How I learned to love the NFL draft

The movie “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” opens this Friday. It’s a story of superheroes and magic and alternate universes and all kinds of mind-expanding flash and dazzle. It features the titular doctor, as well as characters from all over the Marvel universe’s vast expanse of movies, TV and comic books, in a fight to save all of reality, probably.

(Yes, this is an NFL column. Ride with me.)

This particular movie was announced all the way back in 2016. A script was completed in 2019. Filming was scheduled to start in May 2020, but I’m pretty sure you know why that didn’t happen. The film was finally completed in the fall of 2021, teaser trailers for it began showing up last December, and the hype on entertainment shows, websites and podcasts is now at ear-splitting levels. All this for a movie that’s 126 minutes long.

Years of buildup for a couple hours of actual entertainment. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

The NFL draft concluded this weekend, bringing to a close three days of pageantry and performance, and three months’ worth of buildup, mock drafts and impassioned debate built on nothing more than speculation. If you watch football for the, you know, football, this was not exactly a must-see event for you.

I’m a member of Gen X, so I’m generationally predisposed to be suspicious of anything that looks like hype and selling out for commercial gain … which is literally the entirety of the NFL draft. I get the skepticism: Why watch the pro sports equivalent of 200-plus arranged marriages? Why bother with spending any brainpower on worrying about whether that inside linebacker from Nebraska is going to fit in your team’s defensive scheme, or rage that your GM let a surefire All-Pro slip by in the fifth round? Why focus on NFL team’s human resources management when actual sports are being played elsewhere?

Counterpoint: because it’s fun.

It’s fun to hope, just for a night, that your team did everything right, assembled the correct pieces in the correct order for a playoff or (dare we hope?) Super Bowl run. It’s fun to speculate how a player who was a bruising locomotive or a sunrise-racing speedster in college will fare against equal-or-greater competition in the pros. It’s fun to watch 224 players revel in the moment they’ve spent their entire lives working toward.

NFL draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux and Sam Prince celebrate as Roger Goodell looks on. (David Becker/Getty Images)
NFL draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux and Sam Prince celebrate as Roger Goodell looks on. (David Becker/Getty Images)

I’ve been a draft skeptic for many years. But for whatever reason, this year broke me. Maybe it was Kayvon Thibodeaux embracing a Make-A-Wish kid (while Roger Goodell held Thibodeaux's laundry) with the kind of supreme, unbridled joy that comes when two people share a moment they’ll remember the rest of their lives. Maybe it was the thought of Sauce Gardner testing his nobody-throws-touchdowns-on-ME bravado against Josh Allen and Bill Belichick. Maybe it’s the thought that if the Jets – the Jets! – can win the draft, well, then anything is possible.

Granted, the NFL draft was not a ratings hit. Night 1 was the lowest-rated draft in five years, with only 10 million people tuning in. But look at it another way – 10 million people tuned in to see a draft where most of them couldn’t name three players. Ten million people tuned in to listen to talking heads pontificate and watch highlight reels of games gone by. That’s astounding, particularly when you consider that the top-rated NBA playoff game this season (Nuggets-Warriors Game 5) drew 4.02 million, and the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, buoyed by years of Netflix-driven Formula 1 hype, drew 1.00 million. Even the NFL’s backstage machinations outdraw other sports at their best.

If all you’re interested in is the games – again, a perfectly valid philosophy – consider this: NFL teams play about 51 hours of football that matters in an entire year. Super Bowl teams play only a few hours more. That’s less than three days’ worth of real football … which leaves another 362-plus days for analysis, speculation, hope, frustration, rage and gloating.

The best part about all that blather: no one is wrong. Outside sports, look around and you’ll see professional hot-take merchants and amateur Twitter “experts” alike spout off with appallingly stupid analysis that’s literally, provably, factually wrong. But if you think the Jets are headed to the Super Bowl, if you think Green Bay deliberately screwed Aaron Rodgers, if you think New England is playing the long game … there is literally no evidence available right at this moment that you’re wrong.

You can take issue with draft grades or winner/loser analysis, but until toe meets leather, everyone’s opinion carries equal weight. If you’d said this time last year that then-projected No. 1 pick Spencer Rattler wouldn’t be on anyone’s to-draft list – or that the Rams and Bengals would meet in the Super Bowl – you’d have been laughed right off the Spanky & The Deuce afternoon-drive sports-talk show. But look how everything turned out.

The NFL’s got this whole scheme nailed. Anticipation for the product is now the product. Monetizing your customers’ hope is ethically sketchy but a rock-solid business strategy. The games aren’t the end point, merely a stop along the grand journey that is the life of the NFL fan in the 2020s.

Want more proof? The next big item on the NFL’s grand calendar: the schedule release a couple weeks from now. If anyone can make a to-do list into compelling television, it’s the NFL. Admit it: you want to know when the Chiefs-Bills rematch hits. You want to know when Russell Wilson and Denver will head to Seattle. You want to prep for the battles in what’s suddenly not a completely laughable NFC East. I’ll be watching, and chances are you will, too.

Where else can Eagles and Cowboys fans unite without bloodshed? (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
Where else can Eagles and Cowboys fans unite without bloodshed? (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at