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It’s been days since the NFL Draft ended. In that time there’s been playoff hockey, playoff basketball, and mediocre early-season baseball. And despite—or because of—all of that going on, I’ve realized something: The Draft is quite possibly my favorite event on the entire sporting calendar.
That’s due in part to cowardly avoidance on my part. The NHL Playoffs are impossible to watch casually, and it’s rare that I want to add extra tension into my life, especially when it is frequently followed by crushing disappointment. And the NBA playoffs were pretty clearly a doomed endeavor for the Wizards this year, and I can’t bring myself to care about the remaining teams.
It’s more than that, though. The NFL Draft is the only sporting event—and, in fact, maybe the only major entertainment event—where it is entirely possible to assume that everyone has won, all the time.
There’s no scoreboard on the Draft. When pundits try to impose a scoreboard, the results are so wildly disparate as to be meaningless. Washington’s 2018 Draft class earned a B+ or a C- (a really low C-, given that there were only two teams graded lower), or an A, depending on which outlet you went to. It’s scoring by human centipede: Analysts give grades to the drafts, but because there are no true results yet, all they’re doing is grading against their own scale.
Not only is there no scoreboard, there’s no real outcome for weeks, or even longer. Immediately following the draft, nothing happens. Then the players remain completely blank slates for as long as they have to. If a guy doesn’t excel in minicamp, maybe he’ll come around once the pads are on. Doesn’t look good in preseason? He’ll look better once the full offense is installed. Doesn’t look good as a rookie? Probably a late bloomer. Even the draft pick who truly, unequivocally busts—the guy who gets cut before his rookie season—is interesting in the way that dramatic failures always are.
Full-on busts seem less frequent now, probably as a result of improved scouting, better metrics, and more widely available film. All three of those things improve the experience for the casual viewer, too.
I spent a very pleasant few minutes recently watching highlight clips of Washington’s new seventh-round receiver destroy guys in college. Cherry-picking the good plays, it’s easy to say, “This guy looks great! How’d he fall to the seventh?” It’s fun to imagine that every lottery ticket is a winner.
Everyone who is drafted is, by definition, one of the very best at what they do in the entire world, so even the worst of them tend to seem very promising on the surface. Here, for example, is an excerpt of the pre-draft analysis from NFL.com on one of the new Washington players: “Four year starter and interception king … Plays with the instincts and awareness teams covet … Finished with 17 career [interceptions] and he earned most of them with ball skills and positioning.”
That player, Danny Johnson, is an undrafted free agent out of Southern University, part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Despite all those compliments, his NFL future is still, at best, a longshot. Which, honestly, is awesome.
After all these years watching D.C. sports, this is where I am now: My favorite sporting event of the year is the one where no one can really lose, where there’s a leisurely gap afterward instead of a gut-punch, and where unheralded, longshot prospects can be unironically described as “coveted.”
Really, who wouldn’t want to watch that instead of the Wizards washing out of the playoffs again?