Comedian Jay Mohr’s podcast, “Mohr Stories,” opens with a soundbite of former Jets head coach Herm Edwards telling reporters he wants players leaking information anonymously to “put your name on it.” This advice goes largely unheeded every year around this time, NFL draft season, when football media is awash with anonymous attacks on college prospects under the guise of analysis.
These tidbits from players, scouts and front office employees are reported with the significance of Woodward and Bernstein relaying information from Deep Throat, when in actuality it comes off more like excerpts from the Burn Book.
Nevertheless, evaluations with no name on them and, in some cases, no validity, become commonplace. The best example in the lead-up to last year’s NFL draft was former Louisville Cardinals and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater was attacked anonymously for everything from his personal demeanor to the circumference of his knees. I read and listened to all manners of provably inaccurate assessments of Bridgewater, which were further disproved in his impressive rookie campaign.
For those who followed Bridgewater at Louisville, the 2014 season was both vindicating but also frustrating. Had more reporters had their B.S. filters on — or had them at all — the absurd narratives that followed him leading up to the NFL draft would have been dismissed much sooner.
Shooting down the narratives that built around Bridgewater would have been easy enough, but so much of what’s floated anonymously is more regurgitated than it is reported. Perhaps that’s to avoid alienating a source, but some of it is also the byproduct of some NFL draft reporters not following the college game.
To wit, one prominent NFL writer for a national outlet declared on a radio show he didn’t watch the college game because it’s “awful.” A year later, he was on TV breaking down the NFL draft prospects of East Carolina’s Shane Carden.
Certainly this isn’t the case across the board, but there are enough instances of NFL writers relaying what they’re told anonymously without knowledge of the players being discussed that it gets into the mainstream.
As frustrating as it might be for fans, it’s worse for players. When the narrative bounced around websites, radio shows and TV talk shows picks up enough steam, a prospect’s stock can slide, which in turn costs him money. Look at Bridgewater.
Meanwhile, there’s very little risk for those who report anonymous attacks, and none for the sources float them. In fact, it’s about as favorable as a risk:reward ratio goes.
Demand for NFL coverage is at an all-time, and outlets will happily oblige. It’s become such a cottage industry that even NFL.com itself devotes a regular column called “Sources Tell Us” to anonymous assessments of NFL draft prospects. Last week’s includes the following Washington Huskies tackle and likely first-rounder Danny Shelton:
Shelton is a bully. If you let him walk all over you early in the game, he’s going to keep doing it. But watch how he kind of fades into the background when he goes up against guys who stand up to him.
Now, that’s rather tame and actually rather insightful. So why does it need to be anonymous? Because a lot of anonymous-sourced information leading up to the NFL is purposefully constructed misinformation intended to make organizations think twice about drafting a player.
Bridgewater’s slide became Minnesota’s gain, and in a rare instance after the season, a GM was willing to put his name on his assessment of the quarterback: Vikings general manager Rick Spielman thanked media for the “disservice” it did Bridgewater a year ago.
Maybe he should thank anonymous scouts around the NFL. But let that be a lesson as NFL draft coverage intensifies in the coming weeks: oftentimes the most valuable assessment you’re likely to get is the assessment to which a person is willing to attach his name.