The movie “Draft Day” did not electrify the critics or the box office when it came out in 2014. While praising its lead actor, Kevin Costner, A.O. Scott in The New York Times called it “a marshmallowy melodrama of masculinity in crisis.”
But over the years the film has built up a following, mostly of N.F.L. fans, who have caught it on DVD or airplanes. You can bet that during the draft on Thursday night there will be some “Draft Day” references on Twitter. And television channels often broadcast the film at this time of year.
“There are Christmas movies,” said Rajiv Joseph, who cowrote the screenplay with Scott Rothman. “We have a corner on the market for movies to show on draft day.”
Joseph said he and Rothman thought the draft would be a good structure for a movie. “We never thought it would get made, even when we sent it to our agents,” he said. “The next thing we know, Kevin Costner is attached. It was a particularly astounding group of events.”
He added, “It’s a flawed movie for sure, but it was a fun experience.”
Plenty of elements from the film have echoes in real life drafts. “The more we did our research, the more truth was stranger than fiction,” Joseph said. “So much is based on reality.”
In a kind of twisted joke, Costner plays the general manager of the Browns, who have been N.F.L. doormats again and again. Over the last two years, the team is 1-31. Its first-round draft picks have included Tim Couch (1999, struggled as quarterback for the expansion Browns), Brady Quinn (2007, another failed quarterback) and Trent Richardson (2012, traded away early in his second season).
The film seems especially resonant this year because the real-life Browns have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks. Joseph is from Cleveland and a lifelong Browns fan, but the screenplay was originally about the Buffalo Bills. “The tax breaks for shooting it in Cleveland were much better,” Joseph said.
Trading the No. 1
The Seahawks start the movie with the first overall pick, but trade it to the Browns. While this may have seemed like a Hollywood twist, two years later the Rams made a deal to get the No. 1 from the Titans to take quarterback Jared Goff.
A Shock No. 1 Pick
After landing the No. 1, the Browns don’t take the player everyone expects, quarterback Bo Callahan, and instead take linebacker Vontae Mack (who Joesph said was based on Ray Lewis). It’s rare for a No. 1 pick to be a shock, but in 1977 the Buccaneers went with running back Ricky Bell of Southern California and passed on the Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pitt. More recently, the Texans’ selection of defensive end Mario Williams in 2006 instead of Reggie Bush and Vince Young raised eyebrows.
A Player Tumbles
After the Browns pass on Callahan at No. 1, other teams shy away too and he falls down the draft order. Almost every season there is a player who drops precipitously. In 2005, Aaron Rodgers was considered a possibility for the top overall pick, but the 49ers took Alex Smith instead. Then, as teams drafted for need, Rodgers fell all the way to the Packers at No. 24.
Trading the Future
Costner’s Browns trade away three years of first-round picks, and then later, three years of second-rounders. Such a sweeping mortgaging of the future doesn’t really have a parallel in recent N.F.L. history. But in 1999, the Saints wanted Ricky Williams so badly they swapped eight draft picks including two first-rounders to get him at No. 5. George Allen, the Redskins’ coach of the 1970s, disdained young players and happily dealt away many of his picks for veterans. The Redskins went 10 years without a first-round pick.
Agreeing Not to Pick Someone
In the film’s climax, Costner manages to get those first-rounders back. He holds the No. 6 pick, and the Seahawks at No. 7 want Callahan. Costner agrees not to pick him, but in return wants the three first-rounders and another player, David Putney. This is one detail that doesn’t quite ring as true. Would a team give up so much for a chance to get one player? Well, that’s Hollywood.
“I don’t know if there are any backdoor promises,” Joseph said. “But the draft plays mind games with G.M.s. Suddenly the guy you want is not available.”
He added, “You have to take some liberties and some Hollywood swings.”
The draft is presented as a success for the Browns, although Joseph noted, “We never know if it will work out” in the long run.
Still, in the end, they wind up with running back Ray Jennings (played by the real life N.F.L. star Arian Foster) and Mack (played by Chadwick Boseman). What team wouldn’t be happy with a draft day haul of Arian Foster and the Black Panther?