Schwartz: NFL Draft a Roller Coast Ride for Fans

April 26, 2020

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Thursday night across the United States, but mostly in our living rooms and our phones, the NFL Draft happened. Awkwardly but successfully, it happened.

As the Giants took an offensive lineman at No. 4, the Browns at No. 10 and the Jets at No. 11, Hawkeye fans shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Where was Tristan Wirfs? As politely as they could, NFL Network and ESPN analysts wondered aloud the same thing, especially as they danced around the red flags of Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ picks.

Then, it all worked out. Tampa Bay took Wirfs at No. 13, and suddenly Wirfs went from “guy slipping in the draft” to a Top 15 pick who gets to protect Tom Brady, the most successful quarterback in NFL history.

It’s funny how quickly a perspective can flip. First it happened with Wirfs. Then a couple of hours later, as the first round drew to a close, it became clear A.J. Epenesa would not hear his name called on Day 1.

Oof.

It wasn’t unexpected. Epenesa underperformed his huge expectations at the draft combine. Still, it confirmed disruption of the Epenesa narrative: Five-star son of a Hawkeye becomes a Hawkeye, makes giant leaps in knowledge and production each season, becomes a first-round draft pick.

Epenesa’s story is a successful one, it just isn’t the one we expected. Friday the Buffalo Bills drafted Epenesa late in the second round. That’s a steal for Buffalo, and something Epenesa can be proud of for the rest of his life. Still, being a fan means that sometimes we have to balance our expectations – and our biases – against realities.

It also means making emotional adjustments. Riding the roller coaster.

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Oh no, is Wirfs sliding? Why are those other linemen being picked ahead of him?

Wait, he gets to line up alongside Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and great wide receivers while playing for one of the most respected offensive coaches of the last two decades. Yes!

But wait. Oh no, weren’t he and Epenesa supposed to celebrate their big nights together?

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What happened? Why hasn’t anyone taken Epenesa yet? Was he really that slow at the combine? Why are the Hawkeyes so much better at developing three-star talent than four- and five-start talent? Why why why?

Yes! Buffalo took Epenesa. It took a little longer than we thought for him to come off the board, but the same thing happened to Desmond King a few years back and look at him now. He’s become so good, and therefore potentially so expense to re-sign, that San Diego is considering trading him so they can instead focus their finances on a rebuild.

Epenesa will find the same internal raging fire as King – the drive to make everyone who passed on him regret their decision.

The thing is, except for about 15-20 players, the NFL Draft is a crapshoot. Sixth-rounders make Pro Bowlers and first-rounders exit the league in 2-3 years. There’s a 100 percent chance I’m making too big a deal over the highs and lows of Epenesa’s draft ride.

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It’s especially pronounced this year, when there are no other sporting events to distract us. The NFL Draft is the only “live” mainstream sporting event of the last several weeks, which puts it under an even brighter spotlight than usual.

Epenesa will be fine. Wirfs will be fine. Soon, none of the last three days will matter and we’ll enjoy watching the NFL’s newest Hawkeyes compete alongside their Iowa kin.

That’s all that matters.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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