Couch: The NFL Draft Is Back, In All Its Glitz, Glory . . . And Panic

The NFL draft used to bore me to tears. It was just a bunch of names of people who would almost surely never be the stars that we hoped. Now, the NFL has turned the draft into a spectacle, an event like the Super Bowl or Final Four roving from city to city. Three networks cover it, and it gives us the glitz and hope and bigness we all want, especially now.

You know, just like the Academy Awards, which, I think, was held Sunday in the lounge of an airport Holiday Inn in Des Moines.

The point is that the NFL knows who it is and delivers what we want, even if it’s just hot air. Who cares? It’s about knowing your audience. 

This year, we’re going to get the return of the glory of the draft. Last year’s was done virtually via Zoom from bunkers across the U.S. due to COVID fears. This year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has even been green-lighted to hug draftees again.

We’re going to see five quarterbacks taken Thursday among the first eight picks or so, when franchises are supposed to be made. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields -- the Fab Five, and probably in that order.

Each NFL team knows its audience too. Fans want franchise quarterbacks, their own Patrick Mahomes. General managers and coaches want to keep their jobs. Team owners want to sell tickets. So there is some quarterback panic going around, which elevates the value of the Fab Five.

The truth is that some of the Fab Five won’t work out. I can tell you already which one will flop:

Whichever one the Chicago Bears take. Some things you just know. Some things you live with your whole life.

Lawrence is overhyped as one of the all-time greats, but he’ll team with Urban Meyer to make Jacksonville calm and happy. New York Jets fans seem to think they have a can’t miss in Wilson. Really? How many New Yorkers have actually even seen him play for BYU? 

The drama of the draft comes next, with the panic from the San Francisco 49ers, who traded way too much to get the third pick. They seem headed for Jones, who is smart and accurate but can’t outrun a yield sign. Chicagoans who are paying attention to the 49ers are giggling and having flashbacks to the day Bears GM Ryan Pace traded way more than he needed just to get Mitch Trubisky with the second pick in the 2017 draft. Does Jones = Trubisky?

That will leave Lance and Fields (or Jones and Fields if San Francisco surprises everyone by taking Lance) for the Denver Broncos to choose between and for the Bears to frantically attempt to trade up for.

I’ll say Denver gets Lance with the fourth pick and Chicago gets Fields soon after, though Jones and Fields feel like second-round picks to me, and Lance is a big gamble.

But there is still panic out there after the pretend quarterback carousel in which top QBs were supposed to change teams never happened. That carousel was the creation of agents trying to create a panic so they could get big, new deals for clients on their current teams. 

Russell Wilson is still with Seattle. Deshaun Watson is still with Houston. Aaron Rodgers is still with Green Bay.

The Bears made a huge offer to get Wilson from Seattle, but it was never going to happen, no matter what Wilson’s agent primed NFL reporters with. And that leaves Pace and Bears coach Matt Nagy, who have been told to improve this coming season or get out, in a tough spot.

Bears fans have finally lost patience in their 70-year wait for a real quarterback. They are the poster child franchise for how not to get a quarterback.

And in the offseason, they let Trubisky go, failed to land any big name in the QB carousel, didn’t (yet) trade up in the draft and brought in backup plan Andy Dalton.

Andy Dalton. That did not excite Bears fans. It didn’t buy Pace or Nagy more than a one-game honeymoon.

They were willing to attempt the big move for Wilson, so it seems likely that they’d be up for a big move for Fields, who might be able to buy Pace and Nagy one more year if he shows skills.

The combination of Fields holding the ball too long and the Bears not having a decent offensive line will be a bit of a problem, though. But Fields will make the TV shows as a future star, and get a bro-hug from Goodell as the networks capitalize on the QB panic out there.

At least the NFL will deliver again. Look for huge ratings, escape, hype, glitz and going big. The draft returns to its glory.

I can’t wait. The draft is not just a bunch of names anymore. Except in the case of the Bears.

Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.