Opinion Sports Columns

The NFL Draft: A Gateway to Greatness… Or Infamy

Marshall Hastings

Assistant Sports Editor

NFLApril 30 will change the lives of 32 individuals. 32 college kids that eight months ago were preparing for their final season of college football; now they will be fulfilling the ultimate football dream. For them, the NFL was a possibility, a dream within reach, but it was still eight months away.

But on April 30 in Chicago, those dreams, those aspirations, will all be fulfilled. They will be tagged as the future of an NFL franchise, the heir apparent for a current starter, the missing piece in the puzzle for a championship. In a matter of seconds, they will go from college student to millionaire.

But April 30 will be bigger for 32 executives. 32 coaches, 32 general managers, 32 offensive and defensive coordinators have to make the ultimate decision that saves their careers and their franchises.

As much as the spotlight will be on Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and every other future Pro Bowler, bust, and journey man, the true spotlight will be on Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt, David Caldwell, and every other man involved in the first round decision making process.

Smith compiled an 83-77 record in nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, making one Super Bowl trip, as well as three trips to the postseason. Following an 10-6 season in 2012, the Bears felt that they could do better. So far, they haven’t.

But in 2014, Smith was given another shot in Tampa Bay, a team that had just parted ways with the disaster that was Greg Schiano.

And now, with possession of the first overall pick, Smith can’t get it wrong. In today’s NFL, the need and desire to win and win now is growing. Five-year plans are now two to three year plans. If you don’t get it right immediately, you don’t get the chance to get it right at all.

Tampa Bay needs a quarterback, and all signs are pointing to Winston, the man with as much prowess on the field as he has issues off of them. He claims he’s matured, that his college self isn’t his professional self, and that may very well be, but in Tampa Bay, he has to be the man the team turns to.

But if Winston doesn’t pan out, Smith most certainly won’t have another shot. The front office will assume Smith didn’t know how to handle Winston, that he couldn’t coach him to greatness, not that Winston didn’t have greatness within him.

That’s the true pressure of the NFL Draft. As much as the media will scrutinize every player taken in the first round, the true scrutiny is in the hands of the men making picks behind closed doors.

The New York Jets completely restocked their coaching staff and front office after multiple failed drafts. The Chicago Bears retooled their entire football operations after just two seasons, the same Bears that thought Lovie Smith and his 10-6 record wasn’t good enough.

Marc Trestman and Phil Emery couldn’t get it right, and now Chicago is searching for a group of individuals that can.

These are the pressures that the draft creates. The Oakland Raiders have had four coaches since the turn of the decade, and haven’t had a coach with a winning career record since Jon Gruden from 1998-2001. Yes, the failures of players like Jamarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey are key reasons the team hasn’t been successful, but the players can’t be the only ones at fault.

That’s why when the Raiders are on the clock with the fourth pick, assuming they don’t trade it, the coaching staff and Jack Del Rio in particular, need to get the pick right. Should Amari Cooper or Kevin White be taken, they will have the unique opportunity to become Derek Carr’s number one receiver, but the pressure will be on Del Rio to make him one.

32 players lives will change when their names are called in primetime by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but the pressure of them succeeding will rest squarely on the shoulders of the men who pick them.

Those 32 coaches, executives, and general managers will face the spotlight from behind the door of the franchise. The spotlight that the general public may not see, but will most definitely hear about should their picks fall flat on their faces.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime for every player picked, but it could be the only opportunity that the men who pick them have at making or saving their career

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