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The Value of Mock Drafts

It seems as though every person to ever evaluate an NFL prospect now has a MOCK DRAFT. Whether on social media or other platforms, these attempts have increased in popularity. I understand how fun this is and how a team’s perceived needs may influence which players get connected to a team in an attempt to predict the future sequence of events, especially in Round 1 of the NFL Draft.

The media has created its own phenomenon with these mock drafts and has both valued their own content, in this case, and also taken the interest level to a new level of importance, worthy of hours of attention on radio and TV.

I have always found that there is value in these exercises, even for the NFL teams themselves. But the disconnect comes in the complete evaluation of a prospect and in the process of building consensus within an organization. Some teams have a specific criterion for what the job description is, depending on position and scheme. These factors are often left out of the majority of mock drafts. So, unless you have inside intel as to WHY and who a team prefers, it’s a tough task to be accurate.

For that reason, I always put more stock in a well-sourced media member’s mock than in any of the evaluator’s mock drafts.

I always harken back to the mid 80’s in my time with the Seattle Seahawks when the great Chuck Knox was our coach. We, as a scouting staff, would spend weeks behind closed doors, just like current NFL staffs do, mapping out our evaluations and setting our board. As I remember it, the coaches really were not around or part of this process during those days. After coming back from Palm Springs, where he spent most of his time playing golf since the end of the previous season (no OTAs or minicamps prior to the draft in those days), I remember clearly Knox walking into the draft room a few days before the draft, and pronouncing the following, “you geniuses have been sitting around and pontificating the future of how this draft is gonna go for weeks. Listen up, here is the gospel”. He would reach into his pocket and pull out what looked like a bar napkin that had hosted a few drinks. ☺ Knox then proceeded to read us the first 15 picks of the draft and who each team was picking. This became known as “The List” and what it signaled was he had just hung up with the great American sportswriter, Will McDonough, whose time at the Boston Globe, CBS Sports and later NBC Sports, made him as well sourced as any media member EVER. And guess what? He was right on more times than not, and we would reference this list, often during the real draft. Now that’s value.

Because of this experience I was so lucky to be a part of, I always go out of my way to use mock drafts to help prepare. I always found these helpful in the days leading up to the NFL Draft and after our board was set, from a value standpoint. I’ve found that there is no right or wrong when it comes to these mock drafts, it’s just someone’s opinion.

I welcomed everyone (scouts, coaches, PR staff, whoever) to collect them throughout the month leading up to the draft. I then would spend a couple days the week of the draft using these somewhat informed scripts to play out every scenario. For me, this was the equivalent of a scrimmage or a practice game. I wanted to be prepared for everything and for as many scenarios that I thought were possible. Sure, we might snicker at some of the picks in these crazy selections, mostly generated outside our building, but trust me, those of us on the inside of the building questioned other teams’ selections just like you might at home. No teams see the draft the same and therefore boards are put together many different ways.

As the lead decision maker, I wanted opinions, I wanted outside-the-box things to consider on different players. For me, it was all part of building a consensus. A mock draft is no more than another independent opinion. I always welcomed anything that forced me to discuss and/or listen to others. I’ve also been with team, who wanted no such discussion. They believed some were smarter than all of us. It’s just a different philosophy.

Playing out these mock drafts thru our pick in Round 1 or in some cases, Round 2, gave me a simulation of where things might stand once we were on the clock. I wanted to always consider even the craziest scenarios. I wanted to make 99% of our decisions without the element of the clock ticking or emotion. This exercise inevitably brought up discussion that nobody from our group had ever thought of. I liked taking it a step further and assigned scouts and coaches to act as different teams and conduct their own drafts, based on the intel we had gathered. I really don’t think you can do enough of this kind of stuff. We might have run thru 25-30 different draft scenarios in a day and come back with an equal amount over the next two or three days.

The best use of a mock draft scenario that I have experienced was when I was in New Orleans as their GM. In the 2001 draft, we picked 23rd in Round 1. We started our mock drafting exercise that year a couple days before the draft like we always did. One mock, mind you just one of the several dozen we did that day, led us to having Ole Miss RB Deuce McAllister’s card be the highest rated card on our board when it came our time to pick. I had had this option in the back of my mind since seeing him play live in Nashville at the Music City Bowl in Dec of 2020.

That particular game actually had more interesting events associated with it than me just seeing McAllister live. It was legendary West Virginia coach Don Nehlen’s final game and a certain freshman QB from Ole Miss, Eli Manning, was inserted into the game in the second half with his team trailing 49-16. With Manning under center, Ole Miss scored 22 unanswered points in the 4Q.

At the time, we also had RB Ricky Williams on our team, whom the Saints had given a proverbial arm and leg to draft a year earlier. Both Head Coach Jim Haslett and I were very uneasy hitching ourselves to the Williams wagon, based on some of his off-the- field activities that we had experienced throughout the prior year. So, when McAllister’s name came up, front and center, that day in the mock draft, it opened up a can of worms conversation that allowed us to vet and breakdown every angle of what to do if this actually happened in real time on draft day. I remember it started with Haslett saying, when we got to our pick in the mock, NOW WHAT DO WE DO? My answer, started the discussion…” WE PICK HIM”.

We must have done several dozen mocks and only once did this scenario present itself. Because it actually came up, and because we had plenty of time to prepare and think it all through, we were ready to pull the trigger while on the clock, as unlikely as it was to happen. You could never have flushed the distinct possibility of getting McAllister out without the mock draft exercise. Virtually nobody could foresee this actually happening. Plus, it then gave me two days to prep our owner, Tom Benson, and make sure he was ok with it. The mock became reality two days later when we were staring at McAllister’s card and we then picked him. He later became the all-time leading rusher in Saints history and we traded Ricky Williams to the Dolphins for what turned into two first-round picks. It was a move we would all obviously make again.

None of this would have happened without us valuing mock drafts for what they are — a tool of preparation like no other. More power to the media for creating the phenomenon.

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