“Comparison is the thief of joy” ~ President Theodore Roosevelt.
Comparing one athlete to another is intricately woven into the DNA of professional sports. Football is at potentially the top of the list. In fact, it’s essentially what half the NFL “draft experts” make a career doing.
It’s also bad for the sport and entirely unhelpful for fans, though it certainly sells.
Dalvin Cook comparisons:— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2017
Will Cook live up to the hype? #NFLDraft https://t.co/UD7RJfK51Q pic.twitter.com/UVfajmTbqx
Meet the NFL draft's top QB prospect. He's earned comparisons to Elway and Luck, and some scouts consider him better than any of last year's QB crew. (NY Giants fans take note.) We also rank the Top 10 college QBs, via NFL scouts, for this upcoming draft. https://t.co/r0cv2ZZrS3— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) October 17, 2018
Elliott = Edge?— NFL (@NFL) February 17, 2016
Wentz = Bortles?
14 pro comparisons to #NFLDraft prospects (via @NFL_CFB):https://t.co/oWpFDB9oJp pic.twitter.com/gP8X4A8Vuv
Some of this conversation stems from this year’s phenomenon surrounding DK Metcalf. Specifically, that he can’t go but three or four days without being compared to either Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones.
Yes, we get it, he’s super fast and can actually turn his entire torso around to catch a ball my goodness.
Find something else to say besides the teams that didn’t draft him (all of them) and some players from 10-20 years ago.
Friendly reminder that 8 WRs were taken before @dkm14 in the 2019 NFL draft. pic.twitter.com/w9qPvVzgwr— ESPN (@espn) December 1, 2020
Again, Metcalf claims he was motivated this week by Philadelphia Eagles’ coach Jim Schwartz who went out of his way to say Metcalf is not Calvin Johnson yet.
Chasing records is good and fun and the second oldest part of sports, behind the first group of people saying “you want me to do what with this ball?” I remember the days at home with my dad watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa compared to Babe Ruth and Roger Maris seemingly every day of 1998. These moments are beautiful. They are what propels the next generation of athletes.
What does not propel them, is the notion that when they are in the four years of late-college to early-NFL career, being compared to this guy, that guy and this other dude because “wingspan.”
Metcalf’s is unnecessary and overblown at this point, but it’s at least understandable. He’s phenomenal, and people just need some clicks these days. What he’s done in a year and a half deserves recognition. On camera it is worse, because we’ve endured more than our fair share of broadcasts with multiple paid professionals unable to speak well of six guys on the field besides Metcalf.
It gets far worse for many of the other players - and I would argue this comes from fans, coaching staffs, and the media.
Remember this guy?
"We love what we see." Seahawks rookie John Ursua is making a compelling case as Doug Baldwin's successor. https://t.co/10ejl106Kv pic.twitter.com/DpmzxPOYUN— Adam Jude (@A_Jude) August 26, 2019
After all the tricks, and trade, #Seahawks had to make to get John Ursua, and after he put on a Doug Baldwin-like performance in training camp, sure seems like the rookie 7th-rd pick is making the 53-man. Could they keep 7 WRs? https://t.co/60g09uZyS1 @thenewstribune— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) August 29, 2019
Say it ain’t so, Gregg.
Because a guy plays the same position (I mean sort of) on the same team, but is
young new and shiny we have to compare him pound-per-pound to one of the franchise’s Top 3 WR of all time? Nobody is saying this comp and subsequent pressure tanked John Ursua’s career. But a 7th-round wide receiver gained far more hype and far more disappointment than was altogether necessary. It’s at best unhelpful for Ursua, and additionally was a sizeable disrespect to Doug Baldwin that Seattle cried “Next!” so quickly.
Where it gets really interesting is when fans start comparing players taken by other teams to players taken by their own team. As per usual, only same position groups allowed.
ignore all of the analytics, position value, etc. and just let it sink in that the Seattle Seahawks decided a 23-year-old Jordyn Brooks was a better linebacker than the 21-year-old Patrick Queen.— LIFELONG GEORGIA FAN (@zjwhitman) April 24, 2020
This talk has died down considerably of late, as Jordyn Brooks has proven himself to be quite good thank you very much.
Oh and there’s also this thing that happened a week ago to Patrick Queen:
Loved Patrick Queen was a good tackler in college not on this play lol. Couldn't do anything against AJ— sltcyann (@MasterJaylen7) November 23, 2020
While the above two examples more strongly affect the players themselves, these hindsight gripes are less likely to have an impact unless they’re name searching themselves.
It does tend to sour fans against certain players, generally in the first two rounds of the draft, sometimes permanently. Germain Ifedi is the obvious example, but there have been plenty of others.
Ogbuehi is as bad as Seahawks fans believed Ifedi to be. https://t.co/ZRTqQir8Ua— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) December 2, 2020
“But we weren’t comparing Ifedi to any other player - we were just comparing Ifedi to, ya know, an actually useful right tackle!”
That’s because (1) it’s very easy to find the number of penalties, compare to league average, be infuriated, repeat, and (2) the average NFL fan knows the names of at most four offensive linemen.
Instead, Ifedi soured himself in the views of so many that they never moved past the fact that playing right tackle in the NFL sucks and basically nobody is good at it for very long.
Germain Ifedi is an above average pick for a late 1st round OL. Fans don't just remember the bad moves, they create bad move narratives. https://t.co/FmiN4ibwjP— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) October 28, 2019
Now that all the Ifedi haters are gone, let’s finish.
Comparing is fun. Essentially every game is a comparison of rosters, so why not do it at the individual level?
Because it’s also incredibly useless, and it doesn’t actually make the sports conversations better, as so many people believe it does.
This year, we witnessed the despicably tired Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James dialogue just because there was an NBA Finals. They’re not the same player, never will be and it’s to no one’s benefit to do this. James adapts to his context, as Jordan did to his. They’ll never play each other’s game, and are better appreciated for what they do over and against what anyone thinks the other did better.
DK Metcalf is not Calvin Johnson. For the moment, he is chasing some career numbers put up by all-time greats, and that’s the fun of sports. Beyond that, it serves no purpose and it doesn’t matter because all he has to do is beat the Jalen Ramseys and Darius Slays of the day.
Seattle lives with another one right now, and we’ll close with this as a possible example of how the coaching staff is able to ignore the noise. Jamal Adams is a “safety,” but he’s not Kam Chancellor and he’s not like any other player in the league at the moment.
PFF's sack numbers are a bit inflated compared to ESPN's but either way Jamal Adams is producing sacks at a ridiculous rate for a non-lineman pic.twitter.com/qOZ1nbE0a5— hawkschronicle (@hawkschronicle) December 1, 2020
The Seahawks are content to let Jamal Adams be who he is. In fact, they’re one of the best teams at doing this.
Note below, and we could even add in a 5’11” DT in Poona Ford, and a short quarterback, and the league’s only one-handed athlete.
Again, Seattle's got a safety playing corner, a 5'9 WR1, a 400lb TE, and they previously lined up Michael Bennett in every conceivable DLine position. This is not a group afraid of "hybrid" creativity. https://t.co/sDtAZu6Rnr— Tyler Alsin (@TylerjAlsin) September 2, 2019
The fact that this team does not expect players to be other players is one of its strengths. Comparison is good for records, useless for players, bad for fans, and terrible for front offices.
It’s also what we do - and I’ve embraced that. But it truly is a more enjoyable experience to watch these athletes and marvel at who they are, instead of frequently wondering what they might be, could be, or should be.