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The two best NFL quarterbacks I’ve ever seen are Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Montana was the 82nd player picked in the 1979 draft, and Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is a future Hall of Famer, but he wasn’t selected until the 25th pick of the 2005 draft. What’s more, he had to sit behind another Hall of Famer, Brett Favre, for three years before he got a chance to play.
There are many other examples of legendary players who were drafted late and behind dozens of players who had ordinary careers or were even complete busts. There are also examples of players who everyone seemed to think were drafted too high (I’m looking at you, Bruce Irvin), but then they went on to fully justify their position.
I think of these things when I read articles that presume to tell Joe Biden who he should select as his running mate. A new CBS News/YouGov poll reveals that Democrats favor Elizabeth Warren, but the ranking looks like a proxy for name recognition.
Elizabeth Warren is well atop Democratic voters’ list of those who should be considered for vice president — with 71% saying she should be — and Warren also outpaces other possible picks by a wide margin as their first choice for the job: Warren at 36% first choice, to Kamala Harris’ 19%, Stacey Abrams at 14%, and Amy Klobuchar at 13%. No one else gets over 4%.
Other names on the survey’s list included Senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former interim U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates. No men were included because Joe Biden has already made a commitment to choose a woman.
Scouts and general managers evaluate college football talent with an eye to winning games, but the people vetting Biden’s potential running mates have to look beyond simply winning the election to see if these people can help them govern. Can they step in and be president on short notice? Are they the right kind of person to be the presumptive leader of the party in eight years?
What’s consistent is that both the political vetters and the NFL teams have access to a lot more information than the general public. They do the interviews. They’re more likely to kind the skeletons in the closet. They can find potential that doesn’t show up in the statistics to date. And, of course, some scouting teams are really lousy at their jobs and that’s why the San Diego Chargers wound up with Ryan Leaf and John McCain wound up with Sarah Palin.
I can come up with reasons why Elizabeth Warren would be the best running mate for Joe Biden, just as I could make an argument that the Cincinnati Bengals should have used the first pick in the 2020 draft on Chase Young rather than Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. But I generally avoid substituting my poorly informed opinion for the evaluations of the people who’ve actually put in the work.
Here’s what I’m confident in saying. A NFL team shouldn’t draft someone because they’ll get good press for it the next day. They shouldn’t shy away from drafting someone they believe in because they know they’ll be questioned and criticized. Tom Brady is still going 20 years after he was drafted. Aaron Rodgers is about to play his 16th season. Sixteen years from now, a good vice-presidential pick might be finishing up her second term as president. They could be with us for a very long time.
People have reasons for preferring one running mate to another, and I’d be pretty excited if it’s Elizabeth Warren. Yet, sixteen years from now, she’ll be 86 years old. All kinds of arguments can be made–one candidate will help excite the base, another will win over undecided voters. This one will motivate Latinos or blacks or the youth vote and that one can raise money better than the others.
Ultimately, this is like picking a wide receiver because they jump the highest or run the fastest 40-yard dash. Metrics are important but so are character, psychological makeup, and leadership abilities. Just like some athletes receive their first million dollar check and lose their drive for excellence, a politician suddenly thrust into immense power and fame might not know how to handle it.
I can’t tell Joe Biden who to pick, but I can tell him how not to pick. He shouldn’t chase some niche of voters or look for some big bump in the polls after the announcement. If he just finds someone he has confidence in, he should do just fine.