Long before the late 1980s, when Tony Pauline got his first break in the NFL draft business, he was a draftnik in every sense of the concept. He called in to radio shows. He found a way to watch film. He had an opinion. He followed every nook and cranny of the draft. He lived it. He loved it.
Nearly 30 years later, Pauline is still in the game. Very much so. He's got a nice thing going, as he's channeled his obsession for the draft into a business, a "labor of love," he calls it. He's done what so many desire: taken something that he treasures, the NFL draft, and integrated himself into the fabric of a culture that hangs on every word and that is critical of every analysis.
"It was '84, '85 and then 1986 I was at the NFL draft at the Marriott Marquis in New York as a fan and I made sure I made some contacts and it kind of went from there."
Two of the contacts were New York sportswriters Bryan Burwell and Paul Needell (both of whom passed away recently), and both solicited Pauline's treasure trove of information and, says Pauline, "it just kind of went from there."
A few years later, Pauline was on his own, publishing The TFY Guide To The NFL Draft, named after his radio call-in moniker, Tony from Yorktown (New York). That began in 1997, and Pauline published 4,000 copies and made sure he got as many as possible out on the streets, into the hands of anyone who wanted more information on what was quickly becoming a sports phenomenon. The NFL draft is huge business now, a crazy passion for the selection by NFL teams of college football players, and back then it was just starting to blossom. Pauline's guide lasted until 2007, and now he provides information through his web site, DraftInsiders.net.
The message here for any draft-addled fan out there – and you know who you are – is that it takes more than love. It requires hard work, a 12-month-a-year commitment and the understanding that everyone isn't going to become Mel Kiper, Jr. The money may or may not be there. Pauline, a former decathlete who trained for the Olympics, does OK with his draft-expert earnings, but he has other business ventures in the world of finance to support his family. He's living a good life.
The athletic background helps. Pauline feels his experience competing and training in the Olympic decathlon gives him an advantage.
"Scouting prospects for the NFL is as much identifying good athletes as it is identifying good football players, right or wrong," he says. "All the years I spent training for the Olympics makes that aspect of scouting much easier for me."
Pauline has worked with some national online businesses as their draft expert --- SI.com, for example – and he does extensive work with a handful of NFL teams – PhiladelphiaEagles.com is one of them – to provide draft information for their digital media. He is busy juggling requests for television stations and radio appearances.
He's also digging in every day and watching two or three hours of film that he "begs, borrows and steals" to get from schools, from officials, from services that provide game film in digital format that is much more easily accessible.
"It fills the addiction. It really is like that for me. If I'm not watching game film for several hours a day, something is wrong. I really enjoy it and it's become a huge part of my life," Pauline says. "I usually say it's a full-time job that pays me part-time wages. It's hard to come in to this saying, 'I'm going to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.' Good luck with that. To do it right you have to put in the time and watch the game film and really know about the players. Is it lucrative? No, it's not lucrative. It's a good thing I have other things going on in the background to make it work.
"At one point in time I had that dream of being in the world of Mel Kiper. I always want to progress, and I think I'm doing that. I don't care that I'm not the No. 1 guy at ESPN. I think I'm pretty well known and I'm respected and if I say something about the draft, it's going to get out there and it's going to gain steam."
Pauline gets his scoops, no doubt. He started to make inroads 6-7 years ago. He first reported that offensive tackle Andre Smith went AWOL at the NFL Combine and that made big news. He speculated that the Eagles might be interested in moving up in the 2012 draft to select defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. He's had many moments to continue establishing his reputation.
This draft? Oh, Pauline has his opinions. He calls the 2015 draft class "a very average draft overall. At quarterback, you have two decent players at the top and then it really falls off. Wide receivers are pretty good at the top and then it falls off. The tight end class is not good. It could be a banner year for running backs with as many as nine players taken in the first three rounds. There are a lot of good pass rushers in this draft.
"It is a poor cornerback draft. The safeties are risky. Nothing great out there. There are some good second-tier safeties in this draft. So you add it all up and I call it a very average draft."
The most discussed player in the draft is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a player Pauline thinks will go among the first two selections.
"He is going to be overanalyzed between now and the draft. He's a tremendous athlete with a good arm and a fine body of work. He had a stellar college career and he has great character. Everything about him points north, but you will hear nothing but people pointing holes in him between now and April and that's not fair. I think he goes 1-2. I don't think he falls to the sixth spot, where the Jets are.
"And I don't think the Eagles are going to get him, unless they want to give up this year's No. 1, next year's No. 1 and maybe a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder this year. That's a high price to pay. Too high a price to pay. The Eagles have other needs."
With that, it's back to work. Pauline has a radio interview scheduled. After that he has film to watch. The NFL draft season is heating up and the demand is growing. Pauline is in his element, ready to keep proving himself.