Mike Mayock, NFL Network's top draft analyst, recently just published his Top 100 prospects. These numbers aren't a Mock Draft so he is not claiming that Chance Warmack, for example, will be drafted in the top 5 but simply that in his opinion, Warmack is the 4th best player in this draft class. Obviously, Mayock is still a human so even he makes mistakes. His opinion also isn't the only opinion out there that matters, even though it is certainly one of the most respected. Since he is one of the most prestigious NFL draft analysts, how have his past player rankings correlated with actual draft position?
Out of the top 32 prospects in Mayock's 2012 Top 100, 84% of them were first round picks. Courtney Upshaw, Cordy Glenn, Jerel Worthy, Vinny Curry and Stephen Hill all fell to the 2nd round. Mayock posted even better number in 2011 with 88% of his top 32 players becoming 1st round picks. Da'Quan Bowers, Marvin Austin, Akeem Ayers and Aaron Williams were the players to fall into the 2nd round. Despite these occasional hiccups, when it comes to the first round, Mayock is a reliable opinion. 86% of the players in Mayock's 2011 and 2012 top 32 rankings became first round picks.
Furthermore, Mayock's top 10 rankings have been aligned with top ten draftees. From 2010-2012, 80% of Mayock's top 10 players became top 10 picks. Chandler Jones, Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley, Prince Amukamara, Earl Thomas and Jason Pierre Paul were given top 10 grades but fell out of the top 10. To Mayock's credit, only Amukamara looks like he absolutely wasn't worth a top 10 grade. Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Aldon Smith, Tyson Alualu and Rolando McClain were graded outside of the top ten but all became top 10 picks. Teams tend to overdraft Quarterbacks based on positional need rather than actual talent level. This provides an explanation for the variation between Mayock' talent level rankings and the draft position of previous top 10 QBs. With Geno Smith's ranking at 21 in 2013 it looks like this trend will continue.
The late Al Davis was notoriously known for over drafting players so Rolando McClain creeping into the top 10 is also understandable. Recently fired former Jacksonville Jaguars GM, Gene Smith, was also prone to funky drafting which could provide explanation for Tyson Alualu becoming a top 10 pick. Smith's drafting can be described as "funky" because he drafted more small school players than any other GM during his tenure and is the guy who drafted a punter before Russell Wilson. Decisions like this eventually cost him his job and now the team is stuck with a quarterback competition between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Mayock slightly missed in his ranking of Aldon Smith, it would have been great if the 49ers made the same mistake. If QB reaches are excluded and GMs don't make decisions that only they would have done, Mayock's top 10 rankings are as good as any prediction for who the top 10 draft picks will be.
As the draft moves deeper into the first round, Mayock's rankings begin to differ more from draft position. From 2011-2012, 72% of his top 16 players were drafted within 5 spots of their ranking. Only 44% of the players ranked from 17-32 were drafted within 5 spots of their ranking. NFL draft analysts, scouts and GMs tend to have a consensus on who the best players in the draft are. As the draft gets deeper, opinions on who are the best players available begin to differ. This difference in opinion is why Mayock's top 16 rankings are better aligned to draft position than his 17-32 rankings are.
*Note: There wasn't any scientific research for a 5 spot margin of error to be concluded so possibly the range is too small; possibly it is even too big. A 5 spot margin of error was allotted under the assumption that teams also draft based on need so a prospect can fall if teams in a certain range don't have a need for that position. Prospects can only fall so far though and teams will eventually draft talent over need so a 5 spot margin of error is what was decided.
Furthermore, 2012 was the 1st year that Mayock published rankings outside of the top 32. Consequently, only this year will be used to judge the correlation of Mayock's player rankings to draft position for rounds 2 and 3. 63% of players ranked from 33-64 in 2012 were 2nd round picks. This is significantly lower than the 86% of players that were ranked in the top 32 from 2011-2012 that became 1st round picks. In 2012, some of the prospects that Mayock gave a 2nd round ranking moved into the 1st round -David Wilson, Brandon Weeden, Bruce Irvin and Nick Perry. The other players that were not drafted in the 2nd - Bobby Massie, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon Thompson, Cam Johnson, Josh Norman, T.Y. Hilton, Brandon Boykin and Alameda Ta'amu all fell to later rounds. Mayock's 2012 rankings became more misaligned to draft position as the draft continued.
His rankings not only began to falter on who was going to be a 2nd round pick but also when in the 2nd round these players would be drafted. Only 16% of the players ranked from 33-64 in 2012 where drafted within 5 draft spots of their ranking. This is significantly lower than the 58% of players from 2011-2012 who were drafted within 5 spots of their 1st round ranking. This provides further evidence that the deeper the draft gets, Mayock's rankings begin to differ from actual draft position. The difference in rankings to draft position can be further attributed to a weakening consensus amongst NFL talent evaluators on who are the best players. NFL teams don't only disagree with Mayock, but most certainly disagree with each other as well. Unfortunately, to what degree NFL GM's opinions differ from each other than to Mayock is impossible to conclude without access to their draft boards.
Additionally, Mayock's rankings compared to player draft position worsened even more in round 3. Only 41% of the players ranked from 65-96 were drafted in the 3rd round in 2012. 16% of these players were drafted in the 2nd round and the remaining 43% were drafted in later rounds or became UDFAs. Of the 32 players ranked from 65-96, only 13% of them were drafted within 5 spots of their ranking. Again, Mayock's rankings become more misaligned to draft position as the draft continues.
Mayock is just one person with highly educated opinions. Sometimes he does better than NFL GM's at evaluating a prospect and other times he does worse. He also doesn't have access to an extensive scouting team, player interviews, or medical history so it is understandable that he may overvalue players that fall in the draft because of medical or character concerns. His evaluations are also strictly based on talent and not a prediction of when prospects will be drafted. In general though, the best players get drafted first and when it comes to ranking the best players, there has been consensus between Mayock and NFL GMs on who the best prospects are. This consensus weakens increasingly the longer the draft goes.
So what do all these numbers mean for Seahawks fans? Nobody, not even NFL draft guru Mike Mayock, knows how rounds 2 and 3 are going to shape out. Opinions on who the best players are increasingly differ as the NFL draft goes on. Looking at players in the late 2nd round range, in Mayock's rankings or any draft analyst for that matter, and deciding what prospect Seattle is going to draft at 56 would be lead to a highly inaccurate assumption. Only 40% of the players ranked from 46-66 in 2012 were drafted within this 20 pick range. The numbers are slightly worse for players ranked in the late 3rd round range, 77-97. Only 30% of these players were drafted within the 20 pick range.
Yes, it possible that the player that Seattle drafts could be of those 40% or 30%. Yes, a more accurate estimate could be made for who Seattle could possibly draft based on Mayock's rankings than not based on them. Still, his rankings are simply his opinion and far from NFL draft law. Disparate opinions on player potential are what make the NFL draft so hard to predict. The deeper the draft goes, the more disparate these opinions become. The NFL draft is an event full of mysteries and surprises, the surprises come early but the mysteries are reserved for the later rounds.