Whether or not the prospects show up at the 2011 NFL Draft is mostly irrelevant. The event will continue as planned, lockout or not, and most of the hard core fans, people like you and me that read every mock draft on the web, will not be disappointed. As Dan at Mocking the Draft said, the hard core fans are interested in the names and what the commentators have to say. Hard to argue with that. Nevertheless, I think the players are making a mistake, even if it is a relatively small thing, at a time when they really need to go above and beyond in a public relations war that has taken a nasty turn for the players' image since talks broke up last week and the NFLPA decertified.
Marching up to the stage to get your picture taken with Roger Goodell in a team hat and generic jersey gives fans a reason to smile. Even last year, when we knew Sam Bradford would be the pick, the image of him holding the Rams #1 jersey gave us long suffering fans our first glimpse of hope, as sure of a sign as we had up to then that the franchise was really righting its course. It's just as special for fans of more successful teams picking at the end of the first round, a chance to see the faces that will carry the torch.
Fans' opinion of both players and owners is at rock bottom. I'm not so sure that a derivatives trader still spending the bonus he got in 2008 wouldn't get the coveted last spot in the life boat over both an NFL player or team owner right now. Both sides could use the brief moment of goodwill the 2011 NFL Draft would give them.
Players and owners could also use the opportunity to drive their respective messages, reiterate their position in the CBA talks, though in a much kinder, gentler way. Both sides can't really afford to pass up a chance to rehab their images a bit in the wake of last week's events.
In a year when the monstrosity of entertainment known as the Pro Bowl and the more interesting Combine both garnered record ratings, you need no reminder that the Draft is the NFL's premier offseason event and a huge ratings draw. Why else would they expanded the thing to a three day affair from Radio City Music Hall when it could just as easily be done with GMs standing by a flunkie with a laptop and an internet connection?
Having the marquee draft picks on hand isn't really a difference maker, though I suspect it matters more than draft nerds like us are willing to credit it.
Football's appeal consists partially, significantly, of its escapism. The lockout is a bummer first and foremost because it deprives us of that escape. Keeping the draft as close to normal as possible at least salvages our collective oasis for three days.