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We Looked At Almost 2,000 Mock NFL Drafts. Here’s What We Learned.

The NFL draft is a spectacle. Last year, the draft averaged more viewers than the previous year’s Stanley Cup Final. Social media and fan interest have exploded with a thirst for draft information, and media outlets have sprung up to cater to those fans with a bevy of mock drafts conducted by analysts and armchair handicappers.

There are even sites dedicated to tracking the predictions of mock drafters so that consumers of draft information can properly judge who is most reliable. Last year’s top forecaster, NFL analyst Evan Silva, identified 28 out of 32 players selected in the first round and also correctly predicted the team that would select 10 of those players. That 31 percent hit rate on pairing a drafted player with a team may not seem impressive, but it was good enough to place Silva at the top of the 2018 rankings and vault him to 16th over the past five years.

“You should be able to pick 26 of the 32 first-round picks rolling out of bed,” Silva said. “The hard part is matching teams to players. I’m continually surprised each year. Teams don’t act like I expect.”

Despite that uncertainty, the mock drafters can give us a pretty good sense of the names Roger Goodell will call on Thursday night. Perhaps even more interesting, we can use this data to explore the player trends as the draft process has progressed. The actual draft may be one weekend in April, but draft prognosticating is a year-round affair. Mock drafts from last June hardly resemble the ones on the eve of the draft, as the stock prices of college players are constantly ticking up and down based on a host of reasons — performance, health, eligibility and results from the scouting combine.

Using data from Benjamin Robinson, who has curated close to 2,000 mock drafts from expert, media and fan sources from April 2018 to present, here are some of the most interesting fluctuations over the past few months — along with some of our own analysis mixed in. After all, it’s the draft, so we are all experts.

The pass rushers

Pass rusher may be the position most stocked with top-end talent in this year’s draft. If Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray isn’t the first overall selection, Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa will likely be called. But two other promising defensive standouts, Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, are expected to be off the board by the 10th pick. Both players wreaked havoc on the SEC in 2018, and the evolution of each player’s draft value has mirrored the other’s. While Bosa has been a fixture atop draft boards all year, Allen and Williams have each steadily climbed from a late first-round position.

Williams, a defensive tackle, finished eighth in the Heisman voting in 2018 and closed out the year at Alabama with 10 sacks and 55 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Williams also ranked first in the nation in run-stopping rate with 14.2 percent, showcasing his versatility. Meanwhile, Josh Allen (not to be confused with Bills QB Josh Allen, who can hit a goal post 50 yards away from his knees) creates pressure from the outside — pressure that Eric Eager and George Chahrouri of Pro Football Focus have shown to be more valuable in generating negative expected points for the opposing offense than interior pressure. Allen’s pass-rush productivity — the share of pass plays in which the defender applied pressure on the opposing QB — led the nation at 15.2 percent. The success of Rams interior lineman Aaron Donald seems to suggest that teams might hope for similar returns from Williams, but a sharp team will focus on creating as much outside pressure as possible by choosing Allen.

The Iowa tight ends

One set of players moving up mock draft boards not only play the same position, but they were also college teammates. Tight ends Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson of Iowa are both mocked to go in the middle of the first round, and they’re also the only two TEs likely to be called in Round 1. But while Fant’s mock draft graph shows a flat overall trend, Hockenson’s draft stock has surged since the combine in February. On average, he’s now surpassed his Hawkeye cohort in projected draft position.

The mock drafters probably have the ordering right: Hockenson had 760 receiving yards — 25.8 percent of Iowa’s team total, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group — while Fant gained 519 yards for a 17.6 percent share. Hockenson is the better blocker of the two TEs and also ran 340 routes to Fant’s 242. But it wasn’t just volume that drove Hock’s numbers: He was also slightly more efficient on a per route basis, gaining 2.24 yards per route run vs. 2.14 for Fant. Hockensen was deployed further downfield than Fant as well, earning an average depth of target of 9.2 yards — nearly half a yard better than Fant. And despite the deeper routes, Hockenson still managed a higher catch rate.1

The Ole Miss receivers

Oddly, another pair of teammates that play the same position are also vying for a first-round selection. The fortunes of Ole Miss wide receivers A.J Brown and D.K. Metcalf have flipped since the start of the draft process. Last July, A.J. Brown was considered a high first-round pick, but he has since seen his draft stack plummet to the bottom of the first round.

Metcalf became an overnight internet sensation during February’s combine with his comic-book physique and blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash — a ridiculous amount of speed for a 228-pound man. He then turned right around and disappointed athletic measurable aficionados by posting a sluggish 7.38 seconds in the three-cone drill. Brown was not slow, running a 4.49 in the 40 at 226 pounds, but he appears to have stabilized at a level well below his teammate, and it’s unclear why. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Brown caught 1,320 receiving yards on 435 routes at Ole Miss in 2018, good for 3.03 yards per route run. Metcalf, hampered by injury, caught just 569 yards on 197 routes at 2.88 yards per route run, well under the efficiency set by Brown. Combine speed only weakly correlates to actual game speed, so it’s curious that a player like Metcalf would be selected over his more productive peer. Again, it might just be based on D.K.’s shirtless photo, suggesting this could be one the mock drafters get wrong.


On Thursday, we’ll discover just how accurate these expert and amateur mock drafts are. If 2018 is any indication, mock drafters will probably correctly identify the majority of the players selected in the first round but completely whiff on the exact order and the actual team to select a player, which is probably for the best. Between last-minute trades and out-of-left-field picks, it’s more entertaining when we don’t know everything going in.

From ABC News:


Footnotes

  1. 49 catches on 66 targets for Hockenson, 39 catches on 61 targets for Fant.

Josh Hermsmeyer is a football writer and analyst.

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