What We Don't Know
As an independent program in the super-conference world of college football, BYU holds its own . . . its own media day, that is. You know the drill – a collection of student-athletes and coaches sharing their optimism about the upcoming season, the state of the team, all the usual fanfare and fluff.
Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman were two of the big names at the center of the buzz at BYU’s Media Day 2013, just as they were in 2012. Media day, you see, is when college football programs roll out their stars, like a movie studio dispatches its marquee talent to promote an upcoming release. So, of course, you’d expect to hear from a pair of preseason All-Americans and probable early round picks in next year’s draft.
Looking back at BYU Media Day 2012, someone was missing from the festivities. It wasn’t a guy too big to show, rather someone too small to be invited. Someone not even included in the BYUtv promo that was unveiled at Media Day ’12, let alone featured in it. He wasn’t on the cover of his team’s media guide (Van Noy and Hoffman were) or mentioned prominently anywhere inside. His name was second on the depth chart; the only place it appeared first anywhere was an alphabetical listing of the 28 returning lettermen on defense.
Basically, at this point last year, nothing special was expected out of Ezekiel Ansah. Cougars coaches didn’t know if he was going to be a linebacker or a defensive end or a washout. He was coming off a season where he was involved in all of seven tackles. One year before that, he was being introduced to basic football techniques – like how to properly put on his pads.
Prior to 2012, Ansah’s assignments on defense and special teams were clear – find the guy with the ball and go get him. He was still learning how to do that around the time Media Day rolled around, so his presence was not required.
Fast forward to this year’s BYU Media Day, where Van Noy and Hoffman were back in the spotlight. Ansah, again not on the program, was still working on his technique, only now he’s doing it as a member of the Detroit Lions, who made him the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
This should serve as a reminder to every one of us in the draft forecasting community that at this time of year – now just two months to opening kickoff – we don’t know what we don’t know. Our way-too-early projections include only known quantities. No one saw Ziggy Ansah coming, and there’s no way we could have.
No one saw Eric Fisher coming either. Yes, at this time last summer, NFL scouts were making plans to visit Mount Pleasant, MI, to check out the Chippewas’ promising offensive tackle . . . Central Michigan’s returning right tackle Jake Olson, whose season would be cut short by injury in Week 2. Even as late as December, no one would have guessed Fisher would go first overall in the 2013 draft – few credible draftniks even considered it a real possibility prior to lunchtime on draft day.
This happens all the time. For every Andrew Luck mortal lock, there’s a Cam Newton or five. Three summers ago, the earliest forecasts for the 2011 draft focused on Ryan Mallett as the premier quarterback prospect. No one would have foreseen the rise of a former Florida outcast who arrived at Auburn via Blinn College. To predict Newton would win the Heisman Trophy and become the No. 1 pick in the draft would have been preposterous, even for the most starry-eyed dreamer on the Plains.
Every year, we fall all over ourselves trying to be the first ones to tell you about the next big thing, wanting credit for scooping you about some cornerback from North Dakota State (by the way . . . keep an eye on the cornerback from North Dakota State). And every year, the initial Who’s Who draft rankings are scrambled to account for the inevitable wave of Who’s That’s.
Because, from a draft perspective, that’s what the new season is all about. Finding the prospects who previously had been stuck on the depth chart behind a veteran no longer on campus, or the guy who was hurt last year or had a growth spurt over the winter or finally learned how to play his position. Or someone like Lane Johnson, who hadn’t found his positional home until 2012 training camp; Johnson became Oklahoma’s left tackle after stints at right tackle, defensive end, tight end and even quarterback – all since leaving high school -- and went fourth in April's draft.
Even without the prospects who emerge from off everyone’s radar, we often don’t know what we think we do know at this time of year either. Not to pick on the editors at Athlon who participated in their first prospect poll back in April 2012, but of their top 20 players available in the 2013 draft, two of them wound up going in the first round (Jarvis Jones, D.J. Fluker).
Only six of the 30 prospects on Mel Kiper’s first Big Board would become first rounders in 2013. UFO spotters have a better success rate.
That’s not a knock on Kiper or anyone else. Projecting next year’s draft the summer before is like trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner before the field is set. I’m still waiting to cash one of those future wager tickets.
So who among our first-look first rounders are going to fall off the map (or decide to stay in school another year)? From where will the new names spring up? Who will be this year’s Ziggy Ansah and Eric Fisher?
Did I mention there’s this cornerback at North Dakota State . . .
It's the best and worst thing about sports at the same time: Not knowing.