Are you a pick-tipper, or a pick-tip hater? Or perhaps a tick picker, which means you are a dog owner caught off guard by the sudden arrival of spring, or a big tipper, friend to bartenders everywhere?
"Pick tipping" is the art of revealing a team's draft selection anywhere from 10 minutes to eight seconds before Roger Goodell (or some NFL alumnus) makes the official announcement at the NFL draft. Pick tippers have inside information: cultivated sources within NFL front offices, agents who obligingly sent out mass text messages when their clients are about to be selected or media perches close to the Radio City Music Hall stage, where they can hear the goings on. Many insiders have all three. Pick tippers tweet their knowledge, and the digital cat leaps from the bag to your computer or hand-held device.
Pick tippers are an unfairly reviled bunch. Public opinion turned against them viciously during this weekend's draft. They were accused of ruining the suspense of the event. The NFL ordered its experts to keep advance knowledge under wraps, the better to preserve the integrity of the telecast and its precious advertising revenue. But insiders at other outlets did precisely what they are paid to do, have trained to do, spend their careers putting themselves into position to do and are typically applauded for doing: They used their sources to provide fast, juicy, mostly accurate scoops. The fiends! Knowing three minutes early that the Chargers planned to draft D.J. Fluker ruined everything!
It's an odd phenomenon. Many fans want instant gratification 364 days per year, but for the first round of the draft they want Victorian Christmas. Oooh Auntie Harriet, the box is so big and ornately decorated, yet I dare not ruin the surprise by opening it a second before Uncle Nigel arrives. During the free agency period, we want updates from the flights Paul Kruger might take from Baltimore to Cleveland. Coach hiring season: lunch locations and durations, stat. But don't dare provide a 120-second heads-up on what will happen after NFL Network and ESPN come back from commercial, which is the only thing holding up the release of the information in the first place.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry: You may be among the pick-tip haters, and I am among the non-pick-tippers, but this is one controversy I cannot fathom. Following the draft on Twitter and complaining about tipped picks is like watching the DVD commentary track of a movie and wishing the director would shut up. The telecasts provide little more than coy hints; all the suspense-hungry viewer has to do is close the Twitter window.
Several readers pointed out to me during the draft that they want to be able to chat with fellow fans on Twitter without receiving tips. Fair enough. I would like to take my sons to a "Star Wars" convention but come away not knowing that Luke Skywalker is Darth Vader's son. Walk into a dinner party with culture-savvy types, and you cannot demand that all conversations cease until you catch up on the last two seasons of "Breaking Bad." Right, Fred and Carrie?
A few other readers suggested that pick tippers should post a "spoiler alert" before the draft; suspense lovers can then temporarily un-follow or otherwise block or ignore them. Would that work? If you are following me, chances are you are following at least 100 potential pick-tippers: insiders and experts from national outlets, local beat writers, high-volume bloggers, charged up super-fans and so on. You also probably follow countless other people who follow those same people and possesses the same retweet capacity we all have. I suppose it is possible for all of those people to post "Spoiler Alert" at about 7 p.m. on Thursday night, allowing anticipation junkies the chance to spend an hour temporarily un-following or blocking all of them, at which point they can enjoy a filtered Twitter experience about as comprehensible and fulfulling as a PG-rated cut of "Fight Club."
(Also, and not to put too fine a point on the commerce involved … WRITER: "Chief, I am going to warn some people to not follow my tweets during a high-volume traffic period, thereby limiting our scope and influence as a media outlet for a few critical hours and running the risk of diminishing our sum total of potential customers and multi-media reach. EDITOR: "Great idea! Let's invite as many people as possible to not pay attention to our products and services! The advertisers will love it!")
Pick-tipping brings its own suspense and drama, if you let it. When trade talks between the Vikings and Patriots heated up for the 29th overall pick, Twitter exploded with Manti Te'o rumors. Various trade scenarios, some outlandish-sounding, leaked from the feeds of respected experts. As the 10-minute clock ticked on, we learned that the talks were serious, but at the last minute the story shifted: The Vikings' quarry was not Te'o, but Cordarrelle Patterson, the wide receiver from Tennessee who was expected to be an earlier pick. Patterson turned out to be the correct selection; the ransom of picks -- second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-rounders -- turned out to be in line with some of the conservative estimates revealed over the previous minutes, when Te'o was the purported prey.
Those 10 minutes were the most exciting moments of the draft for the Twitter follower: trade gossip, a Te'o sighting, crazy scenarios, a sudden 90-degree turn and, yes, real suspense when Roger Goodell finally announced the pick and we wondered if we were in for a double-deluxe switcheroo. I have no idea how the television networks handled this sequence, but there is no way that the experience of watching Rich Eisen or Chris Berman verbally tap-dance can match the back-and-forth that was taking place on Twitter at that time.
In other words, the fact that pick-tippers might be wrong makes the first round of the draft more suspenseful and compelling, not less, and the event frankly needs all the help it can get.
The pick-tipper phenomenon is interesting when you realize just how limited it is. The most jacked-in insiders in the NFL have Nostradamus skills that only work within a five-minute time frame. The fact that the tippers are so often correct in the minutes before a selection only underscores how completely wrong they/we are for the other 130,000 or so minutes of draft buildup. Getting a selection correct a minute before it happens is like picking the winner of a game at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. All of our inside knowledge fails us, even two days before the draft, even between rounds, for a variety of reasons. We have built elaborate telescopes that can barely peer into Raymond Burr's window.
Consider one example from this weekend: The first round ended, and the Jaguars possessed the first pick of the second round. Word leaked from several experts that the Jaguars coveted Johnthan Banks, a tall cornerback from Mississippi State whose name is not misspelled in this sentence. This bit of gossip reached me at about 6:45 a.m. It was common knowledge, the stuff of early-morning blog postings, by breakfast time. It was the most highly publicized nugget of Jaguars gossip in recent memory, made palatable to a wide audience because if the Jaguars wanted Banks, it meant that they did not want Geno Smith, who spent Friday morning hiding in the back of a van or something.
One of the early Twitter-spreaders of the story was Gil Brandt of NFL.com. Now, Brandt is more "flint knife" than cutting edge, but he goes back so far that he is in front of nearly all of us. Some experts are on a first-name basis with a team's owner; Brandt might well have pushed some of those owners on backyard swings. Lying to Gil Brandt would be like lying to Abraham Lincoln's dad: If anyone is too venerable to be led with good conscience into a smokescreen, or too wily to fall for one, it's Brandt.
By Friday afternoon, it was a foregone conclusion that the Jaguars would start the draft by selecting Banks. He fit what we think is their system: New coach Gus Bradley worked under Pete Carroll in Seattle, and Carroll likes tall cornerbacks, so Bradley likes and needs tall cornerbacks. As I sat in Radio City Music Hall and followed Twitter, I watched colleagues break down the anticipated selection and speculate about what the 49ers and Eagles had planned.
There was only one problem: The Jaguars had no intention of selecting Banks. They took Jonathan Cyprien, a safety from Florida International, instead. Banks went to the Bucs later in the second round.
Keep in mind that there was no reason for the Jaguars to execute a smokescreen at this point. No one can jump ahead of the first pick in the second round on Friday morning. At the same time, there is no reason for the Jaguars to broadcast their intentions, or to put themselves in a position where they cannot change their minds during a 5 p.m. conference. So bad information leaked out, and stayed out for around 12 hours, only correcting itself in the final minutes before guest star Mark Brunell announced the real pick.
This was a minor factoid, small news from a nationally-ignored team with little to gain from brinksmanship. Imagine what the wheeler-dealers are capable of.
You don't have to imagine. Minutes after the Cyprien selection, a rumor blew through Twitter that the Patriots were trading up for … wait for it … Manti Te'o. I could get no attribution or verification of this rumor, and did not really try, because while my bullsnot detector gets faulty around the draft, it does not shut completely down. The Patriots and Te'o linked in trade talks, again? The Te'o bait was in there to ensure that the rumor spread and was easy to track, like the blue stuff doctors put in enemas. You know how the double-agent in spy movies is given purposely bad information so the other spies can follow his trail? That's what that rumor was, unless it was a feat of overactive imagination.
All of the pick-tipping and rumor mongering make the draft more fascinating, not less. Pick-tipping also provides a service to fans who do not want to be slaves to the advertisers: As midnight approaches in the first round, and early in the second round, the NFL often backlogs multiple selections before announcing them. You may want to go to bed or move on with your life instead of waiting through a lucrative dramatic pause. I may want to meet a deadline. There is a guy at the foot of the Radio City Music Hall stage who holds his arm up while the networks come back from commercial; every year, I hope Barkevious Mingo or some other defensive prospect will run out and tackle that guy so things can move along. And remember that this is football, not real life: Jumping the gun with incorrect information about what the Tennessee Titans are up to does not hurt anyone. If you don't want spoilers about a pick, shut off Twitter for that pick, or just remember that the spoiler success rate is not as close to 100 percent as you think.
One last thought on this subject. Some tips do come my way early, sporadically. I don't repeat them, because I don't trust them. Anyone willing to misinform Gil Brandt would happily steal my credit card. But my wife actually planned to get into the pick-tipping act on Thursday night, restraining herself in the final moments. She admitted on Friday morning that she had a hot-and-juicy spoiler that she wanted to share.
"Michelle won 'Project Runway,'" she said. "But I wasn't sure if you wanted to know, or cared."
The answer, especially while trying to focus on the NFL draft, was "no" on both counts. And "Project Runway" super-fans have probably known the result for months; my wife avoids such information by not seeking it, and by not following insiders on such topics on Twitter.
But if Michelle from "Project Runway" is involved in a Patriots rumor, hearing about it would only make both Thursday night spectacles more interesting, as well as giving my wife and I something to talk about.
First Draft Impressions: all 32 Teams
If you are looking for me wearing my draftnik hat, I am here on the Tailgater blog, with my first impressions of what all 32 teams did this weekend.
They are first impressions, not sweeping conclusions. They will be followed by "draft grades" on Thursday. Evaluating draft classes before they play is like making fourth-graders take state-wide standardized tests; both of these things happen this time of year, but only one of them wastes taxpayer resources and causes both childhood angst and potentially-catastrophic policy changes. The other is just a goofy way to spark some leisure-time debates. I am proud to be involved with the former, and no longer the latter, except as an exasperated parent.
As you read the impressions as an invested fan of one particular team, feel free to disagree with my remarks and respond with as much anger as you find appropriate. But please ask yourself one question first: If some other team, particularly one you do not like, made the same moves that your favorite team just made, would you react the same way?
In other words, Patriots fans: If the Cowboys just selected three players from a third-place Big East team where Jerry Jones' son happened to play, would you give them the benefit of the doubt you are giving Bill Belichick's New England Scarlet Knights?
Eagles fans: If the Cowboys or Redskins hired a head coach known for his college scheme, but that coach then drafted a quarterback who was an obvious poor fit for his college scheme, would you then say, "Well, there is much more to that particular coach than the most dynamic, successful, noteworthy element of his scheme?"
Lions fans: Oh, never mind, you will probably agree with me.
When you flip the script, you may discover that the moves you are vehemently endorsing are the ones you would be ridiculing if the jersey colors were different. That's what fandom is all about, but draft analysis and fandom do not mix very well. My opinions will evolve, and possibly change, starting on Monday (when I revisit tape study on several players I overlooked) and continuing through 2018 or so. Until then, we speculate, debate, root for the home team and look forward to a September when the rubber of opinion meets the regular season road. It's what makes the draft so much fun!
Three More Draft Impressions
Old-Timer chest thumping is the new commissioner hugging: We are so over the hug story! NFL legends using second-round pick announcements as a bully pulpit for their accomplishments are what's trending now.
Friday night brought a spectacle of old-time one-upmanship. Jonathan Ogden congratulated the Ravens, champions in his glory years and champions now. Guy McIntyre spoke of the five-time champion 49ers. Larry Little played what we thought was the ultimate trump card for the current-and-1972 Dolphins: Who can argue with an undefeated season? Dave Robinson can: The Packers legend and newly minted Hall of Famer embarked on a long filibuster about the Packers. Tony Casillas defiantly stomped on all of them by insisting that his Cowboys were "still America's team."
It's always better hearing old guys brag than hearing them tell young people not to brag. The only problem is that some teams have little to brag about. Tim Krumrie of the Bengals had to announce two picks, one of them the phonetically tricky "Giovanni Bernard." Actually, "Giovanni" is not a tough name to pronounce unless you dress, look and sound like a cross between Woody Harrelson and Sam Elliott, which describes Krumrie. Krumrie's Bengals gave him little to brag about -- an AFC championship doesn't cut it in such distinguished company -- but he compensated with the kind of cowboy hat so magnificent that it could have contributed to the budget overruns for "At Heaven's Gate." Deion Sanders selected for the Falcons, another team that left an epic promoter with little to promote. His presentation was understated, his wardrobe predictably Prime Time. The moral of the Legendary Announcer story may be this: If you have nothing to brag about, dress like you do.
All dressed up with nothing to announce. Boston Marathon hero Joe Andruzzi was on hand to make a Boston Strong message and announce the Patriots first-round pick on Thursday night. Predictably, the Patriots traded the pick. The business of America is business, Calvin Coolidge once said, and the Patriots are a Coolidge kind of franchise. You cannot exactly honor the memories and sacrifices of Boston-area sports lovers by deviating from a strategy that has brought success and joy to exactly those people for over a decade, in the name of a symbolic gesture.
That said, Andruzzi still got to make a stirring, powerful statement to a wide audience. When the other retired legends went to work in the second and third rounds, it became clear that Vikings legend Chuck Forman would not get an opportunity to announce a pick. The Vikings traded their picks in that round to the Patriots. So Foreman was sent to the stage, midway through the third round, to introduce himself, "represent" for his idle team, and basically justify the time and effort of coming to Manhattan. Foreman had no important message. There were few diehard Vikings fans hanging around. Foreman retired in 1980, so fans under 40 or so do not remember him at all. The microphone did not feed back when he approached it, but in a movie it would have.
Foreman was an outstanding player for a great team, and it was great to see him. He also played briefly for the Patriots, and Kevin Faulk (Andruzzi moved on to bigger things) took the stage several times for the Patriots. Foreman could have filled in for Faulk, giving him more to do than go up and announce that he had nothing to do.
Of course, if that had happened, the Patriots would have traded the pick.
"Bang the table" became annoying almost instantaneously. Mike Mayock is the best draft analyst in the business. He knows more than just about any of us, and he can present what he knows better than any of us, hands down, because he just looks and sounds better than the rest of us, who become increasingly troll-like as we obsess over college tape. But Mayock kept using the phrase "bang the table" to express a team's enthusiasm about a player. If a coach or exec really-really-really wants a guy, he has to "bang the table" at a meeting.
It's a clear metaphor that expresses a legitimate point, but draft coverage takes on a life of its own, and "bang the table" went straight down Cliché Avenue within hours. I only heard the phrase second-hand until Saturday, but Mayock was still using it when discussing the Giants' selection of Ryan Nassib. You cannot keep banging the table, because eventually all anyone will hear is banging, and the act will lose the ability to provide emphasis. The phrase works the same way.
But then, it's hard to talk for 16 hours on any subject without getting a little redundant. And at least Mayock did not lose his voice this year, like he does every year. We just need some metaphor variation. How about this one: Tap the Wine Glass with a Spoon. It can be used whenever you want to see a franchise and a coveted prospect kiss.