Draft Experts, QB Critics, and the Mock Draft Plague

Nearly every mock draft has North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky going in the top ten…yet we’ve yet to see him perform at the NFL Combine. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports)

I freely and fully admit to being a cynic. Between myself and Ken LaVicka, the self-proclaimed ‘King of the Cynical’ for ESPN West Palm, the FAU beat is full of cynics. Maybe the south Florida sun is roasting our brains or maybe we’ve just spent too much time Twittering, but we’re cynics. Fine.

So when I see my Twitter timeline full of mock drafts and people calling themselves ‘QB critics’ in their bios, I can’t help but be cynical and ask myself what in God’s name is going on.

For those lost because we have General Orange in the White House and the NHL is undergoing a massive coaching carousel in hopes of generating some interest back to a dying sport, we’re currently in mock draft season for the NFL (and, because the tournament is rapidly approaching, the NBA too). With the 2017 NFL Draft order finalized after Tommy Five Rings and the New England Patriots — excuse me, that name is a bit too patriotic and not inclusive enough for the modern day society — Tommy Five Rings and the New England Team Who Wears Red, White, and Blue stormed back to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, everyone is scouting Walter Football, Mel Kiper, and other ‘draft experts’ to see who they have going where.

Later this month, the NFL Combine will kick off in Indianapolis as players run the 40, throw and catch passes, and get asked questions about their sexuality from coaches. After that is free agency, so writers and teenagers who call themselves ‘THE BIGGEST DRAFT EXPERT ON TWITTERS!!!!!’ will have to start over because a team who they had selecting a running back in the first round just landed Adrian Peterson in a trade.

Naturally, with hype building about which young prospects will be landing where, doing mock drafts becomes popular for three common reasons:

  1. VIEWS!!!!!
  2. We want to guess who our favorite team will draft or sign as undrafted free agents.
  3. We want to learn how to better our writing and something that seems easy becomes appealing. Why give a true explanation when you’re just picking where players go and “Dalvin Cook is a fast running back and the Colts need one. He’s a perfect pick to become Andrew Luck’s new running back” works fine? Longform journalism is dying, folks.

Last week, a younger writer had reached out to me and asked for some help with their mock draft. Now, this was someone who hadn’t really done much writing over the past few months, so them doing a mock draft seemed interesting; I know that they weren’t doing a mock for views on their blog, but it does come off as interesting that once mock draft season hits, suddenly everyone is going back to their writing space and webzone.

After contemplating the best way to put this, I guess being honest is the best way to do it: the mock drafts you write and put up are crap shoots. Watching a quarterback throw passes does not make you a QB critic. The truth is, none of us know anything about the NFL Draft.

Well, some of us do, but not in the way you think. People like Mel Kiper, Matt Miller, and Walter Football aren’t draft gurus because they get a certain number of picks right. They’re the experts we turn to because of how they analyze players and what they hear from other players, coaches, and scouts.

When I started truly doing mock drafts in 2014, I went in with the strategy that research is invaluable and that I’m not perfect. Though I didn’t have the resources and contacts at my disposal that I have now, I thought using logic and reason to determine where players could go was the best strategy. I can’t guarantee DeShaun Watson is a first-round pick, but if you’re reading my mock draft, the best I can do is try to explain why I think Washington is a good landing spot for him.

(Granted, I’m guilty of doing mock drafts in the past where I just put the team and player, but I was much younger. Blame my high school laziness.)

Some people have Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon going first-round based on his talent. Others have him going undrafted due to behavior concerns. We don’t know about either!!! (Chuck Cook-USA Today Sports)

If a player had behavior issues like Johnny Manziel in 2014 or Joe Mixon this year, I would try to evaluate based on everything I was given. If it meant studying lawsuit reports published by Deadspin, fine. Game film in a hostile crowd that may have been chanting taunts? Sure. I hate to use the term ‘the little things’, but those to me were important in my evaluations. The stats don’t tell the entire story, not anymore.

I can’t stress the idea that making a mock draft or doing an article on what a wide receiver does right and wrong doesn’t make you a so-called ‘draft expert.’ Putting together a random mock draft where Mitch Trubisky is the top quarterback taken because “he’s the best on the board and the 49ers need a quarterback” doesn’t mean you are the greatest of the draft scouts and a QB critic.

And on another note, what is a QB critic exactly? You watch game film of a quarterback and make notes on when he shouldn’t have made a certain pass or why he overthrew receiver B instead of going for wideout C who was open across the middle? That sounds like something we all do when watching film, so I’m not really sure why calling yourself a ‘quarterback critic’ is so important.

Isn’t everyone who says Tom Brady made these mistakes in the first half of the Super Bowl a quarterback critic? So then how are you a QB critic? That’d be like me putting in my Twitter bio ‘human.’

This recent idea that doing a mock draft suddenly means you’re a draft expert is ludicrous. It’s one thing to do a mock draft on your favorite team and say, “given the needs the Cardinals have after missing the playoffs for the fifth time this decade, the following players would be ideal fits for Bruce Arians’ veteran roster” and it’s another to say, “I’ve done a lot of research and as a Draft Expert, I can tell you this is the best strategy.” Then, when a player you projected to go eighth overall ends up going there, you celebrate and try to look like a badass on social media.

Who cares? What, you’re suddenly a genius because everyone had a player going within a certain range and you nailed it? We’re supposed to care about that?

Then, there’s also the grade system that players are assigned; Myles Garrett currently has a round 1 grade, while someone like Jabril Peppers may have a round 2 or 3 grade. I was attacked by another writer — one who tried to wear the ‘QB critic’ criteria like a badge on his sleeve — a few months ago because in my final 2016 mock, I gave former Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings a first round projection.

What? How does a so-called ‘draft expert’ not remember that there were a lot of people who had Billings going in the first or second rounds? I’m not sure how else to put this, but because the mock draft is a crapshoot, almost anything goes. If you think DeShaun Watson is a third-rounder at best, then back it up! Last year, I made the argument that when it comes to mock drafts, you’re not wrong unless you’re wrong.

In other words, if you can back an argument up with your unbiased opinion driven by facts, you’re not wrong. Let’s take a look at my comments last year regarding that rumor about the Dallas Cowboys maybe trading up for California’s Jared Goff and how those doing mock drafts should have handled it.

“Saying “the Cowboys should draft Goff because Tony Romo is old” isn’t an argument, but bringing up Romo’s age (he turns 36 tomorrow, so happy early birthday, Tony!) on opening day and comparing it to other quarterbacks in their age 36 season like Brett Favre or Peyton Manning? Mentioning Romo’s injury history year by year and how the Cowboys have struggled without a suitable backup? You do that, and your argument is significantly boosted rather than just saying ‘Romo isn’t good anymore and Goff is young and the Cowboys are in win-now mode.’

I’m not really sure how in the year 2017 people don’t understand these are the things that matter in an article, especially one as opinionated and fact-driven as a mock draft. Ethan Levy of Gotham Sports Network, a website dedicated entirely to New York sports, published his third Giants mock draft today — which partially inspired this section because Ethan’s mock drafts are great reads — and mocked Big Blue getting a quarterback in the second round.

Say what you want about that being too early for the Giants to go quarterback when Eli is still putting up capable numbers as a starting signal caller, but Ethan gets it. It’d have been so easy to write, “yeah, so the Giants need a quarterback,” yet Ethan talks about the pros of the quarterback, the cons, his own concerns, and why it may be in the Giants’ best interest to draft him. It works!

To some, FAU’s Trey Hendrickson is a second day pick, while others believe he’ll be undrafted. But if you think he’s going in the second round and you can back it up, go for it. [Photo via FAUOwlAccess]

But what pleased me the most was how Ethan acknowledges that others are giving this quarterback differing grades, yet he backs it up and essentially says, “hey listen, I believe that this quarterback is worthy of a second-round pick because xx but he needs to work on xx.” You can’t ask for much more in a mock draft.

Honestly, probably the best example of this for me is a player I got to cover up close: former Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson. I spent my freshman and sophomore years of college watching Hendrickson, with the latter season being when I was on my first year with the FAU beat. To some, Trey may have a round 4 grade and others may think, because he needs to work on his play recognition, that he’s a seventh-rounder — if he’s even to be drafted

Playing his games against Conference USA defenses where he was often double or triple teamed, Hendrickson recorded 9.5 sacks, 50 tackles, and four blocked kicks in his senior season. Hendrickson also stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, impressing scouts and winning Most Outstanding Player despite the 10–3 loss.

To some, those numbers and his rising draft stock are good enough for him to be selected in the second round; but if I was going to do something on Hendrickson, me just relying on the stats and his rising stock wouldn’t be enough. I’d go back and watch game film of what’s available, maybe pointing to games during FAU’s seven game losing streak where Hendrickson continued to excel.

I’d also look at Hendrickson’s play against blocking tight ends or the numbers FAU’s defense put up in games where the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year failed to record a sack or a tackle for loss. Again, it’s those ‘little things’ that make a mock draft stand out.

And even then, I won’t be calling myself a ‘draft expert’ because I have ideas of what makes a mock work. What it comes down to is I’m so tired of the same nonsense over and over where people do these mock drafts with zero effort or intelligence.

Again, I’ll emphasize the true point of this: making a mock draft or doing an article on what a wide receiver does right and wrong doesn’t make you a so-called ‘draft expert.’ It makes you a fool.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do a mock draft; feel free to keep going because, for as much as I hate the recent plague of mocks, I’ll still read Walter Football’s to see who he has the Jets taking. But if you are going to do a mock draft, make sure you actually think about what you’re writing and put some effort in.

Getting picks wrong doesn’t make you an idiot, nor does getting them right mean you’re a genius. Mock drafts are more about evaluations and learning more about the players and their behaviors than anything else; and it’s a shame that we’ve lost sight of that in exchange for people wanting to be narcissistic about being ‘QB critics.’

And remember to listen to me, because I am the draft expert and QB critic. You all are peasants.

Want more from me? Follow me on Twitter so you know when I post, what I’m doing, and why The Wire is the greatest show in history…

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