The pre-draft process isn’t just for NFL teams and NFL prospects. Most of us in NFL media will get our biggest traffic numbers of the entire year in that stretch between late February and early May when our attention turns to the next players in the league.
Members of the NFL media will make of that… well, what they will. A fortunately ever-growing group of intelligent analysts will break down these players, get deep into their strengths and weaknesses, and project their professional success.
Then, there are those for whom such things are just too hard to bear, and that’s where the unfounded character assassinations come up. Sadly, this is a cottage industry in and of itself, and a highly profitable one at that. Whether it was Nolan Nawrocki shredding Cam Newton for all kinds of weird stuff, or legendary former NFL general manager Bill Polian suggesting that Lamar Jackson would be better off moving to receiver (a take for which he later had to apologize), the worst parts of the “Silly Season” pre-draft process are the armchair psychology and microwave scouting reports that pervade so much of it.
We are a few months away from the 2024 Silly Season, but you can generally spot next year’s target this year, and that’s presented itself once again with unfailing regularity. When USC quarterback Caleb Williams chose not to speak with the media following his team’s 38-20 loss to UCLA on Saturday, a whole lot of people with some very big names in our business decided to weigh in with things they probably do not know.
It could be that Williams didn’t feel like throwing head coach and offensive shot-caller Lincoln Riley under the bus, through he’d have more than enough reason to do so. It could be that Williams was simply too emotional to handle the questions at that point, and he didn’t have a PR person there to help him through it. It could have been that this was Williams’ final college game, and the enormity of that prevented him from collecting his thoughts.
I don’t know. The point is, neither do you, whomsoever you are.
That overall lack of understanding didn’t prevent some from weighing in right away.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 19, 2023
There’s a responsibility that comes being being the starting quarterback at a school like USC. Nearly every program in the country makes the QB available after every game. If he’s going to succeed in the NFL, he needs to be prepared to questions and criticism https://t.co/vjEmGTSBAO
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) November 19, 2023
Yeah… I get it in the abstract, but when you start questioning the leadership abilities of a quarterback prospect, and throw shade at his ability to be the face of the franchise — which Williams has been for the Trojans for a while now — it becomes problematic.
There’s also the point that Williams isn’t always in charge of his own media opportunities.
Every time things have been rough there Lincoln has made him unavailable. Not sure why he would feel like this time should be different. https://t.co/RjFqa4eq1Z
— Quincy Avery (@QuincyAvery) November 19, 2023
This thought from Sportico’s Michael McCann, a longtime sports law expert, puts it well in perspective.
Caleb Williams is a college student at USC who doesn’t have to speak with the media. If he’s also a USC employee—he or the players who follow him might be deemed employees of USC, their conference and NCAA by an administrative law judge—that’s a different story for a future day. https://t.co/Dq3BJJpDvp
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) November 19, 2023
Williams’ final college season is over. What he has to prove between now and the draft is his own challenge to take on, and he’ll feel the weight of that responsibility either way. What we in the media could avoid doing is to cast aspersions on the mentality of a prospect when he have no specific idea what that means for his future.
If we’re talking responsibility here, that’s the responsible thing to do.