"To the vector belong the spoils."
- NFL Draft season proverb
"Alright alright, go ahead, keep it secret! Just remember this: when you control the mail, you control...information!"
- Newman (Seinfeld, Episode: "The Lip Reader")
"So we feel like we're really in no hard timeline in the immediate future to make a decision, but when we do make a decision we're going to do it after gathering as much good information as we possibly can."
- Jets GM Joe Douglas, March 3, 2021
Unless you've been living somewhere like the gulag archipelago or have recently awakened from a coma whose onset predates the Apollo 11 moon landing, you are probably aware that the New York Jets own the #2 pick in this year's draft and that with that pick, they fully intend to select their next quarterback.
The hay is in the barn. You're good to go. Championship. It is what it is. The Jets killed Carl. Your hemorrhoids just popped and they are killing you.
Choose whatever cliche you like to encapsulate your views on the matter. Joe Douglas doesn't care, and neither does the National Football League.
Less than three short (or long, depending on your perception of time and level of confidence in the decision makers at "One Jets Drive") weeks from now, on Thursday, April 29, 2021 AD, NFL frontman Roger Goodell will saunter up to the podium and announce (in a voice dripping with hints of latent sardonicism) that with the second pick in the 2021 NFL draft, "the New York Jets select Zach Wilson. Quarterback. BYU."
That I disagree with this monumental decision is not the point here.
This is really about the process and how we've arrived at this point.
You have surely heard by now that the NFL is king. That we are talking "big business" with a capital B as in Billions.
Given this backdrop of wads of hundred dollar banknotes metaphorically falling from the sky every minute of every day into the hands of the owners and league stakeholders, it is perhaps more than mere coincidence that the perceived rise and fall of draft prospects in the (tortuous) build-up to draft day is referred to as a player's "draft stock". This is, after all, a market for players.
(Ignore for now the fact that it's not a free market but one to which the military term "draft" is applicable and well, aptly applied.)
In the stock market, there are all kinds of trades. I won't get into the weeds too much on this. But there is, specifically, one type of investment known as a "momentum trade".
While conventional wisdom preaches "buy low, sell high" (among other basic principles generally accepted as foundational), momentum trades often have more to do with "FOMO" (fear of missing out) and being caught up in the tide of popular sentiment than with having an accurate reading on the fundamentals of a company, markets, or the economy as a whole.
If you're looking for a quick, simplified illustration of this phenomenon, just think of folks rushing to buy Gamestop or AMC even at stratospheric price points.
In the media-manipulated meat market (more on this later) that NFL draft season has become, it is not uncommon for a phony prospect like Paxton Lynch to be elevated while a legit future star like Aaron Rodgers drops like a stone, with the end result being that a future Hall Of Fame QB and unequivocal bust end up (albeit in different drafts) with virtually identical draft positions.
In this "bizarro" world, yes, Aaron Rodgers and Paxton Lynch both go late in round 1.
The crux of what I am getting at here (and why you should care) is that unlike Newman with his lovable loser persona, mail truck and aesthetically pleasing blue on blue postal uniform, the overpowering purveyors / controllers of information in this current "market of ideas" are the talking heads at massive corporations like NFL Network, Fox Sports, the "Worldwide Leader", etc., the so-called experts (I won't bother to cite names) who have managed to gain ascendancy in what has grown into almost a sort of cottage industry surrounding the NFL and its satellite enterprises -- mega TV and streaming deals, social media, gambling, fantasy football, and the crown jewel of hype and speculation, arguments and recriminations, the NFL Draft.
Anybody can blog or tweet from virtually anywhere. On a given day, there may be tens of thousands of draft-related tweets and retweets, message board comments, and long form posts such as this, but none of these things move the needle.
The movers and shakers, the authors and vehicles of what Proust referred to as "received opinion", know who they are. And some of these individuals wield their voices without critical thought or consideration, seemingly at times speaking opinions and viewpoints less because they actually believe what they are saying than for the fleeting "glory" of attracting eyeballs and mouse clicks.
The more controversy the better, so long as it’s something that doesn’t irreparably damage your long term viability (i.e. marketability) as a talking head.
The draft itself, a live televised event that was moved several years ago to prime time, in reality consists of nothing more than a theatricalized reading of names off glorified index cards.
What was once a 20-round marathon-type slog conducted in obscurity behind closed doors in a prewar warehouse type setting has truly risen to staggering heights. The explosion of "The Draft" has rocketed the league way past carpeted disco ballrooms in NYC hotels and into 80,000 seat pleasure palaces like "Jerry World".
"Draft Day" is merely the culmination of a 3-month long process known as "Draft Season" which officially begins the moment after the final whistle has blown in the Super Bowl.
The insanity starts right then and there, well before Roger Goodell ambles up to the podium channeling an awkward, psuedo-quixotic persona of WWE heel mixed with half-baked attempts at avuncularity.
Consider the NFL's annual scouting combine.
This is an environment where the absurd has become normalized, where, in a televised setting disturbingly evocative of what a human meat market might look like, the sight of young men in spandex reacting to a football on a stick -- or lifting weights, or running, bending, and shimmying through positional drills while having obscenities barked at them by fat sweaty coaches -- draws enough live viewership to be monetized as revenue.
In terms of the Jets, as much as we'd like to believe that ownership and the front office have a "bunker mentality" (another military term) when it comes to player evaluations and franchise-altering decisions, these men (and women) are, at the end of the day, human. They don't live in a bubble. Even if they don't read the news, they hear things. Their son or wife or neighborhood gas station attendant (or random homeless man) might hear something and relay it to them.
As we saw in the "Roscoe's Diner" episode of Jets "Hard Knocks", GMs and front office execs read Rotoworld. They read mock drafts.
NFL GMs, as most men in any situation, are a prideful bunch. Nobody is looking to go out on a limb if it means risking looking like an absolute fool.
Consider this statement from an NFL.com article during the lead-up to the 2017 NFL draft:
Teams are certainly smitten with Trubisky's talents as a passer. He has been called the best pure passer in the 2017 class by some evaluators despite his inexperience at the position.
Now, even with the benefit of hindsight, we do not know for certain the extent to which these statements -- clearly meant to be passed off more as observations rather than opinions -- were actually true.
All we know and the only thing of consequence is that the Bears took the bait. They not only fell in line with the supposed mainstream perception of Trubisky being the "safest" QB in the draft (and somehow superior to Watson and Mahomes), but grew so desperate to ensure their selection that they gave up more-than-insignificant draft capital to slide up from #3 to #2 to secure the rights to Mitch from UNC.
How does a mistake as egregious as this happen in a multi-Billion dollar industry at the league's most important position?
As much as the Bears' Ryan Pace has become the poster boy for GM folly and incompetence, it's rarely if ever mentioned that after the Browns made their selection of Myles Garrett official with the #1 overall pick, the QB whisperer himself, Kyle Shanahan, had the pick of the litter, the first crack at Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson, yet opted to trade down one spot and draft Stanford defensive tackle Solomon Thomas instead.
And what's more, if you are inclined to believe the following morsel, even the Browns at #1 overall were torn over whether to select Mitchell Trubisky:
Before the 2017 draft, then-Browns coach @huejack10 was dug in on Myles Garrett as the No. 1 overall pick. The front office wanted Mitchell Trubisky. He took extreme measures to plead his case. From Ep. 45 of the Pass It Down podcast, with @fatnatsilver… pic.twitter.com/Fmkr8NBOJb
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) March 31, 2021
Albert Breer, in his 2018 post-draft exposé on how the Jets got Sam Darnold, noted that the Jets and Mike Maccagnan, sitting at #6 overall, were also intrigued by Trubisky.
Somehow, somewhere, an opinion emerges and catches on, even if it flies in the face of "the eye test", which is just another way of saying: plain sight. What was birthed as a fresh take (or passed off as one) begins to spread and snowball.
The ensuing phase is that the mainstream, which has now "caught up" with the late riser, now tries to participate in this phenomenon and piles on.
Some even believe that by joining the new mainstream, they are acting as independent thinkers and non-conformists when in reality, it's more that they are conforming to the non-conformists.
As far as media outlets such as NFLN go, it's best to approach things soberly and understand that these parties have no vested interest in providing you with honest, balanced coverage. Their goal is to get as many potential viewers as excited as possible to tune in to the NFL draft and all the redundant, insipid coverage leading up to it.
Think about it. At this point, unless you're still living in denial, it is a foregone conclusion that the Jets will select Zach Wilson at #2.
Now if the NFLN (and ESPN, etc.) know this, obviously, it certainly makes sense for them to talk up the upstart, congenial, smiling kid who says all the right things and looks like he could moonlight as an Abercrombie model.
If the element of suspense has been removed from the pick, then the next best thing is to get fans all lathered up and excited to watch young Wilson -- grinning and looking freshly spray tanned -- hold up that outstretched #1 jersey and bro hug the commish.
It is in this vein that alliterative sobriquets like "Broadway Baker" or empty catchphrases like a QB prospect being "made for New York" are first uttered and then repeated nonsensically for days, weeks, and months.
If you don't believe me, try this experiment:
Tune in to any episode of NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" aired over the last two weeks or so and count the number of times Zach Wilson's "throw of the pro day circuit" has been aired. If you are scoring at home, you may want to fetch a pen and paper ahead of time. On the same piece of paper, or using your hands if you prefer, count the number of times a Zach Wilson interception, sack, poor decision, or otherwise negative play which might reflect poorly on young Wilson has been aired.
To make things easier, I'll save you the trouble. You would need more than two hands to keep track of the number of times the pro day throw is played back and zero hands (or even digits) to tally the negative plays.
The Wilson pro day throw is on a continuous loop, while any negative plays are nowhere to be seen.
Now with this in mind, go back and watch the clips aired on NFLN or ESPN during any segments where the Sam Darnold trade was being analyzed. What do you see?
You see Sam Darnold throwing an ugly pick-6 versus the Colts, and another interception into triple coverage versus the Patriots from his infamous "seeing ghosts" game. These plays, just like Wilson's pro day throw, run on a continuous loop.
If you watched nothing but the NFLN's "Path to the Draft" coverage, you would think Zach Wilson was Superman and that Sam Darnold was the worst QB in the history of planet Earth, as bad as NY Jets alum and AAF reject Christian Hackenberg.
Here is where vectors come into play.
First, in case you weren't paying attention in middle school geometry and are not a reader of books on infectious disease:
noun: vector; plural noun: vectors
a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, especially as determining the position of one point in space relative to another.
a matrix with one row or one column.
denoting a type of graphical representation using straight lines to construct the outlines of objects.
modifier noun: vector
an organism, typically a biting insect or tick, that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another.
Curiously enough, by either definition of the word, the Trubisky phenomenon clearly behaved as a vector.
It was a force having both direction and magnitude, causing Trubisky to rise up draft boards and other QBs to fall.
Insofar as the infectious disease analogy, sadly from the point of view of the Bears and their fans, the Trubisky mania was essentially a virus, transmitted from host to host and ultimately, multiplying intensively to the point of completely taking over one of its hosts, GM Ryan Pace.
An objective analysis of how the remainder of round 1 of the 2017 draft actually played out proves telling.
The Chiefs jumped all the way up from #27 to #10 to secure Patrick Mahomes. Then, two picks later, the Houston Texans jumped up from #25 to #12 to land Deshaun Watson.
Clearly, these were not spur-of-the-moment decisions by the Chiefs and Texans. You don't make a bold move like that without serious planning and premeditation.
Ask yourself which is more likely: that the Chiefs and Texans, along with the rest of the league, were actually enamored with Mitch from UNC and forced to pivot on the fly to plans B or C, "settling for" Mahomes and Watson. Or that the scuttlebutt on Trubisky as some kind of legit franchise QB prospect was a deliberate ruse planted by the likes of the Chiefs' and Texans' front offices?
Now the truth in all of this is obviously more of a complex nexus than either of these black and white scenarios. And even if the Chiefs and Texans were "guilty" of these shenanigans, they would never admit it. Nor would they be punished by the league, as this sort of tactic is openly available to all 32 teams and has been accepted under the umbrella of "gamesmanship" or whatever term you prefer.
What is clear is that media outlets were, whether intentionally or unwittingly, effectively used to function as the mouthpiece / conduit for this information.
So how does all of this pertain to the Jets and their upcoming choice at #2?
There are so many possible angles and perspectives from which to attack this question. But with limited space and time here, I will limit myself to a single illustration which centers on the anti-Zach Wilson in terms of the predraft process and its game of "winners" and "losers", Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
With so many possible narratives from which to choose with regards to Fields, more than a few commentators and so-called experts have chosen to draw from the convenient and expedient playbook of label making.
You've surely heard from the detractors by now. Fields is a "one-read QB" or "struggles with mental processing" or is "lazy" and "lacks commitment".
This is not to say there cannot be valid criticisms of Fields which may or may not touch on these areas. That's not really the point here.
The point is about the prevailing narrative. It's all about the overall vector of how Fields is being portrayed and how his draft stock seems destined to drop (or has already dropped) despite zero actual football games having been played during this interval.
Consider this recent tweet by NFL.com's Charley Casserly:
I surveyed 23 teams on their ranking of the Top 5 QB’s in the
All 23 teams had Trevor Lawrence #1 & Zach Wilson #2 The remaining ranking was #3 Justin Fields, #4 Trey Lance #5 Mac Jones. Interestingly for 3rd place Fields had 13 votes, Lance 6, Jones 4
6:23 PM · Apr 7, 2021·Twitter for iPhone
Why is this not even part of the current narrative? Why is Fields suddenly an inferior prospect?
Could it be that a certain other team in the AFC in need of a QB is trying to damage Fields' draft stock in the hopes he might fall to them? Could it be something even more nefarious or insidious? Is it just plain ignorance? The blind leading the blind?
I have some thoughts on this matter, but rather than trying to present my opinions as facts (or suggest as much), I will just say your guess is as good as mine and leave it at that.
This brings us all back to Joe Douglas and the decision at #2.
In his recent behind-the-scenes interview with Albert Breer from SI, GM Joe revealed that, as part of their process, he asked four of the Jets' coaches to independently grind film of the top QB prospects and then emerge from their caves to hash out everything as a group.
From there, the Jets went in on Saleh’s staff presenting profile tapes to teach the personnel staff what they were looking for at every position and, after that, Douglas accelerated the team’s quarterback evaluation process—asking that Saleh, LaFleur, pass-game specialist Greg Knapp and QBs coach Rob Calabrese watch the top five quarterbacks independently.
"It was a clear-cut top two quarterbacks for us," Douglas says. "And there was a consensus. At that point, we felt good about our options, like, O.K., we have two starting quarterbacks. Whether it’s Sam, the rookie or both, we feel really good about this."
Joe Douglas wants you to believe four guys were sent into separate rooms, watched a bunch of tape, then "independently" returned with identical opinions as to who the top two guys were. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I find this hard to believe. Present five doctors with identical pieces of information on a patient with an ambiguous diagnosis and you are likely to get five different answers as to the diagnosis, prognosis, optimal plan of attack as far as treatment, etc.
Joe Douglas wants to present a united front, and that's fine.
The thing is, if you are a fan of the New York Jets and you've been paying attention to the NFL draft at all over the years, even as a casual observer, given the warnings of the past and the perils of the present -- with social media, podcasts, TV networks, etc. more ubiquitous than ever -- this looming selection of Zach Wilson at #2 should scare you to death.
By now, you've probably seen the entire Zach Wilson highlight reel dozens of times and maybe watched the Coastal Carolina game from start to finish at least once.
Before going any further, I want to be clear about this. Zach Wilson has terrific arm talent. He is a very fluid mover and displays very natural athleticism for the position. I obviously don't know for sure whether Zach Wilson will turn out to be more like Paxton Lynch or like Aaron Rodgers.
What bothers me is that plays like this game-ending interception in the final minute versus Toledo have not been so much as mentioned anywhere. This particular video, which has been available since Sep 28, 2019, currently has a grand total of 285 views on YouTube.
This particular play is also noteworthy for more than one reason. It also happens to be the play where Wilson injured his hand trying to make a tackle following the INT, raising potential questions about his durability. The injury was severe enough for Wilson to require surgery and miss games.
But you wouldn't know this because as far as the NFL is concerned, it’s as if this play never happened. After all, for word of this to get out wouldn't be good for business.
There are other legitimate question marks surrounding Wilson as well based purely on tape study.
In 2018, BYU faced ranked Utah in a rivalry game in front of a packed house. Rookie QB Wilson was good in the 1st half, helping stake BYU to a 20-0 halftime lead. The turning point, however, occurred quickly in the 2nd half as Wilson telegraphed a pass resulting in a pick-6 which opened the door for Utah to get back in the game.
Utah proceeded to blow the door wide open both offensively and defensively as Wilson and the BYU offense stalled drive after drive with little to show for it. BYU's final two possessions of the game ended with Wilson taking critical sacks in the pocket on 3rd down with the Cougars in position to either tie or take the lead. BYU lost.
We are being led to believe that Justin Fields' interceptions vs Northwestern and Indiana are brutal strikes against him, but Wilson's mistakes do not count one bit.
The level of competition Wilson faced, we are told by some, is not a valid question to even consider.
Joe Douglas, by his own admission, has been on the hunt for awhile now in search of "good information".
Let's just hope GM Joe has at least a reasonable level of discernment, that he is able to intelligently sift the visual evidence and information he has gathered to this point so as to understand what is good information and what is bad, what is meaningful in a QB evaluation and what is not.
With precious time still remaining on the clock, all we can do is hope he continues to seek and find good information and, ultimately, knows what to do with it.
The future of the team is riding on this decision. He'd better get it right.