The 2015 NFL "Wisdom of the Crowd" Mock Draft

By Jason Lisk
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Francis Galton probably ran a poor 40-yard dash time. Doesn’t seem like much of a three-cone drill guy. You can stop searching your draft guides to see if he is a gamer. You see, Galton was one of the first to set forth the idea behind the “Wisdom of the Crowd.”

Over a century ago, Galton wrote an article in Nature after observing a contest at a local fair, where competitors paid a fee to try to guess the weight of a “slaughtered and ‘dressed'” ox. The animal was eventually measured at 1,198 lbs. The median guess of all participants was 1,207, while the mean guess was 1,197. Individual guesses ranged greatly, but the group as a whole came within a few pounds of an animal that weighed over half a ton.

We’ve come to the point–exactly a week away from the real NFL draft–when we’ve basically picked the bone dry on meaningful discussion and are ready to move on with it. The Combine, the Pro Days, the interviews are pretty much done. The info is out there.

So let’s cut through the bull.

I’ve accumulated 32 different mock drafts that were published within the last 3 weeks, many within the last week. (The full list of those used at the bottom). Now, I could have just looked at the average draft position within those mocks, but with predicting the draft, we need to go one step further.

In the NFL Draft, the likelihood that a player is drafted at a certain spot is not driven by the average or consensus view on a player. It is driven by those most optimistic about the player. Let’s give an example. Let’s say that of 30 people, 10 think that Jameis Winston is the best player available, and 10 others wouldn’t touch him before the 7th round. Does it matter what those bottom 10 people think in terms of his likely draft position? Not really. He will be drafted highly because there are enough who do think he is worth it.

I did a similar exercise last year, with both fewer mock drafts and fewer simulations, and the results were that 15 of the 32 first round picks in the actual draft landed within 2 spots of my Wisdom of the Crowds approach, outperforming 27 actual mock drafts by individuals.

This year, though, with the monumental assistance of wizard/pro-football-reference.com guru/mathematics professor Doug Drinen, the results come from simulating 10,000 different NFL first round drafts using the 32 different mock draft player orders. Yeah, 10,000. That’s a lot of combinations.

So let’s get to it. Here’s the Wisdom of the Crowds Mock Draft. I list several items. AVG is the average slot where the player was drafted across all simulations. RD1% is the percentage of time the player was drafted in the first round. “Best” represents the earliest the player was taken in any simulation, and “Worst” represents the latest the player was selected. (“Out” means the player was not selected in the first round in at least one simulation.)

In total, there were 58 different players who appeared in at least one of the 32 mock drafts that were used. That’s a pretty good sample of the likely number of players appearing on team boards as potential first rounders–maybe slightly low, but not by much.

I should point out that this is in no way trying to project a particular player to a particular team based on need. It is listing the average position where the player was drafted based on the pre-set lists from all the mock drafts, and generating a consensus range where the player is likely to go.

Jameis Winston went first overall in every mock draft. Nothing is 100% until it’s finalized, but everyone seems on the same page, for one pick.

Marcus Mariota generated more disagreement than Leonard Williams, but ends up going slightly higher on average. While he fell outside the Top 5 in almost 30% of the mock drafts used, individually, he only fell outside the Top 5 in 2.6% of the simulations, because there were enough that had him ranked above everyone but Winston. Quarterback is a unique position when it comes to the draft, so I think his chance for a slide are slightly greater than that. But I don’t think it’s likely that Jason McIntyre gets his wish with Mariota to the Jets.

The other wildcard is Shane Ray. The news about him potentially requiring surgery is breaking today, and that could have an impact. He was already a divisive pick, with a wider range of outcomes than most of the other top options. But, all it takes is one team. I don’t see him taking a big tumble out of the first round, though the “wisdom of the crowds” here is pre-foot surgery news.

Here, we see a different tier. All of these guys generate a little more disagreement among our individual mocks, but all will most certainly go in the first round. Randy Gregory is one to watch here, with his off-the-field flags. Several of these mocks came after all that news came out, though some did not. Again, all it takes is one selector, and Gregory will likely tempt someone, though he may slip a little lower than the average here.

Trae Waynes is an interesting example of a player that the consensus is very strong on, but who is projected a little lower. Waynes only appears in the Top 10 in 3 of the Mocks; he is only outside the Top 15 in 3 others. So in almost every mock, he goes between 11 and 14. Yet, his average pick in the simulation is at #15. That’s because there is disagreement about who is in front of him, and if teams make a move to get players at another position with a perceived tier dropoff and differences of opinion among teams, he could drop a few picks below where most Mocks are projecting.

La’el Collins is another divisive pick. Expect him to go a little higher than some individual Mocks have him, if that difference of opinion also exists among real front offices.

Some are talking about Todd Gurley potentially getting in the Top 10. He’s all over the place, and even in the simulations, there is a huge range. Probably the biggest wildcard in this draft.

Breshad Perriman is the first player on this list who was not selected in every simulation. (Granted, only 0.3% had him missing out).

You can also add Dorial Green-Beckham as another example of how the most optimistic opinion on a player drives the outcome. He appeared in only 9 of the 32 Mock Drafts used, but projects as a first rounder. He obviously has his off-the-field questions. Some teams might have him off the board. But if actual teams also have a sizeable minority enamored by his physical tools, like some of the mock drafters, he will go.

Here’s where we see the chances start to decline. Yeah, most of these guys will be taken in the first, but at least a few will slip out. Agholor and Shaq Thompson only appear in a minority of the mocks, but are selected highly enough when they do go, that they are decent guesses to tickle someone’s fancy on the first draft night, by the end.

Here are the remaining players who were selected in at least one of the simulations in the first round, and are reasonable candidates to jump into the first round, depending on the views of the particular teams at the bottom of the first round (or those that might want to trade up).

Here are the individuals/sites who’s wisdom collectively contributed to this project. Thanks for doing all the hard work.

Our Jason McIntyre and the Big Lead Mock Draft
Nate Davis of USA Today
Pete Prisco, Dane Brugler, Will Brinson, Rob Rang and Chris Trapasso of CBS
Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, Charles Casserly, Lance Zierlein, and Brian Baldinger of NFL.com
Peter Schrager of FOX Sports
Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports
Don Banks and Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated
Dan Kadar of SB Nation
SB Nation Group Mock Draft
KC Star
Newsday
Ourlads
Football’s Future
DraftTek
Walter Football
Arizona Republic
Real GM
NFL DRAFT GEEK
Bleacher Report
CSN Washington
Draft Board Guru
DRAFT DADDY
LA Times

[image by Michael Shamburger]

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