Other than the win-loss record, the earliest barometer each fall about how well the Detroit Lions are playing is when the first questions start about the upcoming NFL draft.
No matter what though, draft questions usually start at some point in October, six months before the three-day, made-for-prime-time NFL draft.
It’s not just three days of 32 teams selecting for their future, it’s a growth industry.
It’s all amazing. Television ratings soar, draft experts expound and mock drafts are everywhere.
Here’s something else. Mel Kiper, ESPN’s draft analyst, said he saw it coming back when he was age 18. He jumped in and has not looked back.
“To see it the way it was when I started in 1978, the 1978 football season was my first year covering the draft, and to see it grow to this point, obviously I thought it could,’’ KIper said in a recent conference call.
“I wouldn't have gotten into this business if I didn't think it had a chance to be successful and create this industry, as you said, which is huge. And think about what ESPN does with the draft and all the other entities that are covering this and the coverage on the internet and then the talk from August until April about the draft,’’ he added.
We’re less than three weeks away now from this year’s version of the draft which starts the night of April 25 for the first round; April 26 for rounds two and three; and then April 27 wrapping it up with the final four rounds.
The Lions have eight picks — one in each round with two in the seventh. Due to last season's 4-12 record, the Lions have the fifth overall pick. Last year in the first round (23rd overall) they selected Riley Reiff.
If a team doesn’t draft well (Lions fans think Matt MIllen) they will not find success. It’s that easy.
“The NFL has always been the king of all sports. The only way -- there was very few trades, free agency didn't exist. The only way your team changed its makeup from a year to a year and improved was the draft, and it was 17 rounds back in the day, then it was 12 rounds, then it became eight, then seven, and it's seven right now as we speak,’’ Kiper said. “It's the only vehicle to improve your team, and people weren't able to see a lot of these players in the '70s and '80s. The only thing about that, you couldn't see players. Nobody watched players.’’
Kiper did though. Back then he went to two games every Saturday and called schools to get film. He put in a big satellite dish so he could see as many games as possible.
Today statistics are readily available, you just have to know where to look. Back then the internet didn’t exist.
“So you had to work hard; you had to do a lot of research to find out just tackles and sack numbers,’’ Kiper said. “I had to call every school. The internet didn't exist. I had to call every school to get basic statistics on a player. You know how time consuming that was?’’
He said he worked 20-hour days to get his annual draft book done which came out in early to mid-March.
“To see it grow to this point is tremendously satisfying for me because it's shown that back at age 18 I at least had the vision and the foresight to get into something that down the road became as huge as this is,’’ said Kiper who thinks the Lions could draft
cornerback Dee Milliner or defensive end Ziggy Ansah in the first round.
Last year the first round of the draft drew a combined 25.3 million viewers on ESPN and the NFL Network combined. It was an 18-percent increase over 2011.
The draft and the NFL Combine have made the NFL a year-round commodity even though the games last five months, including the playoffs.
Included in the process is the NFL Combine which has become so huge — 7.25 million tuned into the NFL Network over four days in February. That was an 11-percent jump over 2012.
The Combine, the prelude to the draft, has become so popular that the NFL is considering selling seats at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for it. And they will sell, even though it’s just to watch hundreds of players run drills.
It’s the NFL, that’s all that matters.