This week, the NFL announced the 23 players that accepted invitations to appear in New York City on draft weekend. While the images of Commissioner Roger Goodell exchanging too-long embraces with men in their early 20s may be unsettling, the photo op of the player holding up his uniform with the commissioner is a time-honored, oft-reproduced photo. It’s an enduring image of the game.
On the flip side of the smiles and slow-dance hugs are the humiliating moments that mark every draft, when a player has been convinced that he will get drafted in the first round and accepts the invitation to come to New York.
It used to be reasonable. Only a handful of blue-chip, lead-pipe locks were brought in. Players like Randy Moss, who was a sure-fire first-rounder wasn’t even invited to New York in 1998, because, as he put it when I asked him the following day, “The NFL don’t want nothin’ to do with Randy Moss.”
However, as the draft became more and more a media event, the number of invitations grew. This year’s crop of 23 accepted invitations is almost five times what it was a little more than a decade ago.
For the record, here is the list of the invitees: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU; Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia; Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina; Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan; Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida; D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama; Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M; Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma; Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon; Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama; E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State; Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama; Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU; Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee; Eric Reid, S, LSU; Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State; Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri; Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia; Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington; Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Chance Warmack, G, Alabama; Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State and Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State.
That list that is far too big. The draft has created its own mythical devise for measuring the level of humiliation a player goes through before his name gets called. It’s called the Embarrassometer.
Several players have endured the Embarrassometer, but Aaron Rodgers raised the bar so high, he came to define it. He was in the discussion to go in the first couple of picks (possibly even the first pick) before the 2005 draft started and was shown on camera a couple dozen times as he fell … and fell … and fell. When he finally did land, it was to Green Bay, which had a Hall of Fame quarterback who wasn’t ready to quit – not even for a first time.
My personal favorite Embarrassometer moment was Brady Quinn in 2007 – or, more appropriately, his fiancée. Thought as a possibility to be selected in the top five picks, Quinn didn’t go until No. 22. With each time he was shown on ESPN, his fiancée would roll her eyes and show her disgust openly – perhaps she was mentally downsizing the rock in her diamond wedding ring with each team that passed on her soon-to-be husband.
There will be the new standard-bearer for Embarrassometer 2013. Most of the 23 players are locks to have the draft dream dance with Goodell, but, just as you do with the Kentucky Derby, you assign odds to the horses to win. For the long shots, it is the “chip-and-a-chair” scenario. So it is with the Class of 2013.
The best way to approach the level of embarrassment or joy those players will have is to work the process of elimination. There are several players that have every right to be there, because they will be gone in the first half of the first round. The list almost surely includes Ansah, Cooper, Fisher, Floyd, Joeckel, Johnson, Jordan, Milliner, Mingo, Rhodes, Richardson, Smith and Warmack. Depending on whether there is a run on wide receivers, you could probably put Austin and Patterson on that list as well.
Although they may end up in the back half of the first round and be waiting in the Green Room until the Radio City Music Hall staff starts removing tables and chairs from the areas where players were selected, Fluker, Trufant and Vaccaro can be removed from the embarrassment eventually if they are aware coming in that it’s going to be a long night for them backstage.
Here is where it gets interesting.
Not wanting to simply base the Embarrassometer readings on my own personal rankings, I enlisted ESPN’s “Battling Bickersons” – hairdo-committed Mel Kiper Jr. and boyish wunderkind Todd McShay. Between me, Rockin’ Mel and Hot Toddy, we present the Fab 5 favorites to wear the Embarrassometer beanie and parachute pants this year – those most likely to be sharing the Green Room only with janitors by night’s end April 25.
Bjoern Werner – Before the NFL Scouting Combine, I had Werner as a top-10 pick. Few players have seen their stock drop more precipitously than the native Estonian. McShay has him going to the Vikings at No. 23 – likely about four hours into the proceedings. I have him going No. 29 to New England. Kiper has him going back to the hotel Thursday night without a team – not being selected until the fourth pick on Friday to Detroit. If Mel is right, Werner will be the biggest man on the Embarrassometer scale (he’s 6-foot-8).
Eddie Lacy – This is one of the weaker running back crops in recent years and the growing modus operandi of NFL teams is to roll the dice on third- and fourth-round running backs and hope they find a diamond. If teams don’t believe that there is a running back worthy of selection in the first round, it could get dicey. Kiper and I agree on Lacy’s landing spot – to the running back-starved Green Bay Packers. McShay has him leaving Radio City Music Hall without a team Thursday and having to wait well into prime time Friday before mercifully coming off the board – No. 46 to the Rams, desperately looking to replace borderline Hall of Famer Steven Jackson.
Menelik Watson – A huge offensive tackle with just one year of Division I college experience, Watson if one of the biggest risk/reward types in the draft. He’s a gamble on greatness – or at least as a starting offensive lineman for several years. I hate to say that I’m the most optimistic of the three. I have him going to Indianapolis at No. 24. McShay has him (not Lacy) going No. 26 to Green Bay. Kiper is telling him to be ready early on Friday, going to the loving arms of Eagles fans with the third pick in the second round.
E.J. Manuel – McShay has a belief that, despite a weak QB class, Manuel is a rising prospect. Even so, he doesn’t have him being drafted until the third pick of the second round. Neither Kiper nor I have Manuel going in the first two rounds – I dropped him out of the second round in my most recent mock and Kiper never had him listed as a second-round prospect. Manuel doesn’t have to pack a lunch, he needs to bring a tent to the Green Room.
Eric Reid – The player who, at present, seems to be the most likely to make the Embarrassometer hit “Tilt,” none of the three of us have Reid coming off the board in the first two rounds, much less the first round. Perhaps Kiper is the most scathing. He has projected six safeties to come off his mock draft board in the first two rounds and none of them are Reid.
It’s sure to happen. There will be guys in the Green Room all night – up to and including the point the first round ends. Will they remember the moment for the excitement of being viewed an elite college player? Or will they remember it for being asked by a janitor to lift his feet while he vacuums under him at the end of the night?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.