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What a one-year-early mock draft looks like one year later

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NFL: Combine
Arden Key was considered the number one DE by many a year ago
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the number one pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, choosing Mayfield over three quarterbacks who had been long considered worthy of the first overall choice. And it’s not as though Mayfield did much on the football field to be considered a “fast riser” from 2017 to 2018 either.

Mayfield was a three-star recruit coming out of Lake Travis High in Austin, Texas. He was the 42nd-ranked pro style quarterback in the class (eight of the players ranked ahead of him never threw an FBS touchdown) and walked-on at Texas Tech. All of that makes Mayfield an under-the-radar prospect but after he transferred to Oklahoma and began starting there in 2015, Mayfield became one of the top passers in college football.

He had 36 touchdowns, seven interceptions as a sophomore (Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year) and 40 touchdowns, eight interceptions as a junior in 2016. But because Mayfield is considered undersized, perhaps a lot of draft prognosticators felt that he’d never do enough to be considered an elite prospect and as 2018 NFL Mock Drafts started to come out following the 2017 draft, he was nowhere to be found.

Mayfield did enough, prognosticators were wrong. It’s as simple as that. “A year from now” is simply far too long of a look ahead to know what’s going to happen. The fact that we can even regularly point to 10-12 future first round picks is phenomenal enough.

That early look ahead did prove true for some draft hopefuls, obviously. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen were often considered 2018 first round picks, and that’s what happened. Some felt Lamar Jackson was a fringe first round pick, and Jackson went right on the fringe, 32nd. Mike McGlinchey, Saquon Barkley, and Vita Vea were others who often got mocked near the top of the draft and ended up getting picked near the top of the draft.

But you are far more likely to be wrong about next year’s first round choices than you are to be right. Just take that into consideration when you begin looking ahead to the 2019 draft. It’s a natural inclination for an NFL fan, draft fan, college football fan to want to know “What’s next?” now that the 2018 draft is over. Some of the players you see mocked early for next year will be correct, but some will be very wrong, and here’s what anyone other than a blowhard can tell you: we really don’t know how to tell the difference between the two.

If we could do that, we wouldn’t need a draft at all. Or at least, there wouldn’t be any mystery. We can’t even get very many picks right as the draft is happening, let alone a year before. Case in point, let’s take a look at some 2018 NFL Mock Drafts that were written just after the 2017 edition.

The Big Lead (5/1/2017)

1. Jets - Sam Darnold

Not bad, as Darnold went third overall to the Jets.

2. Browns - Josh Rosen

Rosen went 10th overall to the Cardinals.

3. Rams - Josh Allen

Allen went 7th overall to the Bills. I can understand the reasoning behind the Rams tanking, but interesting that the impetus was to mock a quarterback after only two seasons of Jared Goff.

4. Bengals - Sam Hubbard (Stock Down, 3rd round)

He seemed to improve in 2017, doubling his sack total (to 7) but an underwhelming pro day may have helped push him out of day one. Hubbard went 77th overall to his hometown Bengals.

5. Bears - Christian Wilkins

Back to school.

6. Bills - Mike McGlinchey

McGlinchey went 9th overall to the 49ers.

7. 49ers - Saquon Barkley

Barkley went 2nd overall to the Giants.

8. Vikings - Martinas Rankin (Down, 3rd)

Ended up going 80th overall to the Texans. Played left tackle at Mississippi State but is viewed as “an offensive lineman” but Houston, meaning they don’t have the confidence that he can play left tackle in the pros.

9. Jaguars - Vita Vea

Vea went 12th overall to the Bucs.

10. Broncos - Malik Jefferson (Down, 3rd)

Cincinnati drafted two of the top 10 prospects in this mock, both of whom fell out of the first round. One was Hubbard, the other is Jefferson, who they took one pick after him at 78. Seems like Marvin Lewis could be highly attracted to “draft fallers.”

11. Lions - Royce Freeman (Down, 3rd)

Freeman went 71st overall to the Broncos.

12. Cardinals - Mason Rudolph (Down, 3rd)

Rudolph fell out of the first round, going 76th overall to the Steelers. A quarterback not on this mock draft: Baker Mayfield, who went 1st overall to the Browns. Not on this list: Lamar Jackson, who was certainly on the radar this time last year after winning the Heisman. That’s two Heisman Trophy winners not on this list, which doesn’t mean that I think Heisman winners are going to be good NFL players (obviously that’s not the case), just a coincidence that I found extremely mildly interesting.

13. Saints - Harold Landry (Down, 2nd)

Landry was one of those “fallers” on draft day, going 41st overall to the Titans.

14. Ravens - Arden Key (Down, 3rd)

Key’s fall happened months before the draft, going from the top edge rusher on the board to 87th overall to the Raiders. Seems a lot of these guys went around the same place in round three.

15. Bills (via Chiefs) - De’Ron Payne

13th overall to Washington.

16. Eagles - Orlando Brown (Down, 3rd)

And another one — Brown went 83rd overall to the Ravens.

17. Chargers - Da’Shawn Hand (Down, 4th)

Hand went 114th overall to the Lions. A supreme recruit out of high school, Hand’s a “name” for sure, like teammate Bo Scarbrough, and that probably helps/hurts with these “try to look ahead a year” mock drafts. Seems to be based a lot on “Well, if he hits his potential as a senior, Hand will be a first round pick” but instead he had problems off the field, on the field, and due to injury.

18. Panthers - Damon Webb (Down, UDFA)

Signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent. Webb couldn’t get on the field during his first two years at Ohio State, then he played alongside guys like Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore in 2016. After they left, Webb was thought to be the next breakout player, and he recorded five interceptions in 2017, but he’s seen as not being athletically-gifted enough for the next level. Not on this list: Denzel Ward, the fourth overall pick, who made the jump at Ohio State that many expected from Webb and was one of the most athletic players in the draft.

19. Dolphins - Quin Blanding (Down, Remains UDFA)

As of this writing, it appears Blanding has not signed with an NFL team. He was plenty productive during all four seasons as a safety at Virginia (492 career tackles) but isn’t well regarded in coverage.

20. Giants - Trey Adams

Injured before the season, returning to Washington for 2018.

21. Washington - Calvin Ridley

26th overall to the Falcons.

22. Browns (via Texans) - Bradley Chubb (Stock Up)

5th overall to the Broncos.

23. Colts - Quenton Nelson (Up)

Right team, right pick, but Nelson shot up to 6th overall as NFL folks started regarding him as an elite guard prospect by the time the season was over.

24. Falcons - Deon Cain (Down, 6th)

Cain went 185th overall to the Colts.

25. Bucs - Bo Scarbrough (Down, 7th)

Scarbrough went 236th overall to the Cowboys.

Cain and Scarbrough were both seen as top skill players a year ago who didn’t do enough to maintain that status through the college football and draft season. Without DeShaun Watson, Cain’s production dipped from 19.1 YPC and nine touchdowns in 2016 to 12.7 and six in 2017 with Kelly Bryant. Scarbrough was supposed to be a Heisman candidate at one point but he lost playing time to Damien Harris and wasn’t all that productive when given the chance.

26. Titans - Cameron Smith

Returned to USC.

27. Packers - Derrius Guice (2nd)

Guice went 59th overall to Washington.

28. Steelers - Mike Gesicki (2nd)

Gesicki went 42nd overall to the Dolphins.

29. Seahawks - Tyquan Lewis (late 2nd)

Lewis went 64th overall to the Colts.

30. Patriots - Mason Cole (Down, 3rd)

Cole went 97th overall to the Cardinals.

31. Raiders - Christian Kirk (2nd)

Kirk went 47th overall to the Cardinals.

32. Cowboys - Derwin James

James went 17th overall to the Chargers.

Of these 32, 15 didn’t come anywhere near the first round. Three others went back to school. Only 11 actually went in the first round. Among those not listed are: Mayfield, Ward, Roquan Smith, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Jackson.

But one mock draft is only one person’s opinion. Let’s try and solidify some of these opinions as “commonly-held beliefs” by comparing it to Dan Kadar’s mock for SB Nation.

SB Nation’s one-year-early 2018 mock draft (4/29/2017)

1. Browns - Sam Darnold

2. 49ers - Josh Rosen

3. Jets - Josh Allen

4. Rams - Derwin James (Down, Mid-1st)

Much earlier for James than the previous mock, and in reality he ended up in the middle.

5. Bears - Minkah Fitzpatrick

One mock can have no Minkah, the other has him number five. Fitzpatrick went 11th overall to the Dolphins.

6. Bills - Christian Wilkins

7. Jaguars - Mike McGlinchey

8. Washington - Mason Rudolph (Down)

Further confirmation that Rudolph was a thing and Mayfield wasn’t.

9. Bengals - Sam Hubbard (Down)

10. Lions - Arden Key (Down)

11. Chargers - Lamar Jackson (Down, late 1st)

Some did have Jackson going early, it was just a matter of believing in him as a quarterback perhaps.

12. Dolphins - Quenton Nelson (Up)

13. Saints - Tyquan Lewis (Down)

14. Titans - Josh Sweat (Down, 4th)

Sweat went 130th overall to the Eagles. Considered a draft “faller” during the process.

15. Cardinals - Calvin Ridley

16. Ravens - Orlando Brown (Down)

Right team, wrong round.

17. Vikings - Da’Ron Payne

18. Bucs - Bradley Chubb (Up)

19. Eagles - Saquon Barkley (Up)

Further proof that if people had just been considering Barkley as a mid-round pick, nobody would’ve been freaking out if he wasn’t drafted in the top five. Did Barkley “improve” in 2017? I don’t think so. He was just about as great in both of his last two seasons at Penn State and it’s just interesting to me to think about perception. His stoke rose over the course of the year but he was always considered the best back in college football. Why? I don’t have a good answer for that. I’m open to discussion on it.

20. Colts - Derrius Guice (Down)

21. Panthers - Porter Gustin

The top 20 is almost the same (in terms of names) between the two mocks, but then we see a lot of names that Dan Kadar has that The Big Lead did not. Gustin was injured last season and is returning to USC.

22. Giants - Mike Weber

After finishing third on the team in rushing in 2017 (behind J.K. Dobbins and quarterback J.T. Barrett), Weber opted to return to Ohio State.

23. Browns (via Texans) - Tarvarius McFadden (Down, UDFA)

Signed as a UDFA with the 49ers.

24. Bills (via Chiefs) - Luke Falk (Down, 6th)

Went 199th overall to the Titans.

25. Broncos - Ronnie Harrison (Down, 3rd)

Went 93rd overall to the Jaguars.

26. Raiders - Malik Jefferson (Down)

27. Falcons - Byron Cowart

Left Auburn and signed with Maryland last year.

28. Packers - Harold Landry (Down)

29. Steelers - Da’Shawn Hand (Down)

30. Seahawks - Mitch Hyatt

Returning to Clemson in 2018.

31. Cowboys - Quin Blanding (Down)

32. Patriots - Jordan Whitehead (Down, 4th)

Went 117th overall to the Bucs.

Note picks 20-32:

  • Zero of those players went in the first round.
  • Four of them were not in the draft.
  • Seven of the other nine did not come close to the first round. After Guice at 20, only Landry was near the first round.

I’m pointing this out not to slam Kadar for the picks, but only that it is nearly impossible to predict what is going to happen in the draft a year from now; especially once you get past the true blue chip prospects. Even the blue chip prospects will fall, and guys that nobody is looking at, can rise to that level.

Let’s try another, looking at Will Brinson’s “way too early mock draft” for CBS Sports. Brinson says that it is “never too early” in the first sentence (a bit of a contradiction from the headline, we can probably thank editors for that) and then follows it up by saying that it is in exercise in futility. Brinson seems to be saying, “Yes, it is too early for this, but you folks make mock drafts way too popular for us to not print them regularly at CBS and it’s my job.”

Brinson, and most evaluators, did agree on the run on quarterbacks that would happen early even if they didn’t see Mayfield’s rise and Rudolph’s fall.

Here’s Brinson’s 32:

1. Browns - Darnold

2. 49ers - Allen

3. Jets - Rosen

4. Rams - Key

5. Bears - Ridley

6. Chargers - James

Nice job to link the Chargers and Derwin James, even if it was earlier than he actually went. James’ “fall” didn’t happen until weeks before the draft.

7. Dolphins - Jefferson

8. Bucs - Wilkins

9. Lions - Kirk

10. Jaguars - McGlinchey

11. Bills - Bradley Chubb

The earliest I’ve seen Chubb in these drafts, which is some good instincts for Brinson on this one. However, when weighing it against Key, Ridley, James, Jefferson, and Kirk, how much of it can be considered anything more than random chance?

12. Colts - Fitzpatrick

13. Eagles - Barkley

14. Saints - Lewis

15. Broncos - Vea

16. Washington - Rudolph

17. Giants - Connor Williams

The first time we’ve seen offensive lineman Connor Williams. He 50th overall to the Dallas Cowboys, which is perhaps where the other two mock drafters had him (in that range at least), but Brinson has him as the number two offensive lineman in the class.

18. Titans - Courtland Sutton

Sutton went 40th overall to the Broncos. Brinson had three receivers in the top 18, but it ended up as a weak class at the position. At least at the top. The first receiver off the board was D.J. Moore at 24, followed by Ridley at 26.

19. Raiders - Cameron Smith

20. Cardinals - Falk

21. Bengals - Hubbard

The Cincinnati-Hubbard connection was seen by everybody, it seems. It was just later than expected.

22. Browns (via Texans) - McFadden

The second time we’ve seen this too.

23. Vikings - Payne

24. Panthers - James Washington

Funny enough, Brinson got “Carolina takes a receiver at 24” correctly, but was wrong on which receiver it would be. Moore doubled his receptions in 2017 (from 41 to 80) at Maryland and then crushed it at the combine. Washington ended up going 60th overall to the Steelers, where he’ll be paired with his college quarterback Mason Rudolph.

25. Packers - Nelson

26. Bills (via Chiefs) - Blanding

27. Cowboys - Sweat

28. Falcons - Harrison

29. Ravens - Hyatt

30. Steelers - Clelin Ferrell

Ferrell was apparently getting close to being a lock for the first round last season but opted to return to Clemson, surprising many. He had 18 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks for the Tigers in 2017.

31. Seahawks - Orlando Brown

32. Patriots - Gustin

So by the third draft, we’ve seen even fewer new names, with Brinson only having a handful of first rounders that The Big Lead and SB Nation had: Williams, Sutton, Washington, and Ferrell.

Let’s do one more, looking at Matt Miller’s mock draft for Bleacher Report:

1. Browns - Wilkins

And we’re starting off with a banger. Miller chose Wilkins as the top overall prospect for the 2018 draft, noting that “Cleveland is unlikely to take a quarterback after selecting DeShone Kizer in 2017.” Well, we know how that worked out. Wilkins ended up not being a part of the 2018 draft, the Browns did take a quarterback number one overall, and Danny Shelton is no longer a part of Cleveland’s defensive line (as Miller noted, a guy who’d pair nicely with Wilkins.) Nothing wrong with what Miller said, it’s just an example of how much things can change.

2. 49ers - Allen

San Francisco of course no longer needed a quarterback after trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, so all of the mock drafts that had them taking a QB (which was most of them) were doomed from the start. I think we can mark off teams who almost surely won’t be taking a quarterback early in 2019 (Browns, Jets, Bills, Cardinals) but it doesn’t take much for teams to “come from nowhere” and to suddenly need a QB next year. Or that they might take a QB for future’s sake, like the Ravens did with Jackson.

3. Jets - Barkley

4. Rams - Williams

Even earlier for Connor Williams, with Miller basically calling him an elite prospect at tackle.

5. Bears - James

6. Jaguars - Rosen

7. Bills - Hand

8. Chargers - Darnold

9. Lions - Key

10. Saints - Jefferson

11. Eagles - Fitzpatrick

12. Washington - Guice

13. Dolphins - McGlinchey

14. Bengals - Brown

15. Ravens - Cain

16. Bucs - Hyatt

17. Titans - Jerome Baker

A new name! Baker went 73rd overall to the Dolphins. Interesting: yet another guy on this list who ended up going in the third round. It seems like it could be common for a player who was once considered first round worthy to settle into that round three area; do teams see the potential and draft them earlier than their actual evaluations would lead them to because of their past grades? Just spitballing.

18. Cardinals - Sutton

19. Colts - Sweat

20. Vikings - Rankin

21. Bills (via KC) - Marcus Allen

Allen ended up getting selected 148th overall by the Steelers. This is the first he’s mentioned in these mock drafts.

22. Panthers - Dre’Mont Jones

A potential first round pick, Jones is returning to Ohio State in 2018.

23. Broncos - McFadden

24. Giants - Cameron Smith

25. Browns (via HOU) - Denzel Ward

Miller correctly links Denzel Ward to Cleveland, albeit 21 picks after it actually went down. Pretty good! He’s also the first person here to mention Ward at all.

26. Falcons - Nelson

27. Steelers - Jaire Alexander

The first mention of Alexander too, another cornerback who ended up going in the first round even though he wasn’t often mentioned as a first round prospect. Alexander went 18th overall to the Packers.

28. Seahawks - Ridley

29. Raiders - Azeem Victor

The Raiders actually did draft Victor ... 216th overall.

30. Packers - Mason Cole

31. Cowboys - Armani Watts

Watts went 124th overall to the Chiefs.

32. Patriots - Landry

What have we learned through all this?

I mean, maybe nothing. It’s kinda obvious that mock drafts are not predictive of anything, especially a year ahead of time. We know that some of the names will obviously be where you expect them to be, but 99% of the picks will be wrong. When reading 2019 NFL Mock Drafts, you’ll get to know some names to watch for the upcoming college football season and the ensuing NFL draft season. That’s it.

Among the names to watch next year will be Wilkins, Ferrell, and Adams, three guys who were considered to be prospects in the 2018 draft. That means that some of the names you read for 2019 will actually not be available at all. Some names will end up going undrafted and being non-prospects. Some will be drafted as early as expected and have spectacular careers. Some won’t. The difference between the two is impossible to see right now.

And that’s really all you need to know about next year’s draft. But do at least mock the Seattle Seahawks trading down at some point, because that we can predict.