By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub
BOSTON (CBS) — We often hear, the run-up to the NFL Draft is referred to as the “Silly Season,” a phrase first published a full eight years before Rutgers challenged Princeton to the inaugural intercollegiate “football” game.
According to The Oxford Treasury of Sayings & Quotations, the term was introduced by London’s The Saturday Review in July 1861 to describe the period when Parliament was in recess. With less serious news fit to print during August and September, pages were filled with pieces of fluff and triviality.
In the century and a half since scarlet-scarfed Rutgers outscored Princeton, 6-4, in something more resemblant of rugby, the sport (and business) has evolved into what we recognize today. All that while, the meaning of the Silly Season has essentially stayed the same.
Applied to the NFL, it’s the post-Super Bowl stretch from pro days until the last picks are in on selection Saturday. With less real news to report — some signings here, a franchise relocation there — it’s a time when the 24-hour cycle of speculation about the draft always gives us something to talk about. And Tweet about. The Silly Season then culminates with the ultimate exercise in pro football frivolity — giving out draft grades.
There were 253 players selected last Thursday through Saturday. Nary a single one has played a single down in the NFL. None is a sure thing. Not even overall No. 1 pick Myles Garrett. Cleveland fans need not be reminded of the last time the Browns chose first and opted for a freak-of-an-athlete defensive end. The year was 2000, and the player was Courtney Brown of Penn State. Brown completed a full season just once, his rookie year, and ended his Cleveland career with 17 sacks in 47 games.
As much as anyone else, New Englanders understand that time is the true judge of a player chosen well and a player chosen poorly. The Patriots’ 2000 draft will always be exhibit A of the inexactness of player projections, as evidenced by the skinny pick sandwiched between their other two sixth-rounders, cornerback Antwan Harris and defensive tackle David Nugent.
Perhaps some foresaw the possibility of Tom Brady supplanting John Friesz and Michael Bishop on New England’s depth chart. But Drew Bledsoe? Or, eventually, Joe Montana on the roster of all-time greats? Certainly, fans of the Browns and the other 31 NFL teams need not be reminded of that. Yet they are, as an annual rite of springtime in the NFL; whether watching coverage of the draft on ESPN and the NFL Network or coming across Brady’s own social media posts.
Fast forwarding 16 years, it might be harder than ever to immediately assess a single selection, much less a team’s entire draft class. The difference between college and pro football has always been vast. But the disparity seems to be widening, thanks to the increasing number of college spread offenses and decreasing number of hours that players spend practicing on both levels.
Nonetheless, the ratings of evaluators and their evaluations are delivered with sudden swiftness. Post-pick. Post-round. Post-Mr. Irrelevant.
Of course, there weren’t many opportunities to instantly analyze the Patriots’ selections, considering that they made as many trades (four) as picks on Friday and Saturday of this year’s draft. In between deals with the Titans, Lions, Chiefs and Cowboys, the Pats took two defenders (Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise) and two offensive tackles (Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott) from the 83rd thru 211th slots overall.
Despite assembling the smallest draft class in team history and smallest by a defending Super Bowl champ since the 49ers also took just four players in 1995, the Pats got mostly good grades.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper went so far as to give them an A, viewing their draft in the context of the entire offseason, including trades that New England made with its picks. Meanwhile, SI.com posted two grades. It awarded the Pats an A-minus (with pre-draft moves) and a C+ (draft-days only).
Thursday afternoon, the Patriots are scheduled to formally introduce third-rounders Rivers (Younsgtown State) and Garcia (Troy) to the media. We’re not expecting to get our first look at their draft classmates Wise and McDermott, along with the slew of undrafted rookies joining them in Foxborough, until the following week.
Media day is still a long way off from judgement day for the Patriots’ 2017 draft class. That day will come well after the Silly Season subsides, and the real season begins.
Having written that, I invite you to listen to the observations of our special guests on last Sunday’s 98.5 The Sports Hub NFL Draft Show.
We were joined by Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) of MassLive.com joined the program to discuss New England’s draft their team-building process in 2017:
Andy Hart (@jumbohart) of Patriots Football Weekly joined me to discuss New England’s crop of picks and undrafted free agent signings:
Also, longtime NFL reporter Don Banks (@DonBanks) shared his Snap Judgements shortly after returning to Boston from covering the draft in Philadelphia.
Bob Socci is the radio play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots. You can follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.