Starved For Sports

Yesterday the National Football League draft broadcast set an all-time record for viewership.  And it didn’t just sneak past the prior record, either — it obliterated it.  Some 15.6 million people tuned in to watch the draft, which is 37 percent more than the number of people who watched the 2019 draft.

5ea250d00ec19.image_Gee, I wonder why the viewership numbers went through the roof?  After all, the NFL draft is normally one of the most overhyped, boring events imaginable, with a bunch of delays between picks and countless talking heads yammering about the best player still “on the board.”  And this year, where all of the participants in the draft were carefully maintaining social distancing and sheltering in their different houses, there was even less drama than normal.  No rational person would spend hours watching the NFL draft — unless it turns out to be the only live event for a major sport in, say, six weeks, and a bunch of sports-starved Americans are dying to watch something, anything, that wasn’t recorded in 1988.

I’m guessing that the rest of the NFL draft will set records, too — because what else are you going to watch?  And if some of the lesser sports want to increase their fan base, they might just decide to put on some made-for-TV event that allows Americans to satisfy their lust for sports.  Badminton?  Curling?   Bocce?  They all allow participants to maintain some appropriate distance, and yet also involve that essential element of competition.  At this point, the true sports nuts would probably be willing to watch two geriatric guys at some retirement center in Florida play a death match on the shuffleboard court.

The interesting thing about the NFL draft is whether the extraordinary ratings mean anything about what fans are going to do when the restrictions are lifted and sports begin to actually be played again, in arenas and stadiums.  Will they go watch live, or has weeks of social distancing caused them to want, instead, to only watch the games on TV?  I’m guessing that there’s a fair number of people who will happily don their masks and go to see their favorite team play — especially if its an event that is played outdoors.

Crossing The Parrot Line

Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb:  if you feel you need to have a parrot announce something to make it more interesting, the announcement is necessarily so intrinsically boring that even a squawking parrot won’t help.

470ff7460e14467f854bcb5bc442ac98So it is with the NFL draft, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have announced that their fourth-round pick will be delivered by a parrot — a Catalina Macaw named Zsa Zsa, to be precise — from the fake pirate ship in the Buccaneers’ stadium.

It’s just the latest effort to try to jazz up the draft, which is the single most boring televised event in the history of organized sports.  For most of the history of the NFL, the draft wasn’t televised, because the NFL Commissioner and team owners correctly concluded that there was nothing remotely telegenic about it.  They wisely recognized that watching men think about which college player they should select, and watching players fidget while they wonder when they’re going to be picked, falls distinctly into watching-paint-dry territory, and seeing the selections appear on stage to don ball caps, give a grip-and-grin with the Commissioner, and display fake jerseys isn’t really any better.  It’s hopelessly dull stuff.

But when the endless quest for more televised sports activities caused someone to decide that the NFL draft should be on TV, too, the seemingly endless quest for ways to make it more interesting to watch began.  After all, even the most diehard NFL fan, whose entire life revolves around his team, can’t bear to watch uninterrupted hours of a yammering Mel Kiper, Jr. and his curious coiffure.  So gimmicks were developed, like having picks announced by former players or fans, or remote cut-ins of player families reacting to the news that their family member was drafted.  The parrot is only the latest, and most pathetically desperate, cry for attention.  Next thing we know, the Browns’ selections will be announced by a guy dressed up like the Grim Reaper or read by the team’s garbage hauler.  One the Parrot Line is crossed, anything is possible

If somebody asks me on Monday whether I watched this weekend’s NFL draft, I’ll think of the parrot and say:  “No, because I have an actual life.”

Jabrill Peppers? Really??

I didn’t watch the TV broadcast of the first day of the draft.  Partly it’s because it always is a time of heartbreak for Browns fans, but partly on principle.  I’m supposed to get excited about the mere occurrence of the NFL’s mechanism for deciding which team gets to begin negotiations with which athlete?  Sorry, I’d rather do just about anything else.

So this morning, I checked to see what the Browns had done.  Hmmm . . . three first-round choices?  A guy who hopefully will provide some much-needed past-rushing skills to the defense?  OK, I get that.  A tight end?  OK, a bit more iffy, but if the kid is a playmaker, I suppose I get that, too.

peppers-celebratejpg-c2f7c7fec7e3927dBut Jabrill Peppers?  Really?

I’m not saying this because Peppers attended That School Up North.  I’m saying it because I’ve followed the Big Ten, and I’ve watched Peppers play.  I think he is a reasonably good punt returner, but other than that I think he’s one of the most overrated players in college sports in the last five years.  Sure, he played a lot of positions — but how many big plays did he make in big games?  When the chips were down and Michigan was trying to beat Ohio State, what kind of contribution did Peppers make?  I think really good players tend to rise to the top in big games.  Peppers didn’t.

I hope I’m wrong, and Peppers is a combination of Eric Metcalf and Thom Darden, bringing punt-returning excitement and interception big-play potential to the Browns.  But right now, color me skeptical.  Peppers seems like an undersized guy who lacks serious “football speed” and made his rep scoring touchdowns and playing multiple positions against teams that weren’t very good.  In the NFL, on the other hand, he’ll be playing for a team that isn’t very good.

I’m sensing another wasted first-round pick, folks.

As Browns Fans Contemplate Another First Round Pick . . . .

the-scream

If you didn’t know that he lived in Europe in the 19th century, you’d probably swear that Edvard Munch was a Cleveland Browns fan.

Why?  Because The Scream perfectly captures, better than anything else I’ve seen, the unique combination of horror, fear, disgust, and profound dread that grips Cleveland Browns fans as they contemplate the team making another first-round pick in the NFL draft.  Indeed, Munch even painted the disturbing, roiling sky behind the angst-ridden screamer in the Browns’ familiar orange colors.

If you’re a Browns fan, knowing that the NFL draft is only a few hours away and that the Cleveland franchise has the first choice to boot, you feel almost compelled to cup your face in your hands, let your eyes open wide, and howl out to the waiting world the deep anxiety and disquiet that you feel as you consider prior drafts and contemplate the likes of Gerard Warren, Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Kellen Winslow . . . and Johnny Manziel.

In fact, any fan of another NFL team would think of the ludicrous choice of “Johnny Football” and feel a perverse sense of comfort.  After all, how could this year’s pick possibly be any more wrong-headed and disastrous than that?  But this is the Cleveland Browns, remember.  With the Browns, all things bad are possible.

Go ahead, Browns Backers!  Tip back your head and wail for all you’re worth.  The NFL draft is here.

Bad Number Ones

Last night, against my better judgment, I watched the Browns’ preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.  The Browns lost — of course! — 24-13, and looked pretty bad in the process.  I came away with two conclusions.

First, it’s going to be a very long season.  Some of the Browns’ better players didn’t play, but this team has so many holes it’s hard to see how they can be filled.  The offensive line is a patchwork, and the defense looks terrible.  The Browns got gashed on the run, and Atlanta routinely converted on third down.  In the last few years of crappiness, the Browns offense has been pedestrian at best, but the defense has been a porous disaster.  I think we’re in for more of the same.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland BrownsThe second conclusion is that Justin Gilbert may be the worst number one pick the Browns have made since coming back into the NFL.  That’s saying something, because their record of number one picks is one of dismal failure after dismal failure.  After all, Johnny Manziel was a first-round pick, and so was Brady Quinn, and so was Brandon Weeden, and so was Gerard Warren, and so was Trent Richardson . . . and the list of head cases and utter busts goes on.  But at least these guys looked like they knew how to play football.  Gilbert doesn’t.  He seems completely clueless out there as he takes bad angles, whiffs on tackles, and gets burned repeatedly.  If the Browns’ defensive backfield talent is so bad that Gilbert actually starts, the Browns D will be historically awful.  I’m talking potential record-setting ineptitude.

I don’t mean to pick on one player, but Gilbert is an example of why the Browns are a failed franchise.  Other teams make number one picks that immediately have an impact, score touchdowns, rack up sacks, and make the All-Pro team.  The Browns somehow make number one picks of players who look like they’ve never seen a football before.  Is it any wonder that the team is such a frustrating mess?

MoneyBrowns

The Cleveland Browns seem to at least have a strategy for the upcoming NFL draft.  That’s a change from past years when the Browns clearly didn’t know what the hell they were doing and appeared to be just winging it on draft day.

The Browns had the number 2 pick in this year’s draft — no surprise there; given their record of failure, the Browns always have a pick in the top ten — but they traded down with the Eagles to try to accumulate picks.  That took the Browns out of contention for the two hot quarterbacks in the draft, but it left them with the eighth pick and gave them 12 picks overall and six in the first 100, in a draft that’s supposed to be a deep one.  That’s a smart play in my book, because the Browns’ roster is starved of talent.  In fact, it’s so bad that Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have the Browns as underdogs in every game of the 2016 season.  0-16, here we come!

ce14af7ff29fdc84I’m leery of drafting a QB in the first round, too.  First-round quarterbacks often are busts.  That’s been true for the Browns, starting with Tim Couch and including Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel.  All were dismal failures.  And you can’t blame the quarterbacks exclusively for the failures, either, if there’s no offensive line or surrounding talent.  Rather than spend a high pick on the quarterback of the moment, I’d rather build the talent level.  The best picks the Browns made after coming back into the NFL — Joe Thomas and Joe Haden — were bread-and-butter players you could build a team around.  Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t have the eye for talent that let them complete the team-building process.  That doesn’t mean the model is wrong, it just means that the Browns need somebody who can distinguish a stud from a dud.

This year, the Browns have a new team of people to try to accomplish that.  They have a new head coach, a new front office and a new approach:  analytics, a la Moneyball.  The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets and put him in place as Chief Strategy Officer.  It’s weird to think that an NFL team needs somebody to set a “strategy” — how about, “Just win, baby!” — but maybe a clearly delineated strategy will help the rudderless Browns.  I’m hesitant to buy into generic “analytics” as a panacea, too, but I think taking a more structured approach to evaluating players is bound to help.  No one using analytics would have drafted Johnny Manziel.  (Of course, the Browns being the Browns, some fans of analytics in the NFL are afraid that having Cleveland lead the way inevitably means that analytics in the NFL are doomed, and one commented that they thought DePodesta was a genius until he decided to work for the Browns.)

So we’ve got a new set of decision-makers, and a new strategy and approach.  Now comes the hard part — actually picking players, both in the draft and via free agency.  Browns Backers the world over are holding their breath, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this group will actually show that it knows what it’s doing.  Why not?  We’ve been holding our breath for so long it’s become second nature.

Down And Drafty

Hey, is the NFL draft over yet?  It is?  These days, I would have thought the NFL would have expanded the draft to at least a week-long celebration of team logos, ball caps, and windy analyses from football pundits and hair-challenged draft wizards like Mel Kiper.  Thank god they’ve limited it to only a multi-day exercise in wretched excess!

The logical next question is:  which unfortunate college players were drafted by the Cleveland Browns?  We all know that one of two things happen to players drafted by the Browns.  Either they are great players named Joe, and are doomed to play forever for a cursed franchise that will never, ever make the NFL playoffs — like Joe Thomas or Joe Haden — or they are colossal disappointments and contribute even more gloom to a franchise that has been cloud-covered since its return to the League years ago.

This year, the Browns did not draft someone named Joe, so all of the new players mustfall into the second category.  They did draft a guy who will make the “All-Unpronounceable” team — Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.  His name sounds like an exercise in Pig Latin.  He’s a cornerback from Oregon who suffered a torn ACL and therefore didn’t have the opportunity to be run over by Ezekiel Elliott in the national championship game like the rest of the Ducks defense.  Of course, he’s a project.  So is Vince Mayle, the wide receiver who has size and speed but struggles to hold on to the ball.  So what?  So are the Browns.