By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
He's not a "draftnik." Let's get that straight.
Rick Gosselin, the man Sports Illustrated's NFL writer Peter King calls "one of the greatest football writers in America," would not be watching this weekend's pro football draft were he not The Dallas Morning News' chief pigskin scribe. He would not be flying to New York to watch the two-day event packing three-ring binders crammed with hand-written, color-coded, position-by-position breakdowns of more than 500 college football players who are eligible to be selected by 32 pro teams, 29 of which have highly placed sources who receive calls from Gosselin between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. every day of the week for three months leading up to the draft because that's the only time you can catch NFL personnel at their desks. He would not have spent the rest of his days and nights winnowing that list of 500 to 250 "draftable" players, then sifting through those men to find the top 100 and ranking them so he could publish it this Friday, the day before the draft, and once again show off just how friggin' plugged in he is, to the delight of information-hungry off-season football geeks and the astonishment of his peers.
He would, in other words, have a life.
Let's make one other thing clear. Just because he wouldn't waste a beautiful weekend watching ESPN and wondering if converted University of Michigan defensive end Dave Petruziello will be drafted in the sixth round by teams trying to make him an offensive guard doesn't mean Gosselin dislikes this part of his job. In fact, he digs it.
"Actually, I like this part of the year more than the games," Gosselin says during a rare excursion from his Flower Mound home, which becomes the epicenter of insider draft info every spring. (You lose an old football media guide? It's on his floor.) "It's exciting right now. All the draftniks like you wondering what their team will do, proposing trades, it's crazy. I got an e-mail from Alaska yesterday asking questions. Everyone gets so crazy now about the draft. And it's fun trying to figure out what the teams will do. It's a big jigsaw puzzle."
And Gosselin is the master...jigsaw put-together person. Most people around the country who follow the draft know of its bouffanted guru, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. Others follow SI's King or read the late draft expert Joel Buchsbaum (the subject of a fantastic story by the DMN's Juliet Macur this past Sunday), or perhaps they scour The Sporting News' War Room. But Gosselin, in the decade-plus he's been doing this, has become the man most around the country seek out for pre- and post-draft evaluation. As Slate.com noted two years ago, "[Kiper] has practically surrendered his guru status to Rick Gosselin."
"He's the best there is, flat out," says KTCK-AM 1310's Norm Hitzges, himself a draft fanatic. "On the first day of the draft, the NFL hands out a huge packet with mock drafts from around the country. I find Rick's, then throw the rest away."
As the draft has become a two-day television event (the first three rounds are broadcast Saturday, rounds four through seven are seen on Sunday), a cottage industry of Kiper wannabes has proliferated. The Internet has facilitated this, of course, as the only thing men will Google more often than porn are updates on 40-yard dash times from the NFL Combine--one reason the Morning News has a Web page devoted exclusively to Gosselin and his draft updates. Refreshingly, Gosselin has achieved his status as NFL soothsayer by working the phones and cornering front-office personnel at NFL gatherings instead of by reading other draft experts, as most do.
"Some people have a misconception of what I do. I don't scout," he says. "I don't watch tapes and time players. I talk to coaches, scouts, general managers. All I'm trying to do is build a consensus of opinion as to what the league thinks of a player. Not me, not one team, the entire league...All those guys [Kiper, et al.] do a great job, but I don't even read mock drafts or any of their stuff before the draft. I don't want to be influenced by them. I want to know what the league thinks about a player."
During the two weeks leading up to the draft, Gosselin uses this information to put together his board of players, each one "graded" (too much math to go into here), and he orders his top 100 players. To him, that is more important than a mock draft (picking which team will take which player in the first round), because even though he's had some extremely accurate mocks, draft-day trades can skew which players go to which teams. A better example of how well you've gotten inside the league's head is to see how many of your top 100 players went in the first hundred picks. By this measure, Gosselin is definitely in the NFL's kitchen: The past four years he's averaged 84 out of 100. In comparison, Kiper has averaged 76 and the The Sporting News has averaged 71.
No matter how accurate Gosselin is, he always seems to infuriate Dallas Cowboys fans, specifically with his day-after draft grades for each team. Last year, for example, when the Cowboys were receiving plaudits for their draft-day haul (Roy Williams, Antonio Bryant, others), Gosselin gave the team a "B." It so enraged readers that he wrote a column the next day explaining his grading methodology. (Which was so intricate that it did little to dispel his image as an NFL "mad scientist," so dubbed by KTCK's George Dunham.)
"People say, 'You hate the Cowboys,'" Gosselin says. "No. I like teams who draft well. And every draft is different. Some of the best people in the league, some of my best friends in football, have gotten D's and F's." And, he points out, he "regrades" each team in January after the season. The Cowboys' new grade was an A (thanks to the production of late-round pick Tyson Walter).
The fan vitriol doesn't dampen Gosselin's obvious love for his job. How could it? He's known that he wanted to be a sportswriter since the third grade. He grew up in Detroit and was an all-city hockey player, then went to Michigan State, so it's slightly odd that he didn't end up covering pucks. But in his 29 years covering football in New York, Kansas City and, since 1990, Dallas, Gosselin has amassed a network of sources that make his job not just easier, but rewarding. Fun, even. "On this beat," he says, smiling, "it's who you know. And I've been around so long, I know most of them by now."
Looking back, perhaps these sources should do more than just give Gosselin information. Perhaps they should request some as well.
"Bottom line," Hitzges says, "is that over the last 10 years, several NFL teams would have been better off if they had just fired their scouting departments and, on the day of the draft, gone up to Rick and said, 'Hey, could you give me a list of your top 250 players, in order?' and then just went down his list and took the highest-ranked guy available. I'm not kidding. He's that good."