The 2012 NFL Draft kicks off next Thursday night in prime time once again. The draft has become the main focus of the NFL off-season. While it started off as nothing more than a hotel meeting where men would acquire talent for the coming season, it has blossomed into quite the spectacle. It’s become so big, that men like me make a living based on predicting what might happen during this open to the public three day span of business meetings.
There will be seven rounds of selections that will take part between Thursday, April 26th and Saturday, April 28th. The first round will be covered on Thursday night, where each team will be given 10 minutes to make a selection or trade the pick. They will return Friday for rounds two and three, in which teams will be given seven minutes to select / trade in round two and five minutes from round three on. Finally, the last day consists of the teams making selections from rounds four through seven, in which the draft will end with the final pick, referred to as Mr. Irrelevant.
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The draft hasn’t always been seven rounds, it’s fluctuated over the years. As recently as 1992 the draft consisted of 12 rounds. They have since added four more teams to the league and done away with five rounds.
The draft was put into place to help control a competitive level of play throughout the league. Since the league has gone to a seven round format, the pool of undrafted free agents has vastly increased. Most of these players, if not all, prefer to go un-drafted as opposed to a team as a seventh through twelfth round selection. This gives these prospects the opportunity to gauge team’s level of interest and also study their depth chart to pick the ideal situation for them to make a roster. A perfect example would be Arian Foster. After Foster went un-drafted, he studied the depth charts of running backs around the NFL. He felt that the Houston Texans talent at the position gave him the fairest shot at not only competing for a spot on the 53 man roster, but to eventually start. We all now know what Arian Foster has gone on to do after making that decision.
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Foster isn’t the only high profile un-drafted player. Every year we see more and more of these kids that go under the radar and catch on to an active roster and play a integral part. My theory is that with the increase of popularity in the sport of football, more and more kids have decided over the last 10-20 years to pick it as their sport to try and make a living at. Any young man that has ever played multiple sports has come to a point in their life where they had to decide which one they wanted to focus on if they planned to make a career out of it (with the obvious exceptions of Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, and a minority of others.)
Just like with any highly touted job in the workforce, when you have an increase in demand for a job, there is an equal and excessive increase in talent. Now, many kids that would have been future first round draft picks in the NBA are falling to the third round of the NFL draft as a wide receiver. College rosters can only have so many star wide receivers, when those spots fill up, talented kids slide down to Division II schools and with the influx of talent at D-II schools, those kids fall to D-III. This situation has created a mass increase of NFL talent at every level of college sports. No matter how talented the scout or the organization, more and more kids fall through the cracks each year. This would also be a great point to bring up why the USFL planned minor league program would be right on time for this age of football, but, that’s a topic for another day…
NFL GM’s, coaches, scouts and on down the line all realize what I’ve mentioned above. They’ve seen the increase over the last several years. What have they done to combat it? They have become increasingly more competitive in the un-drafted free agent market. Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network recently wrote how the Ravens’ head coach, John Harbaugh has been sending text messages to potential un-drafted players and letting them know that Baltimore has an interest in them. La Canfora goes on to mention how the Eagles were also focusing heavily on these players last year by sending out letters to the players that may go un-drafted. It’s a copycat league and any team that hasn’t been doing this will suddenly begin in fear of losing out on what is a huge part of their training camp rosters.
As mentioned before, the current system benefits the players and I would hate to take away any leverage that an un-drafted player has but the point of the draft was to keep a fair and competitive playing field across the league. Due to the talent influx, the four teams that have been added since ’92, and the advantage that organizations are gaining from bending the rules in the pursuit of un-drafted players, wouldn’t now be the time to increase the draft back to 12 rounds or at least 10? Everything in the NFL is marketable. I’m sure that if they add five more rounds to the NFL draft, they will still get a solid TV rating on Sunday. Before you doubt that people will tune-in, realize that as I’m typing this, my twitter inbox is filling up with people trying to find out how many prime time games their favorite team will have. It’s important to remember that the NFL is having a three hour special on the NFL Network in the next few hours to tell you about when games will be played in September but they want to know a few hours early.
As soon as the NFL draft ends Saturday night there will be a mass of NFL fans jumping on team websites frequently clicking refresh in hopes to find out what un-drafted free agents their team signed. The NFL might as well get the extra day’s coverage and just add the five rounds back to the draft. Yes, there probably will be coaches that still try and get a competitive advantage of those players that still don’t get drafted, but the talent pool wouldn’t be the same. Adding five more rounds would take another 150+ players off the board that coaches can’t manipulate onto their roster. It stops almost all worry about fair play when it comes to the draft and coveted players that teams pass on in the seventh in hopes that they get them on an un-drafted contract. If a team wants a player, they will have to commit and use a draft selection.
While the theory makes sense, most late round prospects and their agents wouldn’t want to extend the rounds and the teams who are able to manipulate rosters best wouldn’t either. Bringing back the 12 round draft wouldn’t be made for popularity, it would be made for the same reason the draft was created, to keep the sport as competitively fair as possible.