With the 23rd pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Vikings will select …
Keenan Allen, wide receiver from California.
And two picks later, at No. 25: Manti Te’o, linebacker from Notre Dame.
There you have it. Two early picks, two major holes filled.
At least those are the projections from 34-year-old draft analyst Scott Wright, a Sandstone resident, founder and president of DraftCountdown.com, and one of many people — some famous, some virtually anonymous — whose livelihood is providing draft information online.
An Allen-Te’o combo platter would be intriguing, wouldn’t it? Seems sensible, too.
With the Vikings needing additional playmakers in the passing game, Allen’s polished route running and reliable hands have to be eye-catching. And Te’o too seems like a natural fit given the Vikings’ affinity for Notre Dame standouts and their obvious hole at middle linebacker.
“If the Vikings are OK with the circus coming to town,” Wright said, “to me Te’o is one of the safest prospects in this draft.”
Never mind that the draft is still five days away and that many of Wright’s first-round projections for the Vikings and 29 other teams might not line up when the first night of picks finishes up.
For now, mock draft curiosity provides a perfect setup for endless debate and speculation. Which for Wright means business.
Now in his 17th year dissecting the draft for an online audience, Wright continues cooking up potential scenarios. Because he knows there’s a bottomless appetite for them.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., of course, is still widely considered the pioneer and icon of the always growing draft analysis genre. And in recent years ESPN colleague Todd McShay, 36, has emerged to carve out his own niche.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network is another of the high-profile experts whose insight is often shared as gospel.
But make no mistake, the draft analysis market is open to just about everyone. Wide open.
Which explains why Wright, whose said bad knees kept him from playing high school football at Hinckley-Finlayson, can make a living delivering his wisdom on the Internet just a few clicks down from former Vikings safety Corey Chavous, himself a passionate talent evaluator at DraftNasty.com.
“We’re talking about the lives and futures of so many kids just out there hanging,” Chavous said. “That intrigues people.”
Added Wright: “As much as anything, the draft is that one time of the year where every single team has hope. The Super Bowl champion can add another prospect to the arsenal. And if you’re one of the worst teams in the league, this is the year you can land that superstar who’s going to turn everything around. From the Ravens to the Chiefs, this is all about the universal hope.”
Taking a chance
While we’re on the subject of hope, maybe now’s a good time to share Wright’s unconventional career path, the one that since graduation from St. Cloud State in 2003 has had him working as a self-employed draft guru.
He has never had another job. Never had a boss. Never had a commute.
He has simply set up shop at home and gone about growing his DraftCountdown.com following by studying prospects, profiling their strengths and weaknesses and ultimately forecasting where their careers might head.
Last year, on the draft’s first day, Wright set a new traffic record for his site, drawing, he says, more than 185,000 unique visitors and collecting close to three-quarters of a million total page views.
“Every year I think, ‘Wow, that’s going to be tough to top,’ ” Wright said. “You’d think there’d be a ceiling.
“Somehow I’ve managed to top my numbers every year.”
Yet rather than question America’s draft infatuation, Wright rolls with it, understanding the obsession was the battering ram that opened the door to his dream job.
Wright’s original site, he says, was a primitive one-pager set up through an AOL account in 1997 when he was still just a junior at Hinckley-Finlayson dabbling with a hobby.
Yet the early mock drafts and complementary analysis Wright posted then gradually became more sophisticated and gained credibility while he was in college.
Quickly, his audience expanded. And when it came time to enter the real world, Wright opted against a career as a newspaper sports writer.
“I knew as a beginning reporter I was going to be in a newsroom, working the phones and taking the boxscores from the girls JV volleyball games,” he said.
The road less traveled offered Wright an opportunity to turn his draft-craze into his profession with the loyal following he’d already built instantly paving the way for advertising revenue through ad servers.
Now 10 years into that journey, Wright has never looked back.
He hasn’t struck it rich. But, he says, he makes a comfortable living each year through DraftCountdown.com and has seen no dip in his site’s popularity.
Nasty is nice
Chavous is four years into his post-NFL ventures, continuing to build DraftNasty.com with the expertise gained through 11 seasons playing with the Rams, Vikings and Cardinals.
And yes, Chavous admits, he receives more questions than he’d like about his company’s most powerful branding tool, the eye-catching Draft Nasty RV that he says has now been through 46 states since the company’s launch in 2009.
But Chavous also hopes true draft junkies find deep insight in the sophisticated grading scale he devised with the aid of his uncle Barney, a former NFL defensive end and assistant coach with the Broncos.
Draft Nasty’s scouting profiles grade players across eight categories: speed, athleticism, vision/hand-eye coordination, balance, explosiveness/agility, size, strength and football IQ.
The size evaluation doesn’t only factor in a player’s height and weight but how well he manages that. The football IQ variable evaluates both the complexity of a player’s college system and how fast they pick it up and excel within it.
All the in-depth analysis is mainly geared toward Draft Nasty’s bulky predraft magazine, which last year was 296 pages.
Oh, and true to the site’s name, Chavous is always looking for a little extra edge in players.
“We want guys to have a little nasty,” he said. “When I played, I prided myself on that aspect of the game — having a bit of an edge, having some nasty to me.”
With different approaches and perspectives, Chavous and Wright hope they can help satisfy the appetite for draft knowledge.
The former Pro Bowl safety uses assignments as a college football color analyst for CBS Sports Network and ESPN3 to enhance his scouting. Between booth assignments, he will find his way to Tuesday night games, Thursday nighters for additional evaluations.
Wright travels much less. His only big trip each year is a January jaunt to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl.
Beyond that, Wright’s bond with his DirecTV — with three separate DVRs allowing him to record up to six games at once — offers a stay-at-home perk to the evaluation process.
Still, in the big picture Wright’s aim isn’t solely to assemble those popular mock drafts. That’s just an entertaining byproduct of all his film study and his nonstop search for hidden gems.
“Overall,” Wright said, “with all of this, I aim to be talking in November about guys everyone else is going to be talking about in March.”
That’s the name of the game in the industry: staying out in front.
Wright is, after all, trying to follow in the footsteps of his idol Kiper, who was waaaaay out in front of all this.
So perhaps it’s only fitting to let Kiper have the last word. His start came in 1978 when he was a teenager with a passion for the NFL, a fascination for the draft and a premonition that things could explode.
Kiper can remember the 17-round format of the draft, the 12-rounders too. He easily recalls the time-consuming pre-Internet days which required calls to every college program just to round up basic stats.
“To see this grow to this point? It’s tremendously satisfying for me,” Kiper said. “Because it’s shown that back at age 18, I actually had the vision and the foresight to get into something that down the road became as huge as this is.”