I remember attending a conference a few years ago and listening to a speaker talk to those of us in attendance about the inherent dangers involved when making business decisions without properly investigating both the decisions we make and the ramifications of those decisions. He told us that when we act too quickly we mess up the order that one expects to find in good decisions. “When we engage too quickly or when we speak without first understanding the matter in question, it is like the guy at the shooting range who, failing to take his time, winds up with: Ready, shoot, aim.” Not much about that conference stuck with me but ready, shoot, aim did. Reaction prior to investigation can (and does) lead to some interesting–sometimes difficult–problems. Nowhere was that more evident than over the past three days of the 2012 NFL draft.
The NFL draft is a great event. By the time the draft occurs near the end of April, football has been hibernating too long. For NFL fans of every loyalty the draft is a much-needed spring thaw. It signifies that while the beginning of the season is still a number of months off, the next season is indeed getting closer. Already we are in better shape than last year. With no lockout, new uniforms, and some key off-season acquisitions already signed, anticipation for the start of the 2012 season is already pretty high.
Current NFL drafts look little like drafts of yesteryear. With access to the 24/7 NFL Network, Twitter, sports talk radio, and the recent proliferation of some solid NFL/Seahawks blogs, our appetite for all things NFL has never been quite so rapacious. As the 2011 NFL season wrapped up a number of us turned our attention to the draft. We are now moving into year number three of the “Pete and John” regime and while the organization has made some huge strides in the right direction; rebuilding the team they found (one bloated with age, a mentality of tenure, and some questionable contracts with sub-par ROI) their job has not been simple. Our “better day” has been predicated on use of the draft, and this draft was no exception. But as incredibly exciting as the NFL draft is for teams and fans alike, it is worth remembering that drafting college players into your professional organization is far from a perfect science. Every NFL team has a list of picks those in charge at the time would no doubt love to do again, and the NFL is nothing if not a truth detector. Athletes that impress in college sometimes fail to make the move to the NFL while in other cases players who were told no by way of a draft that never called their name have gone on to brilliant careers. It has always been that way and until the NFL draft hands out crystal balls along with draft selection orders, picks will continue to experience varying degrees of success. While every team wants to maximize the overall success of their draft picks, and while fans are more than interested observers in the process, it seems to me that today we judge too quickly the value and worth of a pick; all before that player has ever played a single down in the NFL.
Not even halfway through round number one of the 2012 draft (the ‘Hawks traded down a few spots from the 12th overall pick to land the 15th) we were treated to a dizzying display of reactionary negativity. It was aimed at a 24-year-old LB/DE from West Virginia; Bruce Irvin. Irvin was not supposed to go to the Seahawks. A young man with a less than perfect past, he was thought to be too situational, too one-dimensional to be worth the 15th overall pick. The Seahawks thought otherwise. Reaction was mixed but the negative side of the mix was quite loud. Twitter almost imploded as a number of fans–having had to first pick their phones up off the floor–wasted little time (and even fewer of the allowable 140 characters) panning Irvin. Reactions ranged from: “Who the hell is Bruce Irvin…” to “Oh, god, what are Pete and John smoking?” Some were favorable but those were the exception, especially in the minutes immediately following the pick. The national sports media was apoplectic. Because the ‘Hawks had again walked away from what many thought they should do, and instead did what they felt was in the best interest of the team, blowhard talking heads like Mel Kiper Jr. were left shaking their heads. On the other hand, some Seattle fans might have found it worth looking a little deeper.
Some did. Within an hour of the team selecting Irvin, several very good articles were linked; ready for anyone who cared to know more about Irvin a chance to learn. Frustratingly, some were more content to argue that this was a wasted pick; some even argued that it was one of the worst picks in team history. The truth of course is that it will be a while before we know with any certainty whether picking Bruce Irvin so early in the draft was a good move or whether it will provide fodder for another top ten draft busts program on ESPN. It will be months before Irvin and his fellow draftees will take the field in a meaningful game, and even then there is a danger in judging rookies too harshly (or for that matter, leniently) during their first season.
But the judgment of the past few days has not been so much about the players selected as it has been about those making those selections. To listen to some Seahawk fans you’d be led to believe that draft selection starts by lining the VMAC with a number of dart boards and then spending hours each day hurling darts at the boards just hoping that with enough throws they might field a competent and productive team. Seahawk fans are some of the most passionate and long-suffering fans that exist. I count myself as one of them and will forever consider myself as such. But despite my access to a great deal of information about players hitting the draft, I don’t have access to anything close to what the organization has. I have access to just enough information to form an incomplete opinion; and like most, my opinions are based a great deal more on personal preferences than they are the hard data used to make millions of dollar worth of investments in players who have yet to play a single down of professional football.
It can be tough to watch a draft unfold that leaves one wondering if the Seahawks might be leaving better players on the board than the ones they select. But that is nothing unique to being a Seahawks fan. All draft picks are risky. History shows that for every Peyton Manning there are a lot more picks closer to Ryan Leaf. Aaron Curry was taken as the fourth pick a few years ago while David Hawthorne was an UDFA who led the Seahawks with 115 tackles last year. Curry is now in Oakland still trying to revive a career that is slowly dying while Hawthorne signed a nice contract and will start in New Orleans. Few–if any–saw that coming, but that is how it panned out. Those who pick the ones who play have a tough job. Coaches and General Managers wager their careers and their legacies on their picks. It’s no different in Seattle and there is no doubt that Pete Carroll and John Schneider will be judged on the strength (or lack thereof) of their drafts.
But as a fan of both them and the team they are charged with making better, I think I would do well to remember that before they are judged they should be given a fair chance to field their team. Knee-jerk and visceral reactions to draft picks is a good gig and not a hard one to get. All one has to do is have an opinion and when it comes to sports fans opinions are typically part of the deal. Passionate and smart as Seattle fans are, we are not always patient. It is not hard to understand why and all of us have the same hopes; a team capable of winning a Super Bowl. While championships are the goal the journey there does not have to be a miserable one. We should enjoy the ride. Part of that enjoyment is trying to understand what this organization is about and what they are looking for in a player. Understanding that means that with my limited access to information the organization has to evaluate the value of a player, I need to give each player a chance.
The reaction by some to the Seahawks picking Bruce Irvin was a little sad. The day following his pick there were still those who, despite having access to a number of articles that detailed his past and his journey to becoming a first round draft pick, were still taking to mass media with stories about his past that were not only inaccurate, but closer to pure fantasy. Bruce Irvin has made some serious mistakes, but knowing what those were is the responsibility of anyone who feels inclined to comment on who he is, both as a person and as a player. Judging him for what he’s done is one thing but too much of what I read the other night had little to do with those things and more to do with judging what people thought he had done. That judgment led to people judging the organization, some of which was inaccurate to the point of disappointing.
I am impressed with what the Seahawks did in this draft and trust those who made those decisions. It does not mean that I’ll feel the same way in a year or two. As things stand, I trust in what the team is doing and the direction we’re heading. What a great time to be a fan.
Ready, Aim, Shoot!