Long before The Hair. Before the draft went prime time. Before the internet and its proliferation of sports statistics and scouting opinion went mainstream, there was one bone-thin man, untouched by the rays of the sun, who knew more about the draft than anyone else. While he was alive, there was possibly more pro football knowledge concentrated in 90 pounds of Joel Buchsbaum than there existed anywhere else in the free world. This gem of an article for the Dallas Morning News — Legendary Draftnik Steeped in Mystery — gives us a profile of what that life was like.
“I was never in his presence. That puts me in the same category as 99 percent of people that knew him,” said NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who hosted a St. Louis radio show with Buchsbaum in the late 1970s. “A sighting of him was like a sighting of Bigfoot.
“A portion of our audience thought he was a put-on. His voice was almost as if you invented a sports brainiac cartoon character.” In 1978, Buchsbaum started his radio career on St. Louis’ KMOX. His name, usually pronounced Bucks-baum, was mispronounced Bush-bomb. He didn’t care. He was happy to sit in his raggedy recliner and talk football to listeners many miles away. He was happy to be just a voice.
He avoided cameras. As part of an agreement, his column in Pro Football Weekly ran without his mug shot. A picture would’ve captured this: a pale, angular face. Teeth too big for his mouth. Ears popping out. Outdated, outsized glasses with thick lenses. Eventually, his photo made it into newspapers, when stories came out about this new breed of person called a draftnik, someone obsessed with the NFL draft. Now there is Mel Kiper Jr., the ESPN personality identified by his distinct hair styling. But first there was Buchsbaum, the guy no one could identify.
Link via Draft Countdown.
Some of his work is still archived on the internet. And while some of his picks are eerily prescient, the maddening behavior of desperate teams at the top of the draft defied even the logic of a savant. For example, the central question of his first published mock draft in 2002 focused on Joey Harrington.
While some people rate quarterback Joey Harrington ahead of Carr and possibly the No. 1 pick in the entire draft, others feel he is more of a later first-round selection. Peppers has the most upside of any player in the draft and could eventually have a Lawrence Taylor-type impact. But he is a work in progress who still has not shown the type of ferocity and football instincts scouts look for in an upper-echelon player.
— Pro Football Weekly: Mock Draft for 2002 (Feb 25, 2002)
Buchsbaum had him going to the Redskins as a “Value pick” at 18th overall. His pick for the Lions? CB Quentin Jammer, “after deciding Joey Harrington is not worth such an early first-round pick.” Of course, the Lions persuaded themselves differently, and started (continued?) a chain-reaction of terrible draft choices that would last most of the decade.
The key to Buchsbaum’s analysis wasn’t pure opinion — he acted as a filter for lots of different perspectives, from scouts to video to stats to a deep understanding of the philosophies and needs of the teams in the draft. While we get ready to sit and watch three days of dueling suits and haircuts, and wait for GMs to appear at podiums, it’s worth looking back at the man who set and continued to raise the bar for pre-draft prognostication.