The NFL has far and away the top business model in all of North American professional sports. Part of the league’s success is that there really is no NFL offseason. The Super Bowl, which may be moved back to the middle of February sooner than later if certain schedule changes are implemented, is almost immediately followed by the NFL Scouting Combine. Then come pro days, private team workouts, and all of the speculation that occurs before every NFL Draft.
The NFL Draft itself has been turned into a three-day media event, one so massive that there are websites dedicated to covering draft classes that are one, two and even three years into the future. Mock drafts account for a significant portion of previews on to-be NFL rookies. What is the point of creating lists that detail a draft class weeks or even months before the event actually occurs?
I’m glad you asked.
Kinds of NFL Mock Drafts
I break NFL mock drafts down via two methods: What I think would happen were the draft to begin tonight, and what I think will happen on the first night of the actual draft. Both are valid ways of predicting how teams will select players, and both are useful in evaluating how we eventually arrived to the actual draft class once the event concludes.
Example: I am convinced that, had the 2014 NFL Draft begun on the night of March 31, the Houston Texans would have used the first overall pick to take defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Those over at the Walter Football website agreed with that opinion. That site had the Texans taking quarterback Blake Bortles first overall on that day, however, operating under the belief that Houston will eventually fall in love with the UCF product.
It’s hard enough trying to guess on draft day what 32 different NFL front offices are thinking. Doing so months ahead of time is, unless there are sure things (more on those later) on draft boards, foolish. It’s for that reason why I prefer mock drafts that break things down one week at a time.
How Mock Drafts Are Made
There is usually, by the time the opening of a draft arrives, at least one or two sure bets that can be taken to the bank. It was known months before the 2012 NFL Draft, for example, that quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were going 1-2 overall in that class. Luck being taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts was public knowledge well before he ever held up his first Indy jersey.
One reason the 2014 NFL Draft remains so enigmatic is that there is no consensus No. 1 pick. The Texans could choose one of four different players. They could trade down. It is widely believed around the league that, at this stage of the process, those within the Texans don’t know which route the club will be taking.
Team needs also play a major factor in the creating of any mock draft. There is no question that the Cleveland Browns will be selecting at least one rookie quarterback in May. Not everybody is convinced that the Browns will use the fourth overall pick to take a QB, however, and that doubt has left some predicting that Cleveland will draft a wide receiver (Sammy Watkins) or the best defensive player available.
There are leaks that occur throughout the draft process, legitimate pieces of information released to reporters by scouts, coaches and agents, and also smokescreens thrown out there to deceive franchises. These rumors, whether accurate or not, alter draft big boards and also the opinions of analysts around the league.
One such case occurred in the late winter of 2010. It became well known across the league that the New York Giants were interested in defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul despite the fact that the team had plenty of depth on the d-line. All indications were that JPP would be on the board when New York selected via the No. 15 pick. Those reports continued up through draft night, and, as expected, the Giants landed Pierre-Paul when they were called to the podium.
Why Mock Drafts Are Made
Mock drafts weren’t much in demand when I was growing up all those years ago. I don’t recall ever seeing them in my local paper at any point during the winter and spring months. Some sports magazines would print one mock, maybe two, right before the actual draft occurred.
Then, the Internet happened.
The NFL has to be credited for the rise in popularity of draft talk. What was once merely an annual player selection process that would air on Saturday and Sunday afternoons has evolved into high-profile, prime-time television, and that isn’t just because ESPN wants to sell advertising space.
Football fans, more so than any other fan base in North America, get starved for news following the Super Bowl. That February is an excruciatingly slow sports month, not to mention the coldest month of the year in many parts of the country, certain doesn’t help decrease the desire for football-related content.
Mock drafts generate guaranteed page views on a weekly basis for websites. Viewers continue to return to those pieces to see what predictions, if any, have changed, and also to interact with other fans in comment sections and via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Mocks are, outside of the first week or two of free agency, the most in-demand NFL articles posted online from the middle of February up through the first night of the draft.
This isn’t to suggest that all mock drafts are merely “click bait.” Mocks produced by knowledgeable analysts and journalists represent how prospects are perceived by in-the-know individuals, and they also show how national media members and local beat writers are not always on the same page.
Example: Two CBS mock drafts updated on March 31 have the Browns taking Johnny Manziel via the fourth pick. Browns beat reporter Tony Grossi disagrees, as he stated during an ESPN Cleveland radio segment that aired on the morning of March 31 that he believes Cleveland would select the previously mentioned Watkins had the draft occurred during the final weekend of that month.
The Value Of Mock Drafts
There are unquestionably NFL Draft experts out there, well-respected reporters such as Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay of ESPN, and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network and NFL.com. A mock draft put together by any one of those guys should be taken seriously, especially their final mocks that are posted in the days leading up to the NFL Draft.
That said, no mock draft posted five months before the NFL Commissioner announces at Radio City Music Hall that a team is on the clock is gospel.
I have, over the years, begun to appreciate mock drafts for what they are; speculative articles that help make NFL offseasons just a little less boring. Roughly six months separate the Super Bowl from the first preseason contest of the subsequent NFL campaign. Anything that occurs during that time that creates meaningful discussions among football fans is a plus in my eyes.