Jason Pierre-Paul and the NFL Draft Hype Machine

Jason Pierre-Paul's coming-out party was held in Tallahassee last September. He and the rest of the Bulls' defensive line tormented Christian Ponder and the Florida State offensive line in a 17-7 win at Doak. In his only season of DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL (copyright Dan Hawkins), he ended up with 45 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He was a good collegiate defensive end, and he has outstanding speed and measurables. So when he decided to go into the NFL Draft, most people had him projected as a top-end pick.

Then somewhere along the line, with no new information on the table, Pierre-Paul's stock went up. He became a first-round pick on nearly everyone's board. He started creeping up towards the middle of the first round, passing Mike Jenkins's mark as the highest-drafted Bull to date (25th in 2008). And in the last couple of weeks, things have gone totally crazy. Most Bulls fans have heard about Todd McShay's mock draft that had the Bucs taking Pierre-Paul with the third overall pick. (McShay has been way out in front of the JPP parade - he had him pegged as a first-rounder even before Christmas.) He's not the only one who has Pierre-Paul that high. Bucky Brooks at NFL.com also has him as the third pick, and so does Pro Football Weekly in their last mock draft. This might be a reflection of the Bucs being run by a bunch of dumbasses, but still. Third overall.

Mel Kiper had him down as the 11th overall pick a couple weeks ago, and in his latest mock draft Pierre-Paul has moved up to 8th, although that would doom him to a prison term with the Raiders. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says he's the #1 rated defensive end in the draft. Scouts.com projects him as the fifth-best player in the draft. Everyone is going crazy about his size, speed, agility, athleticism, and most importantly, his potential. A "combine creation" has been born, and we haven't even made it to the damn combine yet.

Of course, as all of these things go, Pierre-Paul started out underrated and became so underrated that eventually he moved up to properly rated, and now he's moved straight on to overrated. Isn't that right, Matt Hayes?

"One season in Division I football resulted in 45 tackles and 6.5 sacks. And he could be the first end taken because he runs a 4.6 40 and has 'upside.' See the lunacy yet?"

And then the most hilarious 180 of the draft hype process so far comes from the same Todd McShay who had Pierre-Paul third overall, and still does for all I know. (Like I'm going to pay ESPN $6.95 to double-check.)

"The importance of mental agility is starting to sink in. ... Here's a good test for this season's GMs. Watch where South Florida DE Jason Pierre-Paul goes in comparison to Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan. Pierre-Paul is a physical freak, and a team may get flak for passing him by to get to Morgan. But what that team will know is that Morgan is far more versatile and game aware than his counterpart, who hasn't shown much more than pure pass-rushing ability."

We've never had a player from USF that was so thoroughly dissected and tossed around the draft board like a rag doll. Dr. Saturday explored this topic as well, but he framed it as the age-old "potential vs. production" question rather than looking at the net effect for everyone involved.

I think Pierre-Paul is in a bad position now because the hype and the fallout is far beyond his control. He'll either be drafted very high (whether he deserves to be or not) and then be expected to live up to possibly unreasonable expectations. Or he'll start sliding down the mountain, losing millions in guaranteed money and having all kinds of "what's wrong with him?" articles written. That's the kind of draft death spiral that's hard to get out of, the one where people find more and more things to nitpick. At this point, if he doesn't take the field in the NFL and come out like gangbusters, he will be immediately labeled a bust, which might stain his career. Imagine him going to the Bucs with their cheap owners, crappy coaching, and brain-dead front office, and having to live up to what he did playing in the same stadium in college. It totally sucks.

On the other hand, I'm having a hard time seeing the downside for USF. Let's face it, the elite high school talent wants to go somewhere that will help get them into the NFL. If Pierre-Paul stays up at the top of the draft board, no matter what happens to him in the pros, Skip Holtz can point to that in recruits' living rooms and tell them that USF can turn out the best of the best. ("And he was only at USF for one year! Imagine what you could do if you're there for four years!") They can get drafted early, get on national TV holding the hat and jersey while shaking hands with Roger Goodell, and most importantly, get paid. It's a domino effect after that. Eventually you beat some big names for recruits and it becomes easier to get where you want to go as a program.

If USF takes another step up in their recruiting quality over the next couple years, we'll probably all have Jason Pierre-Paul to thank.

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