As an extension of our original article, “Draft Fiction, Fallacies and Flubs“, our Top 10 Mock Draft Bad Habits is a primarily look-in-the-mirror piece at many of the logical errors, erroneous methodology, and lazy habits that we have found ourselves doing during the five year or so history of DraftBlaster.
In no particular order, here are 10 of the most common “NFL Mock Draft Bad Habits” that we have found. Through our own experience. Enjoy!
Updated: March 21st, 2020 (now over 10 Bad Habits!)
NFL Mock Draft “Intent Hokey Pokey”
By its very definition a “mock” draft is supposed to be predictive and without any sort of bias. It’s a snapshot, a photograph of how the author(s) believe the pick by pick results will unfold.
Unfortunately, it is very easy to turn that into some Impressionistic mess, clouded by our own bias and ego. This is just human nature, and am guilty of this as much as anyone. When assigning player A to team X, the integrity of what we publish demands we assign, in our best educated guess, what that team will do. Instead, it is easy to lapse into what we truly feel is the best move for the team.
This might be the easiest trap to fall into with mock drafts. A good approach is to make a list of business rules for the mock draft, and include a rule that all mock draft picks are predictive and 100% a reflection of what you think the GM will do. This can be very difficult to adhere to for the months before the draft, but at least can be done rigidly in April.
The easiest methodology to creating NFL mock drafts is to examine the roster, assess needs and apply picks to meet those needs. Even with taking into account scheme changes, positional value, etc., the process still is so slanted to essentially taking a picture of the team after primary free agency and before the draft and filling in holes.
This “snapshotting” is a tempting trap to fall into. For one, it generally appeases the reader. Fans don’t want to hear about expiring contracts, league trends, and teams having a stringent adherence to drafting talent over need. The problem is, that is not how the draft works. As Jim Schwartz once said, it is a “moving target”. You think you hit all your needs in free agency and the draft and a few things happen and your roster is all cattywampus again.
GM’s and coaches will offer platitudes such as they only draft by talent, with a secondary consideration for need, and how they “stick to their board”, but in reality it is sort of a mix. If you analyze drafts in the past, and merge it with needs going into the draft, you see a pattern emerging: teams will often do small “reaches” in early rounds where “need” is a much stronger consideration than later in the draft. After a major hole is plugged, “talent” can again become the primary consideration.
The fact is that there are generally middle of the road free agents available after the draft and throughout the season, and good teams know this. Injuries, trades, contract disputes, “busts” all happen at such a high rate that teams know to put a much greater emphasis on just getting the best players and filling out the roster with adequate talent later. Mock drafts don’t do this as much.
“Most”, Superlatives, and Beleaguered Buzzwords
The nice thing about making mock drafts, is that it is pretty easy to get hyperbolic and dramatic about your opinions, because by the time the players actually develop in the league, no one will remember what you said about them before the draft. This allows for a whole lot of laziness when describing prospects. This turns up often by liberally using “most” and other superlatives when trying to get your point across on a prospect’s abilities.
Beyond the abuse of superlatives is the perennial misuse and overuse of phrases and descriptions of prospects. Some of the greatest hits include “Generational” “Most Polarizing” “Can’t Miss”, and so on. That is not to say that the NFL Draft doesn’t have a whole vernacular that is used appropriately. It is part of the charm and the culture that has made the draft so popular. But, there is a small collection of words and phrases that are better suited for a game of BS Bingo – NFL Draft Edition.
“Projects” are for the 7th Grade Science Fair
Everyone that covers the draft, from national writers to simple bloggers, all want to be the first one to uncover a prospect that no one is talking about. There is a nice payoff for doing so- builds your prestige, gets you a ton of clicks on content, etc. And all throughout mock drafts are small school prospects, and players with some interesting story that seemingly has “untapped potential”. The problem is, it just don’t work out anywhere near the amount relative to how much these prospects are talked about.
Not too long ago, there was story after story of NFL players from little known colleges or that NFL teams found a sleeper player from a bigger program that just hadn’t developed yet in college and they “fixed” him. This was a sort of “BC” time era of the NFL. Two factors minimize the chance for these types of stories, as much as we like them:
- We live in an age of data overload. Big colleges have big time resources to do big time research on prospects on every prospect in every one traffic light town in the country (and other countries). Each year, the web of info gets bigger and brighter, and elite prospects simply don’t get missed that often.
- The NFL is a system set up with a finite set of players. These, in essence, are the Resources of an entity that is competing with 31 other entities operating under the same constraints. For every “project” a team undertakes, another team is putting that same resource slot to practical use.
“Your potential is going to get me fired” was a phrase uttered by a HOF coach and there is more truth to that today than ever.
At last, in terms of “Projects” is a sad fact of life: people don’t change as nearly as much as we would hope. When prospects have a pattern (not necessarily just an incident) of bad behavior on or off the field, you can generally pen that in as going to continue.
Us mock drafters are always up for a good story of unfilled potential realized, but it just doesn’t happen nearly as much as we predict.
The QB, Stupid
Not too long ago, during a Presidential election, a political operative mentioned the phrase “The Economy, Stupid”. It is actually a bit of a take off of an older concept of “Kitchen Table Issues”. The overriding idea is you can dispense with the nonsense of politics; election decisions by the average voter are about simple things like how it affects their bottom line each week. It’s overwhelmingly that simple and predictable. In the world of mock drafts, it is often like we are children at a magic show, mesmerized as to where the rabbit came from. We underestimate how much the pieces on the board will change to accommodate the supply and demand of QB’s and teams.
Saying that, there are some perfectly good reasons as to why most mock drafts don’t accurately predict QB to team picks for most of the draft process:
- Many elite QB’s taken in the draft involve blockbuster trades at the top of the draft. These are not easy to predict and completely disrupt a mock draft.
- Free agent signings of QB’s and the re-signing of veteran QB’s will create major shifts in the supply/damand of QB’s in the draft.
- Teams generally have no incentive to disclose their intentions on drafting a QB at any particular spot in the draft.
It sometimes takes a bold mock draft in print or an analyst to go out on a limb on TV to make team-to-QB prospect predictions. In the end, (after the 1st round is over) there will be tremendous shock and disbelief at how a few teams shook up the whole draft by moving up to grab a QB. The only real solution is to offer multiple mock drafts that offer different scenarios.
If only the concept of false narratives was limited to the NFL draft, but that is not the universe we occupy. Even in an exercise as frivolous as mock drafts, there is never an excuse to repeat a lie, or to be too lazy to do a little research to make sure you are conveying all of the facts.
In terms of the NFL, there is a lazy obsession with the changing of the game. It is some sort of “progress addiction” where so many people feel they are the enlighteners of some sort always talking about the future of the game and how the game is changing. If you are going to talk about the game going to all passing or running, or whatever, spend some time looking at the past 20 or so years of league stats and compare things like attempts, overall yards, pass to rush ratios, etc. The stats will surprise.
Also, MOST, not SOME national broadcasters of games, even in premier spots can’t identify, or simply can’t be bothered by knowing the difference between an RPO and Play-Action. The term “spread offense” is used as a description of offenses as if it brings some clarity. All offenses are spread offenses now, it isn’t 1974 in Columbus on a cold October afternoon. The Pistol is a formation, not a scheme. And finally, it is probably time to start retiring the terms 3-4 and 4-3 when describing defenses with all of the sub packages that are run. The white wine/red wine dichotomy with defenses is probably best classified as primarily 1 gap or 2 gap philosophies.
In fairness, when you are producing a lot of content with not a lot of resources, it is not easy to constantly research commonly repeated facts to find out if they are true, but the readers are very appreciative when you express original ideas and “show your work” with facts and figures.
The “No-Lose, Framed Argument”
We’ve done it, you’ve done it, we will all do it again. Why? Because it is easy and it feels good- the “No-lose, Framed Argument”. With conclusions drawn after the NFL draft taking years, why not. Here is a very basic example: The Jets have to take an Offensive Lineman with their first pick. That is who we are going to project to them. If they don’t take one, they are stupid and the same old Jets.
The actual conclusion to this argument is so far off that no one will remember the point in the first place, but for the purpose of the mock draft, it is a bullet-proof argument: take who I think you should take, or you are wrong, with a reference to past failure as some frosting on the cake.
This logical fallacy is far more common in everyday NFL analysis, but it has crept into mock draft culture. Does this sound familiar: “Player A is going to have an amazing year, unless the coach or the quarterback, or the scheme holds him back.” Everyone reading this probably knows a few players in the NFL this is done for every year. Anyway, it shouldn’t make its way into mock drafts, but again, it is so tempting to, as their is little or no risk in doing so.
The Lazy Jab
Writers, bloggers, TV analysts, etc., have favorite teams. Regardless of what they say. They don’t grow up loving sports and are just magically immune to bias. Actually, never trust anyone in sports media that says they are totally neutral, they are lying or a robot.
With all of us that covers the NFL draft, having a grudge against many teams is a very easy thing to do. We predict who they are going to pick in the draft, and unwaveringly, the dumb dumbs don’t do as we suggest. It can be frustrating. No mock drafter that I know thinks this way, but the structure of the whole system is that in which we are more often than not, incorrect in terms of exact matches.
Operating in an under the Mendoza line type world can easily lead to a lot of gripes that can build up over the years. With so many front office and coaching firings, mock drafters can get reinforced in beliefs that they knew better. In truth, what we know of the overall picture that goes into team building is very limited, and the best we can do is to identify patterns of needs and how they will address them.
The best approach to “jabbing” a team when making mock drafts is to pick your battles. When there is a clear pattern of something wrong, use facts and research to back up any derisions.
The Zag is the counter to the Zig with the NFL. The league doesn’t evolve or have arbitrary trends in as much as it has the Zig-Zag back and forth pivotal nature. Here is an example we have talked about before: the read option became very effective. Zig. Teams countered with lighter, faster linebackers and schemed more to protect the outside. Zag. Offenses countered with a power run game up the middle with bigger interior O-linemen and power backs. Zig again.
It is a common trap to always think that something you see in the NFL is new. The book, “Spread Formation Football” was published in 1952. More accurately, the league is so tightly wound that any break from standard operating procedure almost immediately is followed by a counter to that “innovation”.
The Patriots have feasted on knowing the Zag and getting there before the rest of the league. Teams start throwing more vertically and go more nickel and dime, they start throwing short, high percentage passes, for example. They used to be just one of a few teams that seemed to forecast what was coming, but now about a third of the league seems to be up on what the next pivot will be.
It is not just understanding the “Zag” it is having your pulse on what the league is thinking, right or wrong. The first step is paying attention to the teams that won a playoff game the year before. Map out what these teams did well that stood out from the rest of the league. This will generally lead you in the direction of the next league pivot.
Having a fairly good understanding of all of the teams offensive and defensive schemes by the time the draft comes around is a daunting task. With all of the coaching changes, free agency, etc., it is in flux up until just before the draft when it settles down a bit.
However, you don’t want to have glaring mismatches with prospects and teams with schemes they are not suited for. Here is an example: Team A runs primarily a 2-gapping scheme where they use their OLB’s to get pressure off of the edge and often used in coverage. Linebackers that go to the Combine and look very strong, but don’t test well at all in coverage drills, have no tape doing so, and are more downhill, lane stuffers should not be projected to that team.
It is not randomly that a linebacker was chosen for this example. This is where draft coverage is the most difficult. The schemes that NFL teams operate on defense are not well represented at the college level. It is paramount to do the research on the specific characteristics of the front seven for each NFL team before matching up with college players.
The Dirty, Unconscious? NFL Secret: GM/HC Motivation
This is a very tricky point to make, because it could easily come off as suggesting that NFL team GM’s and HC’s are not specifically trying to win Superbowls. Owners, GM’s, and coaches can say all the right things about all they care about is winning a Superbowl, but that is not exactly how it works. A Superbowl win, in many ways is “incidental”. It is a bit of a logical exercise, but worth undertaking:
- The Superbowl is the terminal event of a very long chain of events. Concentrating on that event only would be counter-productive.
- There are known characteristics of championship teams.
- Most NFL games are won by one team determining, then exploiting a specific weakness of another team.
- Teams don’t win Superbowls by having some “innovative” scheme that other teams can’t stop. They win, year after year by having an offense that is consistently productive and adaptable to different defenses. In short, one that doesn’t necessarily need to be explosive, in as much as it can’t be neutralized.
- The concept that NFL GM’s go by is “team building”. This is position group by position group, acquiring and developing talent with an extremely fixed and rigid set of resources.
What does all of this means in a nutshell and in relation to the NFL draft? It means that GM’s and HC are far more in the business of creating a balanced roster than they are in acquiring superstars. At least the ones that ones that make the playoffs and win Superbowls do.
The kryptonite of every NFL team is a glaring weakness in a position group. Teams like this can even steamroll the regular season, but they are not the ones that win championships. So, the natural instinct as NFL fans and in the “mock draft media” is to take an obvious need and match it with a prospect at that position and work our way down the rounds of the draft. In fact, teams are looking at supply and demand all with an eye on creating a balanced roster without a major weakness. An example:
Team A desperately needs a WR. Their top two wide receivers have expiring contracts after this year, and they know they will only be able to keep one. The need is obvious. They pick somewhere in the teens in the first round. Fans and the mock draft universe all are clamoring for them to take a WR with their first pick. However, the team knows that Supply for wide receivers is very strong in the draft. They will surely have their pick of quality wideouts in the next few rounds. They also have a need at defensive end, and they know that after pick 20 the drop off will be huge. Even though wide receiver is the apparent obvious choice, it does not follow the goal of those putting together the roster – creating balance at all position groups.
Essentially, as much as we would like to send the biggest stars in college to those teams with the biggest needs at that position, that is not what teams are looking at. The Superbowl is not played the day after the draft, and decision makers are simply looking to build a balanced roster, not win a game in late April or May.
Bonus: The “Stick To Our Board” Myth
That old chestnut “We are going to just stick to our board” by front office personnel in the NFL is in full effect during the draft season. The problem is, it is severely logically flawed and most teams veer away from it consciously or unconsciously.
Why shouldn’t a team just set a talent/need board and “stick to it” as the draft unfolds? Answer: with every pick made in the draft the value of every player on a team’s board changes.
A “draft board” represents the value of players and positions for a team BEFORE heading into the draft. It is a momentary value assessment that is their best analysis up to the second the draft starts. With every pick, the board shifts. Supply and demand changes. The concept of “scarcity” kicks in. The draft is a live, constantly changing economic value system and good teams adjust on the fly.
Example: a team needs a left tackle. They have internal mock drafts that tries to emulate how other teams will draft. Let’s say they pick at 15 in the first round. They have identified four “elite” first tier left tackles. They then have a second tier of five more left tackles. When they get to their pick, their draft board can shift drastically depending on if there have been three or four of those elite left tackles taken.
If four left tackles have been taken, they know they can probably get one of their next tier left tackles in the next round, and can move on to another positon on their board. If only three have been taken, that fourth, available left tackle becomes extremely valuable.
Essentially, any team that would just stick to their board that they created prior to the draft, and doesn’t adjust to how that draft changes the resources available, is making decisions based on flawed information.