The Problem with Mock Drafts

For Cleveland Browns fans, this time of the year is known as Mock Draft season. While they are a lot of fun, they also present a problem for fans and writers alike.

NFL Mock Drafts are often the most read articles throughout the year. Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have often said that their "Next Year's Mock Draft" the day after NFL Draft ends is always their most read. 

That is an amazing statement. Fans, excited for the list of new players that were just added to their team over the past three days, now greatly excited about who their team might draft 362 days later. 

Yet that is the obsession with the NFL Draft.

The power of the NFL Draft led to the strength of the NFL Mock Drafts that are all over the place this time of year. 

There are really three big pieces of the NFL Draft coverage before hand that can have a huge impact on fans and writers: Pure Mock Drafts, Mock Draft Simulators and Big Boards. While Big Boards themselves are not Mock Drafts, they have a huge impact on how they are written.

Pure NFL Mock Drafts

Many readers and writers have their favorite Mock Draft creators. For many, ESPN's duo are the ones they go to most. For others, Matt Miller at Bleacher Report or the guys at CBS Sports get a lot of their attention. For many others, Googling 20__ NFL Mock Draft and clicking on a few of the links is the best way. (Hopefully the Scout Network is in many of your bookmarks for the NFL Draft work throughout.)

Pure NFL Mock Drafts are the most normal part of the run up to the Draft. This is where many fans start to decide what they think about players and who, in our case, the Cleveland Browns should draft. If the analyst they like the most, or a majority of those they read, believes something, the reader tends to start believing it. 

For example, this year most readers, who have not watched much or any game film, believe there are not any "Franchise QBs" worth drafting #2 overall. While this might be true, most respondents are saying this because of information given by Mock Drafts. 

When teams draft a player later than a majority of Mock Drafts have them going, fans say they "reached." When a player isn't drafted as high as NFL Mock Drafts expect, fans say he "dropped" and that the team got a "steal."

This is also where Big Boards come into play as well. Each NFL Mock Draft is created with the analysis of the writer. A majority of that analysis is pumped into ranking players, both overall and at certain positions. A smaller piece of analysis is predicting what each team "will" or "should" do at said position. While many/most put in a ton of work, their analysis is just that, theirs.

These Big Boards are unlikely to come close to matching what the teams' have. teams have far more access to information, including interviews, background checks and meeting with coaches and players. While everyone might have access to film, the information the teams have exclusively is almost as valuable and cannot be taken into account in Mock Drafts.

Mock Draft Simulators

One of the coolest things to come out recently is the Mock Draft Simulator. There are two that most people use: FanSpeak and First Pick. I like the interface of FanSpeak but First Pick allows for trades in the free version, while you need to pay for the premium to do so on FanSpeak. FanSpeak also is given access to Big Boards from a variety of analysts, allowing you to pick which one you want to use.

These simulators are great for a lot of reasons. Instead of having to figure out who you want to pick next, who should be ranked where and remember who is still left, they take care of all of that for you. You also get to see players you like come off the board differently each time and see how each pick impacts the others.

Many times I find myself watching the player I want come off the board in frustration but not wanting to trade assets to move up to get them.

There are a few problems with Simulators as well. First, as you are drafting you actually see how players are ranked and how they are likely to be taken off the board. If you like a prospect but see that they are ranked 25 or more spots lower, you are more likely to take another player and hope that one is still there for your next pick. That can also impact your decision in trades.

Second, in both simulators trades are far to easy to pull off. While in real life big trades rarely happen in the Simulators you can make a variety of trades at anytime. They are generally offered for most/all of your picks and you can offer trades at the push of the button. This reinforces many fans desire to "trade down, get more picks and still get the player that I want." While this is very exciting, it just isn't realistic.

Even Pure NFL Mock Draft analysts can be guilty of trade scenarios that are either unrealistic or don't explain what the actuall trade would be.

Finally, while each takes into account team needs, they tend to over value those needs compared to talent. A very talented player is very unlikely to drop half a round just because of need. Instead, either a team will draft the most talented player or a trade down to a team to catch the falling talent. Whenever I post a Mock Draft I can be sure of a few "That guy isn't falling that far" responses. It is the most common.

Here are two Mock Drafts I made today using FanSpeak, one with a trade down in the 1st Round and one just picking where slotted:

See how much fun those are? See how a simple trade down six spots gets a ton of picks that are highly unlikely in real life but answer many of the Browns needs?

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So while this NFL Mock Draft Season is exciting, it is a problem for both fans and writers. They tend to set up unrealistic expectations, setup narratives and are based on limited information compared to what NFL teams have.

So while you enjoy all the Mock Drafts that will be published (those that follow me on Twitter know I do/will!), the Big Boards that tend to come with them and use of the Mock Draft Simulators, keep in mind the limitations and problems with them.

How much value do you give to Mock Drafts, Big Boards and the Draft Simulators during this crazy season?


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