It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the thick smoke being generated by “sources” and unnamed NFL scouts. The proverbial meteorologists of the NFL draft, those particular informants don’t always have to be right; what they do is enough to get people thinking.
As a result, draft prognosticators are forced to cut through the clutter in order to nail down the most likely picks in the draft—a monumentally difficult task considering every NFL team shrouds its true draft-day intentions in misinformation.
To the average fan, draft analysts are sometimes viewed as a group of football minds with little insight into the inner-workings of NFL decision-makers. Contrary to that popular belief, a lot more goes into projecting the draft than educated guesswork and groupthink.
Draft analysts are experts for a reason.
Still, mock drafts at this point in the offseason are incredibly diverse, and there’s little chance of finding two with the exact same picks.
That holds especially true this year in a deep draft class lacking truly elite talent at several key positions. The talent gap just isn’t wide enough to generate a consensus among the top draft analysts.
We all have our own opinions and insight into what will actually happen on draft day. Some of them will prove to be right, while others will be far from the mark.
We’ll take a look at mock drafts from four NFL draft experts and do our best to discern fact from fiction and smokescreen from reality.
Mel Kiper Jr.’s Mock Draft 4.1
Fiction: Eric Fisher Will Fall to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7
Mel Kiper Jr. has been in the NFL draft business for a long, long time. He’s been around long enough to have a good handle on draft-day dealings in the NFL, even if some of his opinions stray from the norm.
In Kiper’s latest mock draft, the ESPN analyst projects Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7. While there’s certainly a possibility that scenario plays out on Thursday, it’s hard to believe Fisher makes it out of the top five.
Apart from the speculation that Fisher may ultimately jump Luke Joeckel to be chosen No. 1 overall, there’s also the matter of need. The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions both need a franchise left tackle (along with the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 1), and there’s little chance one of the two makes it past those three teams.
The Cardinals are in desperate need of offensive line help, but the only way this scenario could potentially play out is if Arizona moves into the top five to select Fisher.
More likely, the Cardinals stand pat and hope Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson is available at No. 7.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller Final Seven-Round Mock Draft
Fact: Tavon Austin Will be the First Wide Receiver Drafted
West Virginia speedster Tavon Austin has long been considered a first-round pick, but projecting him in the top-15 has become increasingly popular in recent weeks—and for good reason.
Prototypical X-receivers (like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green) are hot commodities on Day 1 of the draft, but there are few bona fide No. 1 receivers worthy of a top selection. Cordarrelle Patterson nearly fits the description, but questions remain about his NFL readiness as it pertains to route-running and the more cerebral aspects of the position.
Additionally, slot receivers are becoming more and more prevalent as primary targets in the modern NFL. Given the emphasis on the pass rush, offenses are forced to rely on more check-down passes and underneath routes to keep defenses honest and unable to blitz on every play.
Enter the 5’8”, 174-pound Austin.
With tremendous speed, quickness and vision, the West Virginia product is a nightmare with the ball in his hands. Austin can turn any short pass into a big play, and NFL teams lacking a big-armed quarterback with downfield accuracy will be particularly interested in the speedster.
Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller’s latest mock draft projects Austin to the Buffalo Bills at No. 8. Buffalo could certainly use another offensive weapon to pair with Steve Johnson, especially if Doug Marrone decides to draft his own signal-caller in subsequent rounds.
While the first round is extremely fluid (and trades will likely shake up the entire first round), expecting Austin to be the first wide receiver off the board now seems to be the most likely scenario.
NFL.com’s Gil Brandt Mock Draft
Fiction: Montee Ball Will Find a Home in the First Round
The lack of elite talent at the running back position is especially apparent this year, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t be able to find stars at the position later in the draft.
The NFL is a pass-happy league predicated on moving the ball through the air, and while the running game still has great importance, the value in selecting running backs early in the draft is increasingly smaller in the modern NFL.
There are, of course, exceptions to that rule (namely Trent Richardson’s No. 3 selection last year), but there’s no denying the decreasing emphasis on the position in the early rounds of the draft.
Paired with the lessening role of featured backs in the NFL and the recent success of late-round picks and undrafted free agents like Arian Foster, Alfred Morris and Vick Ballard, the market for running backs in the draft is clearly diminishing.
Which makes the idea of seeing one (or more) running backs selected in this year’s first round all the more unlikely.
NFL.com’s Gil Brandt projects Wisconsin running back Montee Ball to the Green Bay Packers at pick No. 26, citing his lack of durability issues and heavy workload with the Badgers as reason to warrant a high selection.
There’s something to be said for going against the grain with a projection like this, but it’s hard to imagine a back other than Eddie Lacy being even a top-40 pick this year.
With all due respect to both Brandt and Ball, he just isn’t the type of special runner to garner first-round interest.
CBS Sports’ Rob Rang Mock Draft
Fact: Bjoern Werner Will Slide to the Final Picks of the First Round
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner may be the most enigmatic prospect in this draft class.
His projected landing spots range everywhere from No. 2 to the Jaguars to No. 32 to the Ravens, further highlighting the unpredictability of the selection process.
Werner is one of the best true 4-3 defensive ends in this class, but his selection will depend largely on a schematic fit. While he has the athleticism to potentially make a switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 front, he’s certainly better suited for a role with his hand in the dirt—at least in the foreseeable future.
Players like Oregon’s Dion Jordan have inherently greater value because of schematic versatility. Jordan has the potential to play all over a defensive front in the NFL in any number of schemes, and he’s likely to find a home in the top five as a result.
And then there’s depth.
Given the availability of edge-rushers like Ezekiel Ansah and Tank Carradine (with more athleticism and upside), teams won’t be overly anxious in chasing after Werner in the draft.
CBS Sports' Rob Rang projects Werner falling to No. 28 to the Denver Broncos, which is a popular landing spot for the draft's top 4-3 defensive ends.
There’s virtually no chance the Florida State product falls out of the first round, but he’s no longer the top-10 lock he was once expected to be.
Look for Werner to slide down the board Thursday and land somewhere in the 20-28 range to a team in need of a pass-rushing defensive end in a 4-3 front.