Drafts Won’t Be The Same

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April 21, 2003 Drafts Won’t Be The Same
by Bob Hulsey

The AFL and NFL held their first combined college player draft prior to the 1967 season. It was really the first year of the modern pro football draft. From 1961-1966, drafts were done with an eye towards what player was signable in the war with the "other league." Players, back in the days before agents, now had two leagues competing for their services and salaries spiraled. The combined draft was one of the first things the two leagues agreed to do together once peace broke out. It was good business for both of them.

The New Orleans Saints traded the first pick in their franchise history to the Baltimore Colts who chose Michigan State defensive end Bubba Smith as the overall first selection. The final selection was made at the end of the 17th round and it is not noted who that player was but I’m guessing even the player’s mother had lost interest by that point. Not even little Mel Kiper Jr. on speed could get excited by the selections of the 17th round, and back then, nobody dared to project a 17-round mock draft.

By the final rounds, some teams had taken to drafting college baseball and basketball players, some drafted nephews and cousins while others leafed through the prior year’s Street And Smith’s college yearbook in search of a name that hadn’t already been chosen. Likely, it was somebody that none of them had ever seen in person or on film.

Tex Schramm of the Dallas Cowboys was still tweaking the idea of keeping a computerized scouting report of college players with all their strengths and weaknesses. The computers back then were so large that the project was outsourced to a couple of California computer geeks from India that didn’t even understand football, much less the data they were churning out. In 1968, Dallas picked a defensive tackle in the 16th round named Larry Cole who lasted with the Cowboys for 13 seasons. Folks began to think Tex was onto something.

Still, by the time Earl Campbell was the top choice of the Houston Oilers in 1978, the NFL Draft was little noticed, outside of a few "football junkies." It was a one-day story and there was little ballyhoo once the first round was over.

That was the year I picked up my first copy of Pro Football Weekly – which was weekly only during the football season. It was a monthly the rest of the year and still is. In newspaper form, it kept track of transactions, stats, news, injuries – the things you couldn’t find in your local paper. They threw in a few columnists from various newspapers. For a football junkie like me, it was a good read.

Their draft "expert" was a guy named Joel Buchsbaum (actually pronounced "bucks-bomb", but he found it easier to be called "bush-bomb" than to constantly correct people) who seemed to have an endless knowledge of college players and their pro potential. While general managers and personnel directors were still often drafting on hunches, Joel had a knack for finding hidden gems and was equally adept at seeing through the hype. Pro teams took notice.

Pro Football Weekly went through some rough times as a publication but Buchsbaum, thankful for the platform to do what he loved, stuck with them. A lot of folks read PFW just to get Joel’s lowdown on college players. I wonder if they would still be in business today without him?

In the early 1980s, as the draft dwindled to a more manageable size, Joel became a weekly guest of a Houston radio station. For draftniks, there was no face to go with the voice but now there was at least a voice.

And what an unmistakable voice! It was nasal, Jewish New Yorker through and through. It was sort of like Howard Cosell with a bad head cold. It was authoritative and conversational. It came across somewhat like the street hustler who knew all the inside stuff – what was said for public consumption and what they really said behind closed doors. But there was no swagger or ego – just the confidence of somebody who knew his stuff.

Back then all pro teams (except the Raiders, who have always followed their own drummer) belonged to one of two scouting services. One was called BLESTO. I don’t remember the name of the other. Despite the fact that they all pretty much had the same data and scouting reports, teams treated their insider knowledge like nuclear secrets. Not Joel. He was always willing to share what he knew, which was substantial.

Buchsbaum seemed to have an inexhaustible library of facts in his head. Once you got past the voice, you couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a college football player he didn’t instantly have something to say about.

At times, his call-in show became like "Stump The Expert."

"Hey, Joel, I was wondering what your opinion was about Joe Brown, the third-string middle linebacker at Sam Houston St.?"

Joel would immediately launch into a 90-second critique of Brown – his strengths and weaknesses and whether any NFL team might be interested in him. And this was without consulting a media guide or a home computer.

Typically, the dumbfounded caller would reply with "Uh, okay, thanks, just wanted to know…" And then the next caller would ask about the long snapper at Texas-El Paso and receive another critique. It was amazing. Buchsbaum had a similar call-in show in St. Louis.

ESPN obtained the rights to televise the draft about that same time and the draft, as an event, has never looked back. Television has a way of doing that. But Joel, even then the best known of draft analysts, didn’t look the part so television passed him by. He was homely, reclusive, a slave to his work and not a publicity hound. He only needed television as a research tool, not as an ego enhancer.

Today we are inundated with analysis on every backup punter, everyone has their own website and their own mock draft. Some have parlayed this into a full-blown lifestyle.

But Joel Bucshbaum was still the best. I trusted his evaluations more than anyone else’s. It was solid and it was consistent and it didn’t cost that much money to obtain. If Joel told you a player was good, he was probably good. If Joel told you he was a reach or a risk, it was likely true.

It’s not like Joel never misjudged a player. Nobody can predict how injuries, bad coaching or bad personal decisions can turn which 21-year-old superstud into a used car salesman or a hamburger flipper by the time he’s 24. But Joel understood what pro coaches and general managers wanted and knew which players had the best chance of fulfilling those needs. He had several offers to join various NFL clubs in their personnel departments but he liked his independence. For him, it was almost like being general manager or scouting director for every NFL team, instead of just one.

Joel expanded his duties at PFW from evaluating college players to evaluating pro players too. He produced such a volume of work that you wondered if he ever slept. It turns out, he didn’t sleep much at all.

This will be my first draft in almost a quarter-century where I’m not leaning heavily on the knowledge of Joel Buchsbaum. He suddenly passed away at age 48 in his New York apartment just as 2002 ended. It’s just not going to be the same without him. I feel lost.

Pro Football Weekly must feel lost too. They’ve put together a bunch of the notes he made last year and have still produced a lot of the same material Joel would have but readers have remarked it isn’t the same. They have two full-time guys and a bunch of stringers trying to put together what one tireless individual did all by himself.

I’ve listened to the blow-dried, self-promoting draft geniuses but I’ve never trusted them the way I trusted Joel. When you produce quality, you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. People will find out. And Joel made sure his writing was as accurate as he could make it.

Some people come along in life that will never be replaceable. Joel was one of them. And I will feel that loss for many Aprils to come.

Bob Hulsey’s positives: Clever wit and solid communications skills. Can work on deadline. Above average attention to detail. Good team player. His Negatives: Doesn’t keep his knees bent. Doesn’t wrap up well. Takes plays off. Needs to show better footwork. Not dedicated to working out, particularly in the off-season. Joel Buchsbaum Joel Buchsbaum Home

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