Column: Are mock drafts worth the time and the risk?
When I was planning out content for the month of April, I had a thought that many other writers have during the NFL offseason: Write a mock draft.
Mock drafts are a timeless classic from a content perspective. They give writers the chance to evaluate loads of talent in one story, and allow them the chance to build upon prior mock drafts as each week passes leading up to that year’s event.
Many of sports media’s biggest personalities have made names for themselves by becoming masters of that craft. Similar to how ESPN has Adrian Wojnarowski for any major news in the NBA, the network has stars like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay as their go-to guys for anything related to the NFL Draft.
But, the art of making mock drafts is a difficult one. Evaluating a country’s worth of collegiate talent is hard enough, let alone when trying to factor in how that specific player would actually fit into an NFL franchise.
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Big names out of top-tier schools that seem like high-caliber players may falter in the big leagues, while players at schools with less exposure could turn into the next Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, or Richard Sherman.
All of that is just considering the product that these analysts see on the field, and usually doesn’t factor in a lot of the behind-the-scenes elements.
Experts in the field look at a player’s measurements, statistics, and tape from the biggest moments of their usually-short collegiate career, and think about how that player would perform in a completely different style of play. They make predictions on where a player might land, get fans believing in the potential of a specific pick, and, in a lot of cases, turn out to be wrong.
Mike Tanier wrote a column for FanSided on the issues with mock drafts and the perceived reality against what actually happens in a team’s “war room,” and nailed it with this specific section:
“The more informed a mock draft claims to be, the more skeptical you should be. This is especially true when reading the output of the hermetic extremists, who get lost in scouting minutiae and veer miles away from the actual thought processes of NFL decision-makers:
DRAFTNIK HERMIT: “Edge Rusher X is perfect for Team Y in the third round. His lateral hip torsion and ability to string together dip/rip/punch/snikt moves are perfect for Coach Toasterhead’s system, which emphasizes fire blitzes with a LEO lined up shade 8i and running the Dakota stunt with the Peso linebacker.”
GENERAL MANAGER OF TEAM Y ON DRAFT DAY: “Don’t draft Edge Rusher X. His agent is a pain in the ass.”
In Tanier’s hypothetical situation, an analyst could put in hours of work on their latest mock draft, feel like they nailed it, and have a single item completely out of sight change the course of an entire draft.
In 2020, loads of those journalists had differing opinions on where former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would land in the NFL Draft, and how high or low former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert would go.
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A single decision like that messes with what everyone thinks will happen the rest of the way in a draft. So, when Tagovailoa landed in Miami, or when the Lions picked cornerback Jeff Okudah with the third overall pick, or when Herbert fell to the Chargers with the sixth overall pick, a mock draft’s whole trajectory would be impacted.
Even knowing all of that that, these personalities and writers chug along, going through all of the effort to keep up with a routine that has become commonplace across every league.
The NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, who has covered both the NFL and the New England Patriots for years, pinpointed this type of issue, thinking about how hard it is to get inside the mind of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“How many times in the Belichick era have people accurately predicted what they were going to do in the draft, with the exception of the trade down trend?” Giardi wrote. “Answer: never, ever.”
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So, is it all worth it? In a profession so focused on getting things right and knowing what an organization is thinking or trying to do, should these writers be investing so much time into something that feels like winning the lottery when you predict a pick correctly?
On one hand, that exact feeling may be worth it for some. In such a difficult exercise, being able to find the diamond in the rough and correctly evaluating both a team’s situation and a player’s talent and fit may boost your reputation. A missed pick may not hurt as much, considering the fact that many others will also get it wrong.
On the other hand, is it worth the risk that comes with evaluating a specific talent and missing on a superstar-caliber player? When someone screenshots your take on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in 2017, or your critiques of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen a year later, and sends it back your way, do you regret all of the efforts you put into those mock drafts?
And, could all of that time be invested elsewhere? Rather than fitting into the norm, could a writer stand out by straying from the usual and tackling a different story or idea?
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As the saying goes, “to each their own.”
Some like the chase of pinpointing a pick and putting that feather in their cap as that year’s draft comes and goes, and they enjoy the clicks that come from fans that absorb every mock draft they can.
But, others realize that there’s a lot that goes into a mock draft. They see how difficult of a puzzle it is, and how that work could be conceived as being all for naught if a single piece gets thrown out midway through trying to solve it.
I’m one of the latter. So, I won’t be writing a mock draft, and I still managed to find a way to fill a spot in April’s editorial calendar.
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