Thursday, 30 April 2015


On The Clock opens with a chapter on the 2014 NFL Draft, which the authors call 'the most exciting of all time'. So exciting, in fact, they never even mention who the second player selected in the draft might have been. Instead, we jump from first pick Jadeveon Clowney to draft-dropping Johnny Manziel to draft free-falling Michael Sam, in what is a perfect metaphor for what makes something exciting to today's media world, and what makes this book disappointing.

Clowney was the story because he was a defensive lineman who'd seemed to take his final year of college off. Manziel was a wild-card both on and off the field, the antithesis of the classic great NFL quarterback. And Sam, of course, had come out as gay, and was drafted by his local team, the Rams, only a few picks before the final round came to an end.

These were the stories which drove the media frenzy around the draft, a frenzy amplified by the NFL's decisions to stretch the seven rounds over three days, putting the first day on prime time television, and holding the whole thing later than usual, to add to the build-up's hype. These brought more attention, but it's a value judgement the authors never prove that this was what made the draft more 'exciting'. Indeed, the face they ignore Greg Robinson's going to the Rams with the second pick implies there was little excitement to the part of the process that should generate the most excitement: the battle to be the first pick overall.

It's typical of the book's approach. Although it's billed as 'the story of the NFL draft' it's actually no such thing. In fact, the authors go into the war room of the Cincinnati Bengals for the 2014 draft, and come out with a few paragraphs that not only tell you nothing about their internal processes or debates, but slide through in a couple of lines what was a very good draft indeed. If you're a newcomer to the event, you won't find it explained, or analysed. If you're familiar with it, you won't find very much that's new. It seems to assume you know already an awful lot of what they are telling you. Which is a shame, because where the book is best is on history.

The chapter on Bert Bell, the NFL commissioner who brought the draft into being, is interesting. But it's a chapter about Bell, who's a great story, and his influence on the NFL but not about the draft per se. It also suffers from sloppy writing: in the space of a few pages we are told three separate times that Bell 'came from a wealthy family'. His family story is fascinating enough to be written with less repetition and more clarity.

That's a problem throughout the book, which seems to be an amalgam of separate articles, some of them conceived in click-bait terms (one chapter is 'A Draft Genius and Three Wise Men' another is 'The Lists') which allows for anecdotal story-telling but fails to fit into any meaningful schematic about the draft itself. And as suggested above, there is a distinct absence of copy-editing, as well as structural editing.

Some of the story-telling is interesting, but irrelevant to the draft (the Frank Filchock scandal, for example) and some that is relevant ('the African American Breakthrough', for example) needs to be either examined more deeply, as NFL history, or linked more closely to the draft process itself.

In the end, there are plenty of stories to keep you entertained, if you don't mind the scatter-shot nature of the writing and the structuring. But as a history of the draft, it falls short. As insight into the processes of the draft, of the teams when they are actually 'on the clock' it's lacking. In fairness, most books are; Michael Holley's The War Room had great access to the Patriots, and offered insight into personalities, but never could crack the insider dynamic of what goes on, and how it happens. That book remains to be written.

On The Clock: The Story of the NFL Draft
by Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport
Taylor Trade Publishing £12.99 ISBN 9781630761011

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