Perhaps some of you might think I have an ax to grind with Todd McShay because he's consistently doubted Tim Tebow's chances of becoming a good NFL quarterback. In truth, I don't. I've been hearing people doubt Tebow's abilities since the days when he wasn't a good enough passer to succeed in the SEC. It just fades into the background by now.
However, ESPN has inexplicably promoted him to the status of "major draft analyst" alongside Mel Kiper, and that means he's inescapable throughout the draft process.
Actually, it's not that inexplicable. ESPN has figured out that when two people argue about things, it gets ratings an attention. Therefore, it has injected the forced disagreement format into nearly all of its properties. I'm halfway surprised it hasn't made Ivan Maisel and Beano Cook do a debate section in their college football podcast.
There's a big problem with that though, besides the fact that having two people bickering isn't the best format for presenting information. The issue is that according to actual NFL scouts, McShay has no idea what he's talking about. They say that Kiper was once there too, but he's since learned to play the game and has built actual connections and relationships in the business. McShay just kind of shoots from the hip with zero information from real scouts to back him up.
It's an inherent conflict when it comes to sports media. If someone really knew that much about coaching, scouting, being a general manager, and everything else, wouldn't that person actually be doing that activity? The answer is not necessarily. ESPN pays well, and someone might be better at analyzing other people's actions than performing those actions themselves. After all, consider that pro golfers learn from instructors who themselves aren't winning tournaments.
That said, McShay is kind of in a class by himself. There's a reason why ESPN chose him to be Kiper's foil rather than anyone else from its college football staff. He works well on TV. His delivery comes off authoritative if you separate what he says from how he says it. When you combine that with the fact that he's spent his whole professional career (12 years running) doing scouting-related things, he should be the ideal person for breaking down the draft.
The problem is that he's never scouted for an NFL team. And without any real connections within the league, he's essentially been an amateur scout this whole time. I'm not saying that in a dozen years' time that someone can't get good at doing something without formal training, but he's not playing a guitar or writing blog posts. He's purported to be an expert by his employer, which is the largest sports media company in the world. People are inclined to believe him, including prospects like apparently Jevan Snead, who according to PFT's source based his decision to turn pro partially on McShay's draft grade for him.
With great power comes great responsibility, and few entities have as much power as ESPN does. It has a dilemma here, as I explained above. It wants to provide credible draft coverage, but all the professional scouts are busy actually scouting for teams. So, ESPN uses guys like Kiper and McShay to provide the draft coverage because they can sound convincing despite the fact that even the pro scouts screw up all the time. Any list of memorable draft busts can prove that.
The moral of the story is beware of anyone who tries to tell you something authoritatively, especially about the NFL draft. When we provide analysis around here, it's about the things that we can understand well enough to relate thoroughly. For instance, I can't explain everything about what NFL scouts look for in a quarterback, but I can use video and my ability to count to show why Tebow's release is considered slow compared to Sam Bradford's.
We also have no problem acknowledging our limitations, saying that we're not always right, and admitting when we're wrong. It's too bad ESPN's personalities, whether due to pride or corporate policy or both, don't do that more often.