Monday, May 02, 2016

We're gonna build a big beautiful defensive line and Canada will pay for it

Nobody knows nuttin' about nuttin'. Well, except maybe for Saints first round draft choice Sheldon Rankins who seems to know something about "nut stunts."
What he does best:

• Elite short-area quickness for his size. Makes offensive linemen look silly with nut-stunts.

• Immediately controls linemen when playing from a head-up position.

• Already understands his leverage advantage and drives through offensive linemen.

• Explosive interior player. One of the few in the class that offers some juice as a

pass-rusher. Was one of most successful players in one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl.

Don't ask me what that is. Like I said, we don't know nuttin'. This matter of who knows what about what comes up every year during the draft as fans and media watching together (mostly for fun, we think) share their immediate reactions via the internet.  Again, it's important to emphasize that fans do this for fun because it may not always seem that way.

Instead, the interaction takes on the character of an epistemological debate... engaged in by a class of angry freshman philosophy students... in a loud bar... with lots and lots of Crying Jordan memes. The result is violent failure to agree on the nature and value of knowledge or who, if anyone, might posses it. Do the idiot "Draft Experts" on TV know what they're talking about?  Are the idiot War Room gossip reporters getting played by their anonymous sources?  Do the idiots in charge of your favorite team know what they're doing?  Do the idiot fans criticizing your favorite team know more or less than the idiots in charge of it? Can we at least agree that everyone here is an idiot? No, we certainly cannot!

Who can win such a debate?  The best we can do is describe our own particular biases and hope that they reveal at least some small part of what some might consider the truth of the matter.  My own bias tends to align with Ralph's here.
The thing about the NFL Draft is nobody knows a damn thing. The teams don't know, the draft experts don't know, and we the fans don't either. Don't believe me? If the Saints were consistently good at finding players in the draft, they'd have more than 1 player on the roster from the 2012 and 2014 drafts combined.

The draft is a completely random event where no one has mastered it because projecting how young men in their 20s will react to suddenly having fortune and other large men smash into them is incredibly difficult. There's probably way more luck involved in the draft than teams or fans want to admit.
I may be even more of an orthodox "completely random event" theory guy than Ralph is. I would apply it not only to the draft but to all of the rest of football and, let's be honest, pretty much all of life.  Nobody anywhere knows what the hell they're doing; not me, not you, and certainly not anyone who presumes to put themselves in charge of anything.  Do the idiot fans have standing to complain when their idiot team does something idiotic? Damn right, they do. At least, that's the way I'd draw it up.

What this means for us when we go to argue with the Saints' draft performance this year is that we should not worry ourselves too much about the result.  The value of these selections in terms of on field performance is unknowable now and won't even begin to be measurable for at least another year.  Instead we can only argue with the team's strategic attitude toward drafting.  Their behavior suggests that they believe themselves to be in possession of special knowledge no one else can grasp. And, according to our preferred model, that's just not the way to go about things.

The essential problem of the NFL Draft is this. Despite the obscene, dehumanizing process of evaluation; despite the countless dollars and hours invested in scouting,  testing, timing, interviewing, investigating, weighing, poking, and picking at hundreds and hundreds of prospects, the only certainties we can assert are 1) Only a few of these players are actually any good.  2) It's still anybody's guess which players those are.

For those of us capable of accepting the limits of our own knowledge,  the best solution is to play probabilities.  This is a lottery. Most of the tickets are losers but the odds are slightly better if you have more of them. Trade down for more picks if you can. If not, at least use every chance you've been alotted.

The Saints' solution to the problem of the unknowable future, on the other hand is, "No, fuck y'all,  we actually know."  Every year, they trade away picks to go up and get the "top guy on our board" or they invest a 2nd rounder in a redshirt project who may never see the field. They trade future picks to go get some dude from Canada, or a guy who has only played field hockey, or whose hoverboard balance looks like it might translate well into long snapping. Whatever, it doesn't matter. The point is there's a secret trick to doing this and the Saints want you to know that they know what it is.

Admittedly there is a kind of logic to this.  If we're operating in a perfectly random environment where nobody knows what's going on, it's just as well to at least pretend your badass crazy idea will make the team great again through force of will if nothing else. And in 2016, at least, maybe that really is the winning ticket.

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