The (Post-Draft) Silence of the Mocks
Calvin Pace: Invisible Man of the Mocks

Posted Jan 25, 2004


Between January and April of each season, NFL fans are inundated by a series of "mock drafts" predicting the way the NFL draft will play out. While the speculation is fun, how much of fan's attention (and money, ahem, ESPN) do mock drafts deserve? Not much, writes BerniesInsiders.com's Art Bietz, who looks back at 2003's mock drafts in light of the actual results.

 

When I went through college, I was trained to be an engineer. Engineers build stuff. We slap things together and they're supposed stick around for a while, serving some sort of hopefully useful function.

The more I learn about the sports media, though, the more I realize that their products have a shelf life shorter than that of an adult Mayfly, which is doomed the moment it leaves the water.

Of all the instantly dismissible products of sports journalism, though, perhaps none are more lifespan-challenged than the mock drafts which inundate us from January through mid-April each year.  

While I was reading ESPN: The Magazine - your best resource for tracking the latest trends in stylized corporate smarminess - I saw a reference dismissing draftniks other than ESPN's resident guru Mel Kiper as "Kiper wannabes".

That particular snotty remark caused me to recall that this year's first edition of Kiper's mock draft (which ESPN has the temerity to make subscription-only) has the Browns taking Chris Gamble at #8.

This is a prediction which, in my opinion, successfully moves Kiper from being a Helmet-Haired Draft Nerd to a new category: Helmet-Haired Loon.

Don't expect Kiper's weird Gamble-to-the-Browns call to get a lot of post-draft discussion on ESPN's various synergistic media holdings. It will be forgotten as quickly as all other mock drafts. In other words, instantly.

Given how goofy Kiper's draft is, one can't help but wonder how accurate mock drafts are in general. Does the combined brilliance of dozens of draft experts add up to anything?

After looking at the results of last year's mock drafts, I would tend to say...no. They don't add up to much.

Fortunately for all of us here at BerniesInsiders.com, we have the services of one TBF, aka TheBrownsFan, to provide us with a collated version of all the mock drafts he can find, which he calls the "Mock Draft Muncher".

TBF tracks all the mock drafts he can find, from those created by mega-corporations (e.g., Fox Sports) to independent draft experts (e.g., Great Blue North, Ourlads) to mock drafts hosted on Geocities and AOL web pages.

I took two of TBF's spreadsheets from last year, one in February and one in April, containing 24 and 36 mock drafts respectively, and compared them to the actual results of the 2003 draft.

For those who don't commit the first round of the draft to memory, here are the selections which were made in the first round in April 2003:

Pick Team Player
1 Cincinnati Bengals Carson Palmer
2 Detroit Lions Charles Rogers
3 Houston Texans Andre Johnson
4 New York Jets DeWayne Robertson
5 Dallas Cowboys Terence Newman
6 New Orleans Saints Jonathan Sullivan
7 Jacksonville Jaguars Byron Leftwich
8 Carolina Panthers Jordan Gross
9 Minnesota Vikings Kevin Williams
10 Baltimore Ravens Terrell Suggs
11 Seattle Seahawks Marcus Trufant
12 St. Louis Rams Jimmy Kennedy
13 New England Patriots Ty Warren
14 Chicago Bears Michael Haynes
15 Philadelphia Eagles Jerome McDougle
16 Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu
17 Arizona Cardinals Bryant Johnson
18 Arizona Cardinals Calvin Pace
19 Baltimore Ravens Kyle Boller
20 Denver Broncos George Foster
21 Cleveland Browns Jeff Faine
22 Chicago Bears Rex Grossman
23 Buffalo Bills Willis McGahee
24 Indianapolis Colts Dallas Clark
25 New York Giants William Joseph
26 San Francisco 49ers Kwame Harris
27 Kansas City Chiefs Larry Johnson
28 Tennessee Titans Andre Woolfolk
29 Green Bay Packers Nick Barnett
30 San Diego Chargers Sammy Davis
31 Oakland Raiders Nnamdi Asomugha
32 Oakland Raiders Tyler Brayton

Given those results to compare against, I measured the mock drafts in two ways:

  1. How many selections did they get exactly right (player and spot in the draft), and,
  2. How many of their predicted first round selections were actually taken in the first round.

Here are the results:

Date Exact Hits First Round Hits
2/16/2003
24 Mock Drafts
Average: 2.9 (9%)
Best: 5 (16%)
Worst: 2 (6%)
Average: 20.3 (63%)
Best: 23 (72%)
Worst: 16 (50%)
4/07/2003
36 Mock Drafts
Average: 3.2 (10%)
Best: 6 (16%)
Worst: 1 (3%)
Average: 20.6 (65%)
Best: 24 (75%)
Worst: 18 (56%)

What do these numbers mean? Based on the results of 2003, we can reach a couple of conclusions:

1. The average mock draft is wrong on 90% of selections.

The best-performing mock draft called only five of the thirty-two selections correctly, and a typical mock draft only got three right. Note that the first two selections of the draft in 2003 were practically a given: Carson Palmer and Charles Rogers. Believe it or not, mock drafts actually called those two selections more accurately in February than two weeks before the draft.

2. The average mock draft was wrong on a third of the players they said would be taken in the first round.

Oddly, as we'll see shortly, the errors weren't at the bottom of the first round, but in the middle. Only two-thirds of the players a typical mock draft said would be taken in the first round actually were. Even the most accurate mock draft missed 25% of the picks actually made in the first round.

3. It didn't get much better as we got closer to the draft

We actually started to see mock drafts getting less accurate in the top two selections as it got closer to Draft Day. At the same time, mock draft writers got a better handle on the rest of the top ten picks. Still, the overall performance barely budged from that of the earliest mock drafts in February.


Here's another look at how many of the 2003 mock drafts were able to predict the way the draft took shape:
 

  February April
24 Mock Drafts 36 Mock Drafts
Team Selection Exact Selected Exact Selected
Cincinnati Carson Palmer 22 24 25 36
Detroit Charles Rogers 23 24 33 36
Houston Andre Johnson 3 23 17 36
Jets DeWayne Robertson 0 24 4 36
Dallas Terence Newman 9 24 19 36
Saints Jonathan Sullivan 0 21 0 36
Jacksonville Byron Leftwich 0 24 0 35
Carolina Jordan Gross 1 24 5 36
Minnesota Kevin Williams 0 21 0 33
Baltimore Terrell Suggs 0 24 0 35
Seattle Marcus Trufant 0 24 2 36
St. Louis Jimmy Kennedy 0 24 0 36
New England Ty Warren 0 4 0 12
Chicago Michael Haynes 5 24 1 31
Philly Jerome McDougle 0 23 0 34
Pittsburgh Troy Polamalu 0 7 0 7
Arizona Bryant Johnson 0 8 0 9
Arizona Calvin Pace 0 0 0 1
Baltimore Kyle Boller 0 15 0 35
Denver George Foster 0 8 0 11
Cleveland Jeff Faine 0 7 1 15
Chicago Rex Grossman 0 15 0 13
Buffalo Willis McGahee 0 1 0 5
Indianapolis Dallas Clark 0 3 0 2
NY Giants William Joseph 0 23 0 34
San Francisco Kwame Harris 2 23 1 36
Kansas City Larry Johnson 3 22 1 27
Tennessee Andre Woolfolk 0 22 2 29
Green Bay Nick Barnett 0 0 1 3
San Diego Sammy Davis 0 1 0 4
Oakland Nnamdi Asomugha 0 0 0 0
Oakland Tyler Brayton 0 1 1 7

Exact: Mock draft predicted player and position in draft.
Selection: Mock draft predicted player would be taken in the first round.

A number of selections were foreseen rarely (or not at all) by the mock drafts. Ty Warren, Troy Polamalu, Bryant Johnson, Calvin Pace, George Foster, Rex Grossman, Willis McGahee, Dallas Clark, Nick Barnett, Sammy Davis, and Tyler Brayton weren't seen as first round picks at all by more than half the mock drafts. None of the mock drafts had Asomugha being selected, and only one of thirty-six foresaw Calvin Pace being selected in the first round - and he wound up going in the middle of the round.

Closer to home, only one mock draft of thirty-six saw the Browns taking Jeff Faine. More than half the mock drafts didn't see him being taken in the first round at all.

Another interesting aspect of this is that the top of the draft actually got less accurate as we got closer to the big day.

Personally, I don't remember the Bengals or Lions doing a lot of work to camouflage their picks, but selections ranging from Byron Leftwich to Terrell Suggs started showing up in April. It's hard to say whether this was because the mock draft authors started to over-think the picks, or whether an odd selection at the top merely was a way to get the mock draft some attention amidst dozens of others.

At the end of the day, we can see that mock drafts - at least last year - weren't all that accurate.

I'll leave open the question of whether it's the mock drafts that are wrong ("The Kiper Effect"), or whether NFL teams make some picks on draft day that defy all sense ("The Arizona Cardinal Effect").

As Browns fans, the inaccuracy of mock drafts is just something to keep in mind amidst the hub-bub between the Super Bowl and Draft Day.

When the mock drafts say a player you might want in orange and brown "won't be available", or you read somewhere about how a team "is sure" to take a particular athlete, bring out the salt shaker. Once you move out of the first couple of picks, nothing is certain in the NFL Draft.


Want to write to Art? . We've found through hard experience that putting the word "beer" in the title gets his attention faster. Art also hangs out in the Rantatorium, creating elaborate Photoshops of rivals teams doing stupid things and dodging rocks and garbage tossed by Ratbird and Squeeler fans.


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