In a move that, figuratively speaking, might have caused fewer ripples than an eyelash falling softly into a still pond, Ohio State junior wide receiver Brian Hartline has declared for the NFL draft. Something tells me that Michael Crabtree isn’t worried.
Here is the official release from the AP:
Hartline said Wednesday that he looks forward to testing himself as a professional. He had 90 catches for 1,449 yards and 13 touchdowns during his Ohio State career, and is expected to graduate in June with a communications degree.
A few things jumped out at me when I read that. The first is that Hartline already has his degree, so he is not necessarily “leaving school” early, just going pro before he has exhausted his playing eligibility. Congrats to Hartline for graduating.
The next thing I thought was, is he nuts?
According to his Scout.com profile, Hartline is rated 43rd out of 334 rated receivers. That’s not bad, but not first day stuff. Hartline could have coasted taking a few blow-off classes, or even started on a graduate degree, and focused himself entirely on football while — and this is the most important part — enjoying college life on one of the best campuses in America. If he were going to be a first day pick, I’d say go. But to pass up a year of essentially classless college life while being a BMOC because he’s a Buckeye? Is there really a way to quantify the value of that in dollars? And is there any way Hartline could come close to that value with the rookie contract of a late-round pick?
After I realized that I would not be able to make sense of this, I realized that the numbers cited for Hartline were pretty good. 90 catches for 1,449 and 13 TDs? I asked myself if I had really become so detached from Big Ten football that I didn’t realize Brian Hartline had put up Michael Crabtree-esque numbers. Then I read the not-so-fine print: “during his Ohio State career.” The numbers instantly became less impressive — and made a whole lot more sense.
Here is a break down of Hartline’s per-year stats as a Buckeye:
- 2006: 17 receptions, 256 yards, 15.1 YPC, 2 TDs
- 2007: 52 receptions, 694 yards, 13.3 YPC, 6 TDs
- 2008: 21 receptions, 479 yards, 22.8 YPC, 4 TDs
The senior year YPC number is pretty impressive. Outside of that — blah. And this guy is going pro?
If you are unfamiliar with the term “jump the shark”, here is the official description from, where else, www.jumptheshark.com:
It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it “Jumping the Shark.” From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.
Jumping the shark applies not only to TV, but also music, film, even everyday life. “Did you see her boyfriend? She definitely jumped the shark.” You get the idea.
Brian Hartline going pro just may be the “jump the shark” moment for early entry into the NFL draft; because honestly, if Brian Hartline can do it, who can’t?
99% of college football fans probably couldn’t pick Brian Hartline out of a lineup if he was standing in between Gary Coleman and Dan Dierdorf. I am sure that most NFL scouts know about him, but when you watch that much tape of Beanie Wells, you tend to pick up on a few of the other players on the offense.
It used to be that guys who went pro early were the absolute best of the best. They were usually sure-fire first day picks whose prodigious talents were burgeoning with such obvious force that not even the grand and prestigious expanse of college football could contain their abilities.
But a wide receiver who finished the season with 21 catches? These are the people declaring for the NFL Draft early these days?
Who knows, perhaps I am being too hard on Brian Hartline. And perhaps there are extenuating circumstances leading to his declaration. Hartline did not play in the Fiesta Bowl after getting into trouble. According to his Scout.com profile, Hartline missed a curfew on New Year’s eve. So maybe he and coach Jim Tressel reached an impasse and Hartline just decided that since he had already graduated he should just head onto the NFL. This actually seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation.
But it does not change the fact that a white wide receiver declared early for the NFL draft.
Yup, I said it.
The big elephant in the room has now been acknowledged and legitimized.
The only reason why I even gave pause when I saw the headline about Hartline declaring for the draft is that he is a white dude. And say what you want, massage it any way you like, but there just are not that many white wide receivers in the NFL — and there certainly are not many of them who go pro early.
And yes, for the record, I realize that just recently Anthony Gonzalez left Ohio State after his junior season of eligibility. But I do not consider him white. His last name is Gonzalez…and he is a badass. When sports fans stereotype white wide receivers, we talk about guys with two first names like Kevin Curtis, or ironically funny last names like Kevin Kasper, or choppy alliterative names like Wes Welker. And it is not to say that these guys aren’t very solid, and sometimes even spectacular players. Wes Welker is one of the best WRs in the NFL and one of my favorite players.
But the fact remains, these are not guys who are picked highly in the NFL draft. And I defy you to find me a serious football fan who has not, at least once, made a comment or thought something that could be considered a “negative” stereotype of white wide receivers in general. So don’t flame me for saying what everyone else says and thinks.
If you have not read the post “White Wide Receivers Face Discrimination“, posted back in August of 2006 at the great blog Every Day Should be Saturday, you should go check it out right now. A quick excerpt, which references a white wide receiver from a Division III school:
â€œIâ€™d just made an over-the-shoulder catch against a corner who later got a scholarship offer to Virginia. Nothing little, mind you. The announcer couldnâ€™t give me credit; he said I hadâ€¦â€
At this point, the tears come. They often do when he talks about that game. Thomason wipes them away with a few rubs of the same huge hands that cradle passes in easy catches like a fat man catching donuts from heaven. He stares into space composing himself, then speaks in deliberate tones as he says the words that burned him so deeply that night.
â€œHe said I had â€˜deceptive speed,â€™â€ Thomason says, choking up again. â€œHe might as well have called me a â€˜possession receiver.â€™â€
Read the post by EDSBS and you realize that I am not breaking any new ground here by blatantly stereotyping Brian Hartline for being a white guy. And heck, I’m a white guy who played basketball in high school and was a pretty decent outside shooter. I also happened to run and jump like I wore cement shoes. I remember going to the gym and playing pick-up games. I know what people were thinking.
The difference, of course, is that I never declared early for the NFL draft.
Who knows, maybe Brian Hartline is an exception to the white wide receiver stereotype. The numbers they list at Scout.com do not seem too bad. His 4.54 average 40 time is actually similar to numbers I have seen cited for the vaunted Michael Crabtree. And he is 6’2, 186 pounds, so he certainly he is not undersized. And his 22.8 YCP this season certainly seems to contradict the oft-heard stereotypical terms like “possession receiver”. Plus, he caused drama for his team before a big game. Lots of NFL receivers (T.O., Plaxico Burress, 8,000 others) have made millions of dollars doing the same thing.
Is it possible that Brian Hartline is actually making a really sound decision and is an early entry because his talent is just too great for college?
Umm…I don’t think so.
If Brian Hartline can leave school early for the NFL Draft, then the prestige of doing so has officially eroded to the point of being non-existent. The prestige has already been eroding over the course of this decade as more and more guys seem to go pro early that I have never even heard of. Granted, some of these may be out of necessity, and there may be extenuating circumstances, but it does not change the fact that going pro early used to be reserved for the best of the best — it was a badge of honor, a prestigious club to be in. Nowadays? Not so much.
Remember the definition cited earlier about jumping the shark: From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same. Apply this to the NFL Draft, and to the fact that a white wide receiver has now thrown his name in the pool — and not just any white wide receiver mind you, but one who only had 21 catches this season — and it is safe to say, as far as I’m concerned, that going pro early for the NFL draft has jumped the shark.
But, and I mean this: best of luck to Brian Hartline in the draft and in the NFL. Millions of white guys like me hope you succeed, and in the process, help us all take one more step towards breaking down the walls of athletic discrimination we all face as white guys playing sports.
Who knows — the United States just elected an African-American president. Maybe the thought of a white running back or a white receiver going first overall in the draft isn’t so far-fetched after all.
(Update: I just realized that Austin Collie, another white wide receiver from BYU, is going pro early this year. Unlike Brian Hartline and his 21 catches, Collie was a Biletnikoff Award finalist and an All-American who led the nation in receiving yards per game. So the dude can play…white guy or otherwise. Still, that makes two white wide receivers from pro early in the same season, and one of them is from BYU! When do you hear of BYU guys leaving school early for anything other than a mission? Even more proof that early entry into the NFL draft has jumped the shark.)
Also see: CURSEDCLEVELAND.COM: Hartline Takes His Mediocrity to the NFL, which includes this line:
“[Todd] McShay…said that to the best of his knowledge the NFL hadn’t added an 8th round yet, and that he hasn’t begun to work on his big board of undrafted free agents.”