Outside of a nice paycheck and public recognition, being an NFL draft pundit is a rather thankless job. Each year NFL teams throw up smokescreens, leak semi-true information and nudge reports in a way that's advantageous to their cause.
Not only is it the job of those experts to sift through that information and provide the best up-to-date information on the draft, but then they have to accurately project how the draft will come together. And as we get closer to the draft, the information seemingly gets better—only to completely fly out of the window on draft night.
As we saw during Thursday night's firs- round festivities, picks can seemingly come out of nowhere at any minute. Teams have a rhyme and reasoning behind those selections, but they're almost never given to the public until after the fact.
And the draft experts—from ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper to NFL Network's Mike Mayock—are left with one question from the dissatisfied public: What happened?
No draft expert hands in a final mock draft expecting to be 100 percent accurate. These are educated guesses, not the launch codes for nuclear missiles. Most of the public understands that if a pick or two goes a little awry, chaos isn't going to engulf an entire country.
That being said, much of the post-draft phase is made up of people comparing expert mock drafts to what actually happened. It's an admittedly somewhat unfair process, though it's that type of criticism that the McShays, Kipers and Mayocks covet.
Sometimes they get things wrong, other times they get it right. But as long as people are paying attention, things will be alright.
How did the experts do in this year's first round? Here is a breakdown of a few spots the experts got completely wrong, contrasted with a few they hit perfectly.
Wrong: E.J. Manuel (No. 16 to Buffalo Bills)
We might as well get things started with the selection that nearly blew the roof off Radio City Music Hall.
The Bills, equipped with the No. 8 pick heading into Thursday night's first round, were on the short list of teams considered most likely to target a quarterback with their top pick. They released incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick during the offseason, replaced him with stopgaps and new head coach Doug Marrone is known as a quarterback guru.
With Ryan Nassib, Marrone's protege at Syracuse, and Matt Barkley both being linked to Buffalo during the pre-draft phase, it seemed inevitable Buffalo would take a quarterback. The only question was when that would come and who the selected signal-caller would be.
As soon as the Bills’ deal with the St. Louis Rams was announced, which saw Buffalo move back to pick No. 16, the answer to “when” was answered. The Bills were taking a first-round quarterback, that much was clear.
The man they wound up taking left just about everyone in the building with some egg on their face. Only tangentially linked to the first round prior to Thursday night’s draft, former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel was largely considered a second- or third-rounder. Kiper, McShay and Mayock all went through their entire first-round mocks without mentioning his name as even a late-round possibility.
Nassib, Barkley and West Virginia’s Geno Smith were all supposedly in the mix for a top-32 selection. The man taken was an afterthought, ranked fourth or worse on nearly every big board.
One could very easily question the Bills’ decision-making as a result. Manuel never had the ascendant collegiate season of Barkley’s or Smith’s junior campaign, nor did he have a well-known relationship with the Buffalo coaching staff.
Nevertheless, our trio of experts got this pick way wrong. But at least they can take comfort in everyone outside the Bills organization doing so as well.
Right: Eric Fisher (No. 1 to Kansas City Chiefs)
Predicting the No. 1 overall pick is usually like shooting fish in a barrel. Actually, it’s like shooting a killer whale in a goldfish bowl. By the time Roger Goodell steps to the podium, welcomes everyone to Radio City Music Hall and puts Team X on the clock, there’s no need for a spoiler alert. Anyone with access to the Internet or a newspaper subscription knows who will be taken No. 1 overall.
That wasn’t the case this year. Though the rumblings about Eric Fisher being No. 1 were out there on the never-ending rumors cycle, they were mostly viewed as a smokescreen. Texas A&M’s Luke Jockel had been pegged at No. 1 for months; what would make the Chiefs change their minds all the sudden?
As it turned out, this was one of those rare occasions where buying into the supposed smokescreen worked out. Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram broke the news early Thursday that Joeckel had been informed Fisher would be the top pick and she was proven correct when Goodell made the announcement that night.
Luckily, our experts had bought into the Fisher hype prior to the draft. A 6’7” mauler who comes in at over 300 pounds, the Central Michigan product wowed scouts and head coaches with his brilliance at the Senior Bowl. Showing that his dominance wasn’t just because of the relative weakness of the MAC, Fisher completely shut down opposing pass-rushers all week. Couple that with his aggressive streak and underrated athleticism, he became one of the fastest risers of the draft.
And all it took was one look from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid to become smitten. Only time will tell whether Fisher over Jockel will become the next Manning over Leaf or the next Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.
But no matter the result, the experts ultimately got this one right.
Wrong: Sharrif Floyd (No. 23 to Minnesota Vikings)
Whoops. Much like Manuel, our three experts came to a similar conclusion about Floyd. He would go No. 3 overall to the Oakland Raiders. He would replace the departed Tommie Kelly or Richard Seymour, depending on where they wanted to place him on the line. A no-brainer top-five talent with scintillating off-the-ball explosion, Mayock described him as “best defensive player in the draft on [his] board.”
While Mayock’s assessment may prove true, his and his brethren’s projections for where Floyd would go went awry as soon as the Raiders went on the clock. Looking to acquire a second-round choice and draft top target D.J. Hayden, Oakland made a trade with the Miami Dolphins that moved them back to No. 12.
Well, that’s fine. Floyd wasn’t married to the Raiders in the same way, say, Ryan Nassib was to the Bills. Surely he’d be taken within the first 10 or so picks, right?
Not so much. Pick after pick went by, leaving Floyd essentially with a neon sign above his head that said “Best Player Available.” And for some reason—whether that be need-based or simply because they didn’t like Floyd as a prospect—teams continued to pass. The Florida product watched on as defensive tackle-needy teams like Dallas traded back and while contemporaries like Sheldon Richardson were drafted ahead of him.
A savior eventually came in the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23, but the damage to Floyd’s bank account was done. Expected to see the financial windfall of top-five guarantees, Floyd is stuck with the, well, pretty good financial windfalls of No. 23 guarantees.
It ultimately won’t matter when Floyd steps on the field and may even help him develop slowly considering the Vikings were a playoff team last year. But when so many people are touting you as a top selection, it’s hard not to be disappointed.
Right: Ezekiel Ansah (No. 5 to Detroit Lions)
Barring something unforeseen, there weren’t going to be too many surprises for the Lions at No. 5. Their salary cap situation is untenable at best, with even more big contract extensions likely coming around the way for quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The first round wasn’t the time to get cute and do something crazy like draft Tavon Austin to go alongside Megatron in the receiving corps.
Detroit had two needs and two needs only: Pass coverage and the pass rush. They were going to acquire one of those two general positions on Thursday, likely targeting that unaddressed need with their picks on Friday.
Heading into Round 1, it became increasingly apparent that the focus was between Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU linebacker-end hybrid Ezekiel Ansah. With Milliner’s injury questions lingering—he’s expected to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter—Ansah increasingly became the more likely candidate.
Though each of the experts had vacillated on who the Lions would take in previous mock iterations, each smartly settled on Ansah. A physical marvel with the strength and edge-rushing speed to be an instant double-digit sacks contender, Ansah should be able to reinvigorate a Detroit pass rush that fell off a cliff in 2012.
Other than Suh, the Lions’ high-priced pass rush was middling at best and anemic at worst. And with the secondary already not having the highest level of talent in the league, Detroit struggled all season to protect against the pass.
Ansah was the pick mainly because he made the most sense.
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