Ask any football writer—the beat guys, not the draftheads—what sort of coverage they hate the most, and they’ll tell you it’s draft speculation. Ask any football writer what sort of coverage gets the most sweet, sweet pageclicks, and they’ll tell you it’s draft speculation. People love this shit, as pointless as it may be (and it is supremely pointless, which absolutely does not make it any less enjoyable). My own theory is that because sports has a way of quickly quashing optimism, the only time it’s feasible to believe the best about your team is before the actual sports start, and the draft allows us to extend that optimism years and even decades into the future. So we eat up the mock drafts and pre-draft chatter and exult in potential trades, and the gap between the Super Bowl and the actual draft is long enough for the rumors to selfcorrect and overcorrect and swing all the way back to just plain wrong. It can make you want to put your head through your monitor, but damn, it’s a good time.

Like this! This is fun. A report from Ron Jaworski that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is now the favorite to go No. 1 to the Bucs, usurping presumptive top pick Jameis Winston.

“The latest I’m hearing now from my sources around the league, who are pretty wired in, is that he’s going to go number one now to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” said Jaworski.

“Mariota’s stock, remember it was quiet for a while? And there’s a reason for that. There’s a lull every year until about 30 days before the draft. Now the coaches get involved. Prior to that, it’s the scouts, it’s the roadies that are filling out the paper work. Now the coaches get involved. Now team owners get involved. Now general managers get involved. So you’re starting to see, in my opinion, Winston’s stock starting to slide a little bit and Mariota’s stock starting to go up a little bit.”

Do you believe Jaworski’s report? That’s not really the point. After the College Football Playoff, consensus hadn’t yet chosen between Winston or Mariota as the better QB option, but at some point last month, opinion congealed around Winston to Tampa Bay and Mariota possibly slipping past the Titans at No. 2, all the way toward the high single-digits or even later. There were literally no games to base this on—only film-watching and combine impressions and groupthink and misdirection. But consensus very much matters in the draft, even if its foundation isn’t a solid one—the perception that other front offices feel a certain way about a certain player is enough to drive his selection at a certain time.

But if that consensus emerges too early, as it appears to have here, the draftniks with dead air to fill and the team personnel guys with salaries to justify jump to fill that void and outthink themselves in the other direction. The pendulum had to swing back, no matter if Mariota is really above Winston. Ron Jaworski’s “wired-in league sources” were always going to fall back in love with Mariota. Mike Mayock’s third—but not final— draft rankings were always going to slot Mariota above Winston.

The NFL has absolutely become a year-round sport, but not without significant strain on its tentpoles. The draft can sustain weeks of speculation; extend that to months, and the seams start to show.


(Or maybe this is just the Titans trying to trick teams into trading with them by convincing them that Jameis Winston will still be there at No. 2, and Jaworski being the useful idiot parroting their bad information. You know what? It’s probably exactly that. I can’t emphasize this enough: the draft run-up is dumb and fun and the dumber it gets, the more fun it is.)

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