom call but still one of the few live sports events of any kind during a particularly jarring time. Last year was an improvement, but still quiet. Tonight what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. And thank goodness for that.