Kill Your Darlings: NFL Handicapping and Roster Realities

by Hollywood Sports

When one attends film school to study screenwriting, it is all but inevitable that a professor will exclaim to a room of would-be writers that for success that they must be willing to “kill your darlings.” It has become a subject of folklore as to who first delivered this phrase. Stephen King has been quoted: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” William Faulkner is supposed to have proclaimed: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Scholars go back to 1914 when Arthur Quiller-Couch used the phrase “murder your darlings” when advising on writing style. 

The lesson coming from these writers is that one must beholden to a higher truth even if it comes at the expense of particular thoughts and ideas that one fancies. For the writer, there may be certain scenes or lines of dialogue that they find particularly clever — but that does not mean that the audience will share that sentiment. In the editing process, as final decisions are being made, the successful writer must be willing to be a harsh critic and remove these extraneous elements. 

Sports handicappers go through a similar process. We all have brewing ideas about how good or bad teams will be in the new NFL season. “Denver is a Super Bowl contender now that they have Russell Wilson under center!” Or, “New England is a mess since they do not even have an official offensive coordinator.” Things like this are interesting thoughts in the month of August. But successful handicappers must be willing to kill these darlings when looking at the specific circumstances of the game at hand — and then filter those thoughts with the actual point spread and total that have been assigned for that.

Actual rosters — not the imagined ones in August — remain fluid even as the month turns to September. The 32 NFL teams cut down their rosters to 53 players on Tuesday. Teams have been scouring the waiver wire ever since looking for upgrades. Many teams' quarterbacks' rooms have completely changed. Some teams have picked up players in the last 24 hours will get significant playing time for them in Week One. The assumptions of August often get crushed by specific situations of September. 

Take the state of affairs regarding injuries, all coming from Pat Kirwan from his Moving the Chains afternoon show on Sirius NFL Radio. As of August 30th, there are 120 players on the Injured List. Feeling bullish this season about the Las Vegas Raiders? They lead the NFL with eight players already on their Injured List. There are another 29 players on the PUP list. Seven players are suspended. Another seven players are out due to non-football-related injuries. Thirty-three other players were waived because of injury. In all, 182 players are unavailable from that list -- a rough average of four-to-five per NFL team. 

The NFL will also have more rookies playing than ever before. More numbers from Kirwan, a former general manager for the New York Jets: 30 of the 32 1st round draft picks made teams as of Tuesday; 27 of the 32 picks from the 2nd round are on active rosters; 39 of 31 from the 3rd round; 37 of 38 from the 4th round; 31 of 36 from the 5th round; 26 of 43 from the 6th round; 26 of 41 from the 7th round. NFL teams have also signed 53 undrafted college free agents who made one of the 32 rosters. Kirwan put the previous average of undrafted free agents who make initial 53-man rosters in the 38-40 range. 

It is interesting that the 53 undrafted free agents that made rosters are more than the 52 players drafted in Rounds Six and Seven who made rosters. In total, 16.8% of the rosters after Tuesday’s cut-down deadline comprise of rookies. Maybe these rookies — and the injuries — will not impact that “sleeper” team who have fallen in love with this offseason. But to have consistent success this season in the NFL, when it comes to your initial thoughts in the preseason about how teams will fare, you better be willing to kill your darlings. 

Best of luck — Frank. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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