When someone says, “It’s never too early to start thinking about X,” you can rest assured: It’s absolutely too early to think about X.
In related news: I hope everyone is loving the first batch of mock drafts to come out this week.
This is a tough time of year for those of us who cover the NFL. With only four teams still playing, fans of every other franchise are left scraping for any kind of content that indicates a competent direction for next year.
The people who make mock drafts don’t know. Not now, at least.
We don’t even know who will pick first between the 49ers and Raiders. They’ll determine that with a coin flip; the winner will select at No. 9, the loser at No. 10.
If that isn’t a big enough red flag, there’s the fact that NFL teams are ridiculously cagey with their strategies, for obvious reasons.
But Mel Kiper Jr., of ESPN, has released his Mock 1.0. Folks, you may not believe it, but his No. 1 pick isn’t who you think it would be — and that’s stoked a lot of conversation.
It’s almost as if, after performing as the Worldwide Leader’s resident draft expert for decades, Kiper’s primary skill is knowing how to get people talking. (If you’re genuinely curious, he has Wyoming’s Josh Allen going to the Cleveland Browns. It could really happen, because only that organization would be capable of squandering something as valuable as a No. 1 pick on a QB no one can agree on.)
But here’s the beauty of Kiper and the rest of the experts’ job descriptions: They’ll continue to revise their Top 10 for weeks. And with the NFL Draft still months away on April 26, there’s an incentive to be wrong-ish now.
If you give away the goods too early, why would anyone come back for Mock Draft 7.0?
This all subverts the fact that every mock draft is useless once the IRL Draft happens. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no one had the 49ers dealing with the Bears last year. So, the second those cards were flipped, and general manager John Lynch stole an extra pick in allowing Chicago to select Mitchell Trubisky, all of those fantasy-land predictions became useless.
My point: Beware of the sites that aim to do too much, especially the ones that claim to have a clear view of the entire first round. This is supposed to be a fun time of year. The potential for brilliance next season seems endless.
In Santa Clara, Jimmy Garoppolo has the Faithful dreaming about playoff success and a return to glory. In Oakland, Jon Gruden is going to push the Raiders over the top.
The 49ers need another cornerback, an interior offensive lineman and a game-wrecking pass rusher or two. And maybe this is the year the Raiders finally select a blue-chip linebacker after years of getting burned by tight ends or running backs in the passing game.
When fans watch YouTube highlight packages, every player looks like a perfect fit. And since they are sitting on loads of unexercised passion, those fans decide they know who is going to work in their team’s defensive scheme and who is going to be a bum.
The hard truth is the fans don’t, the mock draft experts know a little bit more, but not enough to determine anything with 100-percent certainty.
Player development is a fickle thing. There are so many variables and out-of-sight factors that go into a player fulfilling his potential or being coined “a bust” — the worst thing that can happen to a pro athlete.
The Draft is an exciting thing and it’s crucially important for teams looking to overhaul their rosters. Lynch nailed his first go-round, but there’s no promise he’ll go 2-for-2.
And that’s another thing: Until about Week 10, no one knows how well a team truly drafted. After Week 4 this season, the 49ers’ Ahkello Witherspoon had four healthy scratches under his belt, and Reuben Foster had three tackles and was looking like he was injury-prone.
Both finished the season as top performers in their draft class.
Mock Drafts are fun, and NFL fans are reading these stories because they’re bored at work and need a distraction. But everyone now feels like a draft expert because they’ve gone to their favorite sites and are ordering players like they’re selecting from a menu.
If you need good draft content, consume (with a grain of salt) team-specific pieces that focus on roster needs and some of the best players in the draft that fit them. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself falling in love with the findings of incomplete research from the national guys.
So keep holding out hope for Saquon Barkley, 49ers fans. Kyle Shanahan probably doesn’t want to pick him, but what does he know?