Originally written on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 4/23/13
As the NFL Draft quickly approaches, we scour the Internet for as many mock drafts as we can find. We like one, hate another, and hope another would never happen, but what are they all about? Is there any value in mock drafts other than pure entertainment? What about the actual drafts, what are the biggest “reach” and “value” picks? Do those labels (and the ratings they’re based on) even matter? Mel Kiper, Jr. and Don Banks have become two of the industry experts when it comes to mock drafts. Their final first round mock drafts have included 81% of the players actually chosen in the first rounds since 2009. However, they have only gotten 17% of the exact picks correct in that period of time. The experts, as well as the thousands of aspiring draftniks, know who should be selected in the first round but they don’t always know where they’ll go. Accuracy at the top of the draft is very high, but the precision quickly drops off due to unexpected decisions and trades. The table below shows Kiper and Banks’ accuracy by draft position since 2009. Kiper and Banks have a combined 39 players in their first round mock drafts for 2013. The only quarterback that appears in both drafts is Geno Smith.  Clearly there’s a bit of group think in these mock drafts. In the four mock drafts currently showcased on NFL.com’s draft page, there are only 44 unique choices after removing all of the duplicates. There were a total of 128 mock picks in those four mock drafts. These mock drafts are usually created based on overall rankings (which are probably from a limited number of sources) and actual team valuation isn’t taken into much consideration. That’s probably a large reason why recent mock drafts have the Bills selecting a guard at eighth overall. (Remember when the Bills had a “need” at tackle yet chose Gilmore at tenth last year, only to grab Glenn in the second round? The Bills decision-makers like selecting impact players from impact positions. My guess is they rank players on their “big board” accordingly.) Most Bills fans want nothing to do with an offensive lineman at eighth overall and want Buddy to find us the new franchise quarterback, if he exists. If the Bills were to choose a quarterback, most analysts would call it a “reach” pick. But teams rarely pick on par with the published rankings. I determined “reach” picks by calculating the difference between Football’s Future prospect rankings and their draft position. The average value of “reach” and “value” picks since the 2009 draft are in the graph below. “Reach” picks are negative (picked earlier than expected), “value” picks are positive (picked later than expected). As the graph shows, the average value or reach of each pick is pretty random. That emphasizes the fact that teams value positions and players differently than the “experts” creating the prospect rankings or mock drafts. To further that point, the top twenty reach picks (largest difference between their “draft value” and their actual place in the draft) since 2009 are in the table below. Those reach players are a mixed bag. There are some lingering question marks in that group (Larry English- four games started since 2009, James Carpenter- torn ACL in 2011, Jake Locker- named and unnamed a starter a billion times per my last count, and Tim Tebow- no explanation needed). There are some solid players (Cam Newton, Eric Wood when healthy, Ryan Mathews before last season).  Then there are those that the jury is still out on (Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden). Reach players aren’t necessarily mean bad players. Using FootballsFuture.com’s rankings for this year’s draft prospects, Matt Barkley would have a reach value of 9. Geno Smith would be a reach by 10 spots if the Bills chose them with their eighth pick. Neither would have been a top-twenty “reach” in the last four drafts. Of course this rankings system called Cam Newton a reach by 14 spots in 2011, which we all know is a bit ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, that 2011 ranking had Blaine Gabbert at eight and JJ Watt at 14. Watt was the defensive player of the year and Blaine Gabbert is about to be run out of Jacksonville. So the mock drafts are really only good at telling us who will go in the first round and the overall prospect rankings are pretty flawed but still interesting. If Buffalo selects a quarterback at eight on Thursday, we can expect criticisms screaming “REACH!” or “they should’ve waited until the second round!” But the only true risk of selecting a player higher than they are ranked is missing out on an impact player that won’t be around for your second pick. That’s when Buffalo will weight their opportunity cost: is there a bigger drop off from their desired quarterback(s) than their top-tier and second-tier positional players? My guess is that the quarterback opportunity cost is greater, and Buffalo will fill their need at quarterback in the first round. Either way, I don’t want to hear about reaching for a quarterback. It’s mostly hot air.
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