In the best spirit of capitalism, any need that can be filled can be overfilled, gorged with knock-offs, spin-offs and retreads until the consumer is bitter and the market implodes like and overripe star. But before NFL draft coverage goes the way of the Atari 2600, let's see if there's a Pitfall Harry in a sea of ETs.
The ESPN NFL Draft Guide 2007 has all the hallmarks of a winner. The budget and backing of the biggest name in sports? Check. Esoteric babble from the guys with the coolest jobs in the world at Scout Inc? Check. Cutting edge articles from the leaders in intelligent football analysis at Football Outsiders? Che...eh, not exactly. Like a stew put together with too many ingredients and not enough skill, ESPN's draft guide is an uneven hodgepodge that's in turns interesting and insulting.
The layout is something from a kindergartner's workbook, full of vibrant colors, cutesy symbols and short passages. The articles rarely surpass 200 words, and when they do, your surely overtaxed brain is rewarded with a player juking into the text or a long colored line. It's the perfect companion for that 4am drunk when you're trying to suppress the spins before passing out in godknowswhere.
The real draw here is the work done by Scouts Inc. Now, I'm not a huge fan of scouting in general, it's entirely too subjective and falls victim to every weakness of human memory, but at least with Scouts you know you are getting an honest--from the source--informed opinion on a player's strengths and weaknesses. Where other sites purport to have the inside skinny on this year's sleepers and busts, it is often impossible too know if the writer did his homework or is just rephrasing an opinion he read elsewhere. A million permutations of Mel Kiper's picks, appropriated, resorted and rephrased is no more valuable than old Helmet Hair's thoughts alone. That is, not very valuable at all. Scouts fulfills that increasingly rare journalistic tenet: credibility. Most positions are 20+ players deep and in a short space a player's talents, abilities, shortcomings and weaknesses are efficiently conveyed.
It's good to see the work of Football Outsiders increasingly penetrating the mainstream, but if you pick up this annual for the work of Aaron Schatz and company, don't expect much. Each position features a brief essay from some unnamed Outsiders author, but the insight is pretty weak, much of which will be pretty familiar to fans of the site. Mike Tanier's guide to scout speak is as dull as it is uninformative. I'm not sure how you can dumb down a writer who relies so heavily on pop-culture references, but ESPN has somehow done it. The resulting essay is readable but bland.
What really sinks ESPN's draft guide, though, is just how dated it is. Acquisitions in free agency have rendered the 40 page team section largely worthless. The scouting profiles feature out-of-date information and wrongheaded opinions. Joe Thomas's 40 is listed as 5.22 and Zach Miller's supposed "good initial quickness" certainly didn't show up at the combine. It's not ESPN's fault that print media is sorely mismatched in a world of instantly updatable electronic media, but it's a glaring weakness of their draft guide, nevertheless.
For $7.99, ESPN's guide is a decent primer for the who's who of the 2007 NFL Draft. A solid reference piece that has a "For Dummies" feel that makes thumbing through to find the position and player you want a breeze. The Football Outsiders content is hardly a selling point, but offers an occasional insight that acts as a respectable counterpoint to the decidedly puerile tone found elsewhere. Cheaper and more credible than most online services, but stupider and less current than most fan sites, ESPN's NFL Draft Guide 2007 is one part indispensable insight and two parts Bert and Ernie coloring book. C+