Draft (Anglais) Broché – 20 mars 2007
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Focusing on several players - among them Chris Canty, Fred Gibson and Ray Willis - Williams examines the events that take place from the time a player "graduates" from school (many drop out immediately after their team's bowl game) up through the draft itself. Besides the players, Williams also looks at the role played by many others, including coaches, compliance directors, families, agents, and teammates.
The book's strength is that Williams goes lightly on all the participants. It's easy to portray agents as sharks, or schools as taking advantage of the kids, but Williams sticks to facts without adding too much of his own spin. That's not to say that he doesn't criticize certain people or tactics, but he's more interested in passing the story along to the reader for them to make their own judgments. It's this nonjudgmental approach that allows us to draw our own observations about featured coaches like Al Groh, or agents like Jack Scharf and Pat Dye, Jr. They may not always come across in the most positive light, but they're at least given a fair chance to speak for themselves without being judged by the author.
If there's a weakness to the book, it's that Williams spreads himself a little thin. With trying to cover the roles played by everyone listed above, the book can often seem scattered or presented in a non-linear way. When dates jump back and forth, it can be a little confusing, especially from a book geared towards a very specific date. However, it's difficult to fault the author too much for trying to present so much information without loading us down with a 500-page work.
This isn't a subject that has been covered often in such great detail, so Williams' work should be a worthwhile read for any fan of the game. For those of us who spend much of the off-season worrying about our team's draft-day prospects, this is an essential read. A title that will be enjoyable for any NFL fan, this one is recommended.
Williams chooses several players to follow for this book, some first rounders and a few who start with great promise but ultimately flounder in the draft for a variety of reasons. There are three main things that stand out about what players go through leading up to the draft. First is the feeding frenzy with agents jockeying for their attention. The more talented and greater the potential, the more demand there is a player's time and attention. Agents communicate with them directly when they are allowed (and sometimes when they are not) and often try to woo their parents, girlfriends, and anyone else that they think might have influence on the player's decision on which agent to go with. Secondly, there is a lot of money involved and many temptations to break NCAA rules. It's illegal for players to take money or gifts from agents while playing college football but it undoubtedly happens. Third, is that the NFL selection process is a meat market. NFL scouts are watching players, many from high school through college. The best players have agents hanging around them, especially their senior years in college. After their college careers are over they are faced with extensive training for the NFL combine, working out for teams at their schools or at team facilities.
The NFL Combine, where the NFL brings any eligible player that wants to participate, is really the centerpiece of the entire draft. Here players are put through all kinds of drills, timed in the 40 yard dash, interviewed by team representatives, are poked and prodded for physicals, and given an intelligence test called the Wonderlick. Most players go to specialized training facilities paid for by their agents just to do well at the combine to improve their draft status, whereas some locks for the first round skip it fearing a bad performance could drop their draft status.
And then, of course, there is the emotion of draft day of either going in the round you thought you would go in or slipping to later rounds and realizing the amount of money you just lost as a result.
Are the agents greedy sharks looking to make their livelihood off of young millionaire players, or hard working men (there are few women) in a very competitive business doing their best for their clients? Undoubtedly there are unscrupulous agents but for the most part Williams paints them out to be in the later category. They sacrifice their personal life to recruit players and then work to make sure they maximize their potential in the draft and negotiate the best contract possible for them with the team that chooses them. Williams paints the profession as extremely cut throat. As noted above, agents talk extensively with players' families, spouses, girlfriends and anyone else that they think will help them get an edge in signing a player. Then they must spend their own money for specialized training to get players ready for the NFL Combine or workouts before pro scouts. In the meantime they are constantly worried about other agents poaching their clients after they have invested so many resources on them. Further, since agents get only a 3% commission off contracts, if a player doesn't maximize his potential they often find themselves in a hole instead of making money. On the flip side, when they have a solid stable of highly paid players, the profession can be very lucrative. It's an odd profession and one that many look at with a jaundiced eye. They do perform an important service for the players they represent but it is also clearly a profession that makes its money on the backs of the players.
The most important thing for teams in the draft is to pick the most talented players they can in the appropriate round who will fit their team concept and fill needed positions on team. That is all they care about. And they spend a lot of time, money, and effort to study every angle, from raw physical talent, intelligence, and good character. A bad draft can significantly impact the prospects of the team, and a great draft can greatly enhance it. Scouts spend much of their life on the road watching games or watching game film, evaluating every aspect players available for the draft. All the poking, prodding, interviewing, and even background investigations on potential draftees is important as teams stake their future on the success of the players they select for their teams. It comes down to figuring out what combination of physical talent, character, and intelligence will best fit the team.
This book did not focus as much on the schools, but it did have a good deal of coverage of the Florida State Seminoles and their compliance director and Virginia Cavaliers head coach Al Groh. It's important for schools to facilitate appropriate contact with agents and help players fulfill their potential in the draft. Schools worry about the distractions, and even worse, possible infractions, as players interact with agents. Especially damaging is players taking money or gifts from agents before they are finished their careers, which could cost the team sanctions by the NCAA. It's a tough job when you mix young immature players and aggressive agents with money to throw around. On the flip side, if a school is seen as helping players improve and make it in the NFL, it helps them recruit talent.
Overall this book is journalistic in its approach relying on extensive interviews and closely following the entire draft process. It is well organized and the chronological structure works well. That said, the writing style is not the most exciting, and it mostly reads like an extensive, in-depth newspaper article at times. Despite focusing on specific individuals and teams, the book often is very matter of fact, and less emotional or personal in its approach. Nevertheless, it does bring out the not so dirty secret of professional sports - it's about money and lots of it. Avid professional football fans should find this book interesting. Non-football fans would likely find it tedious and boring.
Overall I would recommend this book to NFL fans for the insight it gives into an important aspect of the sport.
If they are playing golf or watching baseball, the person get a low rating. If he or she is watching part of the NFL draft, move the rating up a few notches. If the entire draft is viewed, we're talking a superfan.
There is a great deal leading up to those two days, of course, and Pete Williams catches a good-sized flavor of it in his book, "The Draft." It uncovers a part of the game that is generally ignored, even if it's not the part with the touchdowns and the tackles.
The draft is essentially the end of a process that lasts a year. Scouts and management types from NFL teams start hitting colleges in the summer to get an early read on NFL prospects. Then they attend practices and games, watch film, and talk to people. Teams go through some last-minute checks in the form of all-star games, combines and college "pro days" (workouts specifically for the pros), and come up with final conclusions for the draft.
Drafting is an inexact science, of course -- ask about Ryan Leaf, the biggest flop in recent years -- and pro teams do everything possible to make those picks work. Williams narrows his focus to a relatively small selection of players, universities and NFL teams in order to give a flavor of what happens.
It might be oversimplistic, but the book could be divided into two portions -- the draft from the teams' point of view and the players'. In the players' case, that comes down to their preparation, which centers on physical workouts before the draft and the selection of an agent. That last part is the relatively ugly side of the business. It always struck me as unsightly that grown men have to bend over backwards in order to recruit 22-year-old kids are sometimes will fire them within a few years (if not sooner) in search of a better deal.
That side of the business is part of football, of course, but it's not very interesting. Better is the up-close look at the Falcons' preparation for draft day. Considering the paranoia of most football types, it's impressive that Atlanta executive Rich McKay allowed Williams such access into his organization. McKay even predicts his own teams' selections a couple of days early, and his batting average is very good.
Williams also did some work with players from the University of Virginia, surprising in that coach/micromanager Al Groh doesn't seem like the type to let a writer get too close to the program. Coaches like Groh are in a tricky spot concerning the draft, as they don't want their best players to leave early but they do want them to get to the NFL and enhance the program's reputation.
It's difficult to say just how much interest there will be in a book like "The Draft." While interest in the procedure has exploded in recent years, some of that is driven by the fact that, as Chuck Knox said, the draft is like Christmas -- you know you'll get some good presents, but you don't know what you'll get until you open them. It's fun to guess how your favorite team will do -- more fun than worrying about what agents sign what players. The business side of sports certainly will leave some potential readers cold. Still, Williams did good work in collecting information about the draft. If you are more than a casual fan, then, given this an extra star.
The main problem with 'The Draft', especially as it is based around events of 4 years ago, is that many of the names of the college players bandied about as future stars in the book have just faded into oblivion, yet obvously at the time the book was written Williams must have thought that the likes of Fred Gibson and Anntaj Hawthorne were going to be household names in the NFL. There are little interesting nuggets, like the trainer who found ways to cheat on most drills at the NFL Combine and therefore inflated many players ratings but otherwise its a pretty dry account of the 'business' of assessing players for the NFL.
Another grating issue is that much of the book comes across as a promotional blurb for the University of Virginia, and its unfortunate that the NFL team chosen as exemplars of the 'we take character guys over more talented guys with issues' is the Atlanta Falcons whose star player at the time was a certain Michael Vick....