On April 28, 32 American Football teams will meet in Chicago for the 2016 NFL Draft. This three-day media spectacle will determine the future of a few hundred men who play the sport in university. To some of us, this would seem to be relatively uninteresting, but to millions of NFL fans in Britain it is part of the incredibly exciting sport that has taken the UK by storm.
The Draft reflects one of the main reasons why the NFL is growing in popularity not only in the UK but worldwide. It is part of a dramatic sporting spectacle that makes every attempt to keep its fans interested including taking what amounts to a playground selection of 21-24 year old players and turning it into a nail-biting and career-defining event. Each team in turn gets the chance to select college players who have decided to move on to the professional league. Almost every NFL player has gone through this process, including the players you may have heard of (like New England quarterback Tom Brady, the 199th player to be selected in 2000). These selections are dependent on factors like the players’ college careers, their performance at the NFL Combine and specific NFL team’s needs. Not only could this massively change the career of these young players, but also possibly change the whole team into which they are drafted. The aforementioned Brady has gone on to become one of the best quarterbacks of all time, leading his team to four Super Bowl victories. This leads to mass speculation over which team will take which player each year, filling the gap between the Super Bowl (usually early February) and the Draft (late April). This is part of the skill of the NFL in elongating a season which only actually lasts 17 weeks to cover the whole year with the injection of the pre and post seasons, Pro Bowl, Combine, the free agency chaos and the Draft.
These events are not only important to the functioning of the league, but have been intentionally designed to elicit as much enjoyment for the fans as possible. The Draft is a prime example of this. Firstly it facilitates a system where any team (but more importantly, your team) has a chance to do well any year. Where a team picks in the Draft is dependent on how well they did in the previous year, with the ‘worst’ teams picking first. With a skilful Draft, a team can turn their chances around relatively easily, especially if they choose a superstar. Combined with the free agency system and the salary cap, it can very rarely be said that any one team is truly out of the running for the playoffs, and almost impossible to predict who will win the Super Bowl. This unpredictability and excitement is not only a great addition to the sport, but keeps fans of all teams interested and hopeful. Secondly, the draft is designed to be dramatic. Teams are able to trade their pick; for example the Tennessee Titans just traded the #1 overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams sparking countless internet articles and bar debates. In return, Tennessee received many later picks from the Rams both this year and next. Either Tennessee could build a great team overall with those selections, or the Rams could grab a superstar that may one day lead them to a Super Bowl victory. This kind of speculation and argument happens throughout the season through a myriad of events, keeping fans engrossed in the NFL.
The NFL may seem an intimidating and difficult sport to get into, but with a bit of investment it can become a real-life drama that surprises you at every turn. Throw in bonuses like having your own justified opinions on clubs’ decisions, great fantasy systems and teams that each have their own individual personality and style, and you could be part of a sport that over 6 million people in the UK have come to love.
Image courtesy of Erin Costa